Flamengo puts trust in Portuguese coach for Club World Cup
SAO PAULO (AP) — Copa Libertadores champion Flamengo has put its trust in a European coach to bring some European flair to the Club World Cup.
The Brazilian club hired Portuguese coach Vitor Pereira to lead the team at the tournament in Morocco, where Flamengo will try to end an 11-year title drought for South American teams.
Pereira is a former Porto and Fenerbahce coach who arrived at Flamengo after stirring up some controversy in Brazil. He was set to leave the South American country in December after a decent season with Corinthians, saying his mother-in-law in Portugal had a serious health issue and it was forcing him to return home to be with his family.
But in a shocking turn, the 54-year-old Pereira signed a one-year deal with Flamengo only days later.
“My family understood we could deal with the health situation, and the professional challenge would be important for my career," Pereira told the club’s social media channels. “I had to make a decision.”
The Club World Cup usually ends up with a South American-European final, partly because those two regions get a bye into the semifinals. If that happens again this year, Flamengo would be playing Real Madrid on Feb. 11.
The last time a South American team won the competition was in 2012 when Corinthians beat Chelsea 1-0 in Japan.
Pereira's predecessor at Flamengo, Dorival Jr., took the job as the team struggled last year and helped the most expensive squad in the region win the Brazilian Cup title, beating the Pereira-coached Corinthians on penalties, and its second Copa Libertadores trophy in four years.
Many fans wanted Dorival Jr. to stay, so he and Flamengo started discussing a contract extension in November. After the last round of the Brazilian championship on Dec. 13, the coach published a video to say he was leaving because the club had already picked a successor.
That successor was Pereira, who was still under contract at Corinthians and vacationing with his family.
The decision upset Corinthians fans, who believed Pereira could not stay for family reasons. And it also worried Flamengo supporters, who saw Dorival Jr. improve their team after finding room for prolific strikers Gabriel Barbosa and Pedro in the starting lineup.
Flamengo executives said they had picked Pereira because they believed his European style would beef up the team's chances of winning the club a second world title. In 1981, a team led by Brazil great Zico beat Liverpool 3-0 in the Intercontinental Cup final in Japan.
Under another Portuguese coach in 2019, Jorge Jesus, Flamengo gave then-European champion Liverpool a tough challenge in the Club World Cup final, but an extra-time goal by Roberto Firmino gave the English team the title.
Flamengo's first few matches under Pereira have given little hint of any potential changes in the team for the Club World Cup. Midfielder Gerson, who won the Copa Libertadores with the club in 2019, returned from French team Marseille. He is likely to replace João Gomes, a key defensive player, who will leave for English club Wolverhampton.
Pereira has not made it clear whether veteran defenders David Luiz and Filipe Luiz, and midfielder Arturo Vidal will have a place in Flamengo's starting lineup during the tournament.
Flamengo will first play either African champion Wydad Casablanca or 2021 Asian champion Al Hilal in the semifinals. Last year's Asian champion will not be decided until May.
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