David Luiz believes Flamengo "without a doubt" have the quality to play in the Champions League as they prepare for the Copa Libertadores final against Palmeiras.

Former Chelsea centre-back David Luiz joined Flamengo in September, ending a 14-year association with European football after his contract with Arsenal expired. 

Injuries have hampered his return to Brazilian domestic football, but his side have cruised to the final of South America's showpiece event with a perfect six wins beyond the group stage.

Indeed, the 34-year-old made his debut in the Libertadores semi-final against Barcelona SC following a lengthy spell on the sidelines after knee surgery when at Arsenal.

While Palmeiras remain focused on the weekend, David Luiz told Stats Perform how he believes Flamengo are good enough to play in Europe's premier club competition.

"I believe that is right," David Luiz responded when asked whether Flamengo could cut it in the Champions League.

"Flamengo are the first club to be organised to give players the opportunity to represent and do best what we have to do, and that is to play football the best way we can. 

"We have an amazing structure – high calibre players, players who have played in numerous places and have a lot of quality. I believe, yes, we have the quality to play in the Champions League, without a doubt."

Palmeiras are eyeing a title defence in Montevideo after succeeding in last year's final against Santos in CONMEBOL's top-tier club tournament.

Flamengo, meanwhile, are searching for their second South American title in three seasons, and former right-back and now Cruzeiro assistant manager Juliano Belletti told Stats Perform how the pair have reached a class above in Brazilian football.

"It's a fact that Palmeiras and Flamengo have reached another level here within Brazilian football," Belletti said.

"With the signings that were made, the investment, both on and off the pitch. It's interesting to highlight that too. The structure of the clubs has changed a lot, for the better. 

"That's why they deserve to be in the Libertadores final. It's a match of great technical quality, which often goes against the spirit of the Libertadores that many people talk about.

"We see Palmeiras and Flamengo coming through, playing great football. They played good football to reach the final, a well-balanced game, and they deserved to be in this final match."

However, Belletti – who enjoyed spells with Barcelona and Chelsea during his playing days – was more measured in his response when asked the same question about Flamengo's Champions League credentials.

"The technical quality doesn't define a team's capacity to play or not in a competition like the Champions League," Belletti responded. 

"But there are players of quality that could play in teams that compete in the Champions League. That's for sure."

After their lucrative takeover, Newcastle United are set to make a transfer splash in January.

The Magpies are winless and second last in the Premier League table this season.

Newcastle remain without a manager, following Steve Bruce's dismissal a fortnight ago.

 

TOP STORY – MAGPIES IN FOR COUTINHO LOAN DEAL

Newcastle United look set to make a move for Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho in January, according to Spanish newspaper Sport.

Financially embattled LaLiga giants Barca are said to be keen to offload the former Liverpool forward, who arrived at Camp Nou from the Reds in 2018.

Barcelona are reportedly ready to accept a loan deal that includes a mandatory option to buy with Newcastle.

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are bullish about signing up Ousmane Dembele to a fresh three-year deal with the option for a further season, claims Mundo Deportivo. Dembele has been linked with LiverpoolManchester United and Juventus.

- Barca are also considering a move to sign Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele on loan, reports Sport. Ndombele has made nine appearances this season.

- Brazilian club Palmeiras have entered the race to sign Manchester United's Edinson Cavani, claims the Daily Express. The Uruguayan signed a one-year contract extension in May.

- Former Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho wants to bring Spurs midfielder Harry Winks and Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek to Roma, reports Corriere dello Sport.

- Sky Sports reports ex-Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca is still interested in the vacant Newcastle managerial role. Fonseca nearly took over at Tottenham in the off-season. Magpies candidate Unai Emery announced he was staying with Villarreal on Wednesday.

- La Nazione says Tottenham are firmly in the race to sign Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, who has also been linked with Manchester City, Inter, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Juve.

Palmeiras coach Abel Ferreira took inspiration from Jose Mourinho's early-career Champions League success as he masterminded an away-goals win against Atletico Mineiro in the Copa Libertadores semi-finals.

The reigning South American champions returned to the Libertadores final with a 1-1 draw at Atletico on Tuesday, having played out a goalless first leg at home.

Eduardo Vargas' header had put the home side in front, but Dudu equalised 22 minutes from time to crucially extend Palmeiras' record-breaking unbeaten away run in the competition to 15 matches.

Abel never doubted that leveller was coming, revealing Palmeiras had planned simply to score once in order to advance.

The coach referred to Mourinho's 1-1 draw at Manchester United with Porto in 2004, in which the visitors netted in the 90th minute through Costinha to knock Alex Ferguson's men out 3-2 on aggregate. Porto went on to win the Champions League.

"I'm Portuguese with great pride, I'm European with great pride," Abel said.

"We have the best coaches in the world, like Mourinho; we have the best referees in the world, like Pedro Proenca; we have in Portugal the president with the most titles in the world [Pinto da Costa]; and we have one of the best players in the world, [Cristiano] Ronaldo.

"When you look at Ronaldo, you see great mental strength, an insatiable work discipline, wanting to win and wanting to do more and better, and that is the Portuguese mentality and the European mentality.

"This I will never abdicate. And that calm and that intelligence inspired me.

"I talked about the game between Manchester United and Porto in which Mourinho in the last second at Old Trafford made it 1-1 and [went through]. It was in this game that I was inspired.

"That's what I told our players: we have to come here to score a goal, and we're going to do it because we have had an impeccable Libertadores.

"What is sometimes lacking here in Brazil is rigour and discipline in work and daily dedication to sacrifice. They know what it means, that to win you pay a price to be in the final, and these players were willing to pay that price to be in the final."

Palmeiras had just 36.7 per cent of the possession but blocked seven of their opponents' 17 shots.

Veteran captain Felipe Melo contributed one of those and led by example as he made nine clearances, three tackles and three interceptions.

Palmeiras' reward was a second consecutive Libertadores final, becoming the fourth club to achieve that feat in the 21st century – after Boca Juniors in both 2000 and 2001 and 2003 and 2004, Sao Paulo in 2005 and 2006 and River Plate in 2018 and 2019.

They will face Flamengo or Barcelona in the showpiece, with their Brazilian rivals 2-0 up after the first leg.

Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras have the chance to claim back-to-back titles after edging Brazilian rivals Atletico Mineiro in the semi-finals.

Palmeiras advanced to the 2021 showpiece 1-1 on away goals following Tuesday's 1-1 draw away to Mineiro in Belo Horizonte.

After a scoreless first-leg draw, Palmeiras' Dudu struck in the 68th minute, cancelling out Eduardo Vargas' 52nd-minute opener.

Palmeiras will be the fourth consecutive team to play in two successive Libertadores finals since 2000, after Boca Juniors (2000 and 2001, 2003 and 2004), Sao Paulo (2005 and 2006) and River Plate (2018 and 2019) as they await either Flamengo or Barcelona in the decider.

In all six previous Libertadores semi-final ties since 1989 that the first leg ended in a goalless draw, the team who played the return leg at home had progressed to the final.

Mineiro looked on track to continue that streak when Chile international Vargas put the home side ahead with his third goal of the Libertadores campaign.

But some poor defending allowed Palmeiras back into the contest, Gabriel Veron dispossessing his opponent before squaring the ball to Dudu for a tap-in on the line.

It was Dudu's seventh goal for Palmeiras in the Libertadores, with the two-time South American champions – unbeaten in 15 away games in the competition, the longest undefeated run on the road in history, having won all seven games in which he has scored.

Brazil international Hulk missed a first-half penalty as Atletico Mineiro grabbed a 0-0 draw away to reigning champions Palmeiras in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores semi final on Tuesday.

Hulk, who has netted seven goals in this season's edition, sent Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton the wrong way with his low 42nd-minute spotkick but his effort cannoned into the post.

In a game where neither goalkeeper was legitimately tested, Atletico had the better of the chances at Sao Paulo's Allianz Parque, with 11 shots to Palmeiras' four but could not make them count.

Luan dragged an early left-foot shot wide for the visitors, while Palmeiras' best first-half opportunity came from Rony with an off-target effort.

Paraguayan defender Gustavo Gomez scythed down Diego Costa inside the box, offering Atletico an opportunity from the spot, but Hulk fluffed the chance.

Hulk sought redemption in the second half, lashing a powerful long-distance strike over Weverton's crossbar.

The 35-year-old former Porto forward also fizzed a left-foot free-kick past a diving Weverton but wide again late.

The second leg will take next Tuesday in Belo Horizonte, with the winner to take either Flamengo or Ecuadorian club Barcelona in the final on November 27 in Montevideo.

Corinthians fined star forward Jo for wearing green boots, the colour of their arch Brazilian rivals Palmeiras.

Former Manchester City forward Jo sparked backlash after wearing light green boots in Sunday's goalless draw away to Bahia in the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A.

After Corinthians fans were left outraged, the club sanctioned and warned the former Brazil international, who is prohibited from wearing the boots again, even in training.

"Sport Club Corinthians Paulista's football board communicates that they spoke with striker Jo about the use of football boots in the match against Bahia, this Sunday," a statement read.

"The player was warned, fined and will not wear them again, neither in training or in games."

Jo, who emerged from Corinthians' youth team in 2003 before going on to play for the likes of CSKA Moscow, Everton and Galatasaray, issued an apology.

"I would never use green boots because of my history with Corinthians, a club I have loved since I was little," the 34-year-old said in a statement via Veja.

"I would never disrespect Corinthians, much less the fans. I have always honoured this shirt and I always will honour it."

Corinthians and Palmeiras share one of the fiercest and oldest rivalries in Brazilian football – the Paulista derby.

The Paulista derby is ranked among the 10 greatest derbies in world football.

Palmeiras are fourth in the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A through five games this season, five points better off than 11th-placed Corinthians.

Corinthians last won the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A in 2017, while Palmeiras – winners in 2018 – conquered the Copa Libertadores last year.

Palmeiras endured more penalty pain as Al Ahly's 3-2 shootout success after a goalless draw clinched third place at the Club World Cup.

Andre-Pierre Gignac's semi-final spot-kick had sent Tigres UANL through to the final at the expense of the Copa Libertadores winners and the margins were even finer in Thursday's play-off.

A dismal stalemate prompted the penalty drama, with the takers scarcely more accurate from 12 yards than they had been in the prior 90 minutes.

Mohamed El-Shenawy saved a straightforward Rony effort and watched Luiz Adriano send a truly dreadful attempt wide, but Weverton's sublime stop from Amr El Soleya and Marwan Mohsen's agonising strike against the post kept the sides all square.

Junior Ajayi's outstanding finish into the top-right corner piled on the pressure, though, and Palmeiras captain Felipe Melo was denied by El-Shenawy.

It was a fitting end to a match in which Melo's defensive error had provided the clearest opening.

He failed in an attempt to chip a pass over Walter Bwalya and then slipped, allowing El Soleya to seize the ball and run clear, only to drag his finish wide.

There was also a sprawling El-Shenawy save from Rony's header before the break.

Weverton was grateful for an offside flag midway through a similarly tame second period as he parried El Soleya's volley straight to substitute Ajayi, whose follow-up effort was struck off.

But penalties were required to separate the sides and again proved Palmeiras' undoing.

Ricardo Ferretti hailed his team as mighty Mexican outfit Tigres made history by powering through to the Club World Cup final.

Tigres became the first team from the CONCACAF region – covering North and Central America and the Caribbean – to reach the showpiece match of FIFA's top club tournament.

Andre-Pierre Gignac's penalty early in the second half gave Tigres the result their performance richly deserved, a 1-0 victory over Palmeiras.

The match-winning French striker had earlier been denied by two outstanding first-half saves by Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton, who came up for a last-gasp corner and headed over a difficult chance to equalise.

The club from the city of San Nicolas de los Garza will face Bayern Munich or Al Ahly in Thursday's final, with the reigning European and African champions going head to head in Monday's second semi-final.

Ferretti said: "The victory gave us an opportunity to reach the final. We faced two great teams, and the next one will be also a great team, and we will face them in the same way.

"I feel calm and happy for the win and excited as everyone. I don't like celebrating before time, we still have to play a game, the most important one is the next one. Naturally we know how capable will be the team we will face.

"Now, we have to get ready, the players have to recover physically, but not emotionally because they feel good. We will get ready these days to reach the end goal."

Palmeiras head coach Abel Ferreira complained that the penalty decision was "dubious", suggesting the tug by Luan on Carlos Gonzalez was not sufficient to justify a spot-kick.

He said: "It was not a clear grab although it existed, but this is not basketball, they won a penalty and from there they defended themselves.

"We had some chances but we couldn't get it right and I have to say without problems that they were slightly superior and the game is solved with a detail by the experience of a great player.

"We know we could do better individually. We came here on our own merit, we have a good mix of young and experienced people. But today we have to apologise to our people and assume that our rival was slightly superior in general and, I repeat, the game is resolved by a dubious penalty."

Andre-Pierre Gignac fired Tigres through to the Club World Cup final as his penalty secured a 1-0 win over South American champions Palmeiras.

The 35-year-old former Marseille striker was hugely impressive in a thrilling game, and his reward came from the spot in the 54th minute, with Mexican giants Tigres full value for their victory.

It means the CONCACAF Champions League winners will face face Al Ahly or Bayern Munich in the final on Thursday.

Tigres were overwhelmingly the dominant side in the first half at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, with Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras kept in the game thanks to three terrific saves from goalkeeper Weverton.

The Brazil international denied Carlos Gonzalez inside the first five minutes by repelling the Paraguayan striker's meaty header.

Weverton then denied Gignac twice in four minutes, first pushing the ball wide for a corner in the 34th minute when the Frenchman looked to bend a shot inside the far right post from a tight angle. A better stop followed as the eye-catching Gignac had a fine header clawed away from the bottom right corner.

Gonzalez had his shirt tugged by Luan for the decisive penalty incident, with Gignac driving his kick into the bottom left corner.

Palmeiras pushed for an equaliser but had at least five men offside from a free-kick before putting the ball in the net, and then Tigres' Luis Rodriguez almost scored in the wrong goal from a low cross, the ball trickling six inches wide. Matias Vina had a shot deflect narrowly wide deep into stoppage time before Weverton, sent up for a corner, headed over from the last big chance.

Qatar Stars League champions Al Duhail earlier secured fifth place by beating K League 1 side Ulsan Hyundai 3-1 in their play-off.

At the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Edmilson Junior gave Al Duhail a 21st-minute lead when he drove through midfield and swept a 25-yard shot into the bottom right corner, only for Yoon Bit-garam to level in the 62nd minute.

Mohammed Muntari restored Al Duhail's lead four minutes later with a volley from Dudu's sublime assist, a scooped ball over the defence, and Almoez Ali cracked in the third eight minutes from the end.

Bayern Munich will face Al Ahly in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup after the African champions knocked out home favourites Al Duhail on Thursday. 

The clash at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan was settled by a fine strike from Hussein El Shahat 30 minutes in, the winger finding the bottom-left corner from the edge of the box after Bassam Hisham had lost possession. 

Walter Bwalya, who forced the defensive error, tucked away a composed finish but saw the goal disallowed for offside following a VAR review. 

Qatari champions Al Duhail improved after the break, but Pitso Mosimane's men were relatively comfortable as they saw out the 1-0 victory. 

Al Ahly will meet Bayern on Monday as the European champions bid to win the tournament for the second time. 

The other semi-final will see Copa Libertadores holders Palmeiras face Tigres, who defeated Ulsan Hyundai 2-1 in the earlier game. 

The K League 1 side, who won their second AFC Champions League in 2020, went ahead through Kim Kee-hee's 24th-minute header. 

Andre-Pierre Gignac equalised from close range and Tigres' all-time leading goalscorer made it 2-1 from the penalty spot just before half-time. 

The CONCACAF champions will be back in action against Palmeiras on Monday.

Breno Lopes scored a 99th-minute winner as Palmeiras clinched the Copa Libertadores final in dramatic finale with a 1-0 victory over Santos at the Maracana on Saturday.

After a touchline fracas that saw Santos boss Cuca sent off, Breno – who replaced Gabriel Menino in the 85th minute – rose highest at the back post to nod a sensational right-wing delivery from Rony back across goal and into the far corner.

It was Rony's 13th goal involvement (five scored, eight assisted) in this season's Libertadores and it settled what had been a drab game of few chances in front of a small crowd.

Palmeiras were consequently crowned Libertadores champions for the second time in their history, with Abel Ferreira becoming just the third European coach to lead a team to glory in the competition.

Despite a fiery start there was minimal tempo in the play of both sides, with the temperature in Rio de Janeiro over 30 degrees Celsius at kick-off.

Raphael Veiga dragged the best opening wide before half-time and 14 minutes after the restart Lucas Verissimo nodded a free-kick from Marinho narrowly off target.

Veiga thundered a free-kick just over after the hour mark and Felipe Jonatan flashed a half-volley wide before Cuca was shown a red card in stoppage time for trying to stop Marcos Rocha taking a quick throw-in.

Santos were seemingly distracted by the incident and Palmeiras punished them, with Breno getting above Para – a champion with Santos in 2011 – to head home the decisive goal without the need for extra time.

There was huge adversity in the early stages of Yeferson Soteldo's career.

He grew up in the underprivileged neighbourhood of El Muertico in the city of Acarigua, where he claims an early grave was the likely alternative to a career in professional football, and although he gained a spot in the academy of Caracas – Venezuela's most successful club – he was thrown out aged 14 for "indiscipline".

Furthermore, there were huge question marks over his physical capability to make it as a pro – now 23, he only stands at five feet and two inches tall.

But Venezuela's most-decorated coach Noel Sanvicente gave him a second chance at Zamora and put him on the path to Saturday's Copa Libertadores final between Santos and Palmeiras at the iconic Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.  

In Messi's footsteps

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is an obvious inspiration for a number of players, but Soteldo felt a stronger connection than most to the Barcelona superstar as he worked his way through spells with Zamora, Huachipato and Universidad de Chile before ending up at Santos in 2019.

"Everyone was talking about my height, that I was not going to be able to play football because of my size, because I was very small. Now I'm here, I got over it," Soteldo told the official Libertadores website.

"That's for the young ones who are little too. They can see Soteldo and say, 'I can too.' I did that with Messi. I saw he was small, that he made it and I can too."

Since his arrival in the Campeonato Brasileiro, it is not just his short stature and bleached blond hair that have made him stand out on the pitch.

Soteldo has established himself as one of the league's most potent wingers, his low centre of gravity, incredible pace and quick feet making him a serious threat when in possession out wide.

It is no surprise he has attempted more dribbles (308) than anyone else since the start of the 2019 Brasileiro, but it is what he does in those moments that makes him dangerous.

Soteldo averages a carry with a shot every other game (0.6) in Brazil's top flight and creates a chance following a carry at least once per 90 minutes (1.1) – a league-leading amount among players to have featured for at least 1,800 minutes over the past two seasons.

That ability has seen him directly set up five goals and score three following a carry, accounting for over one third of his 22 goal involvements (13 scored, nine assisted) in the competition.

It is tough for defenders to stop him and he is unrelenting. Per 90 minutes, he averages 5.3 carries of at least 10 metres and 3.8 carries with a take on – the latter being the most among active players in the division.

Stepping up

He has managed to translate that form to the Libertadores this season, with only Carlos Tevez (30) and Nicolas de la Cruz (31) supplying more key passes than Soteldo (28) in the competition.

However, Soteldo has played one game fewer and averages three chances created per game, so would be expected to move level with De la Cruz after the final.

Carries have again formed a key part of the Venezuelan's output, with 11 of his key passes coming after a carry – three more than any other player – though only one has resulted in an assist.

This does not mean Soteldo is consistently involved, though. In this season's Libertadores he has 22 direct chance involvements, where his only contribution in those open play sequences was to create the chance. No player in the competition has more direct chance involvements and it shows the 23-year-old is always capable of popping up with a killer ball.

The next step

Life at the Vila Belmiro has not been a walk in the park for Soteldo.

Santos accepted a transfer bid from Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal last October but Soteldo opted against the move because of his desire to play in Europe.

The Brazilian side were only keen to sell to avoid a punishment from FIFA over fees owed to Huachipato following his arrival at the club, with a financial crisis making his future look increasingly uncertain.

In South America's biggest club game, at one of the continent's most famous stadiums, Soteldo can have a huge say in what happens next for him.

His journey to this point proves he will not let anything stand in his way.   

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

For so long, Real Madrid have been favourites to prise Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu.

But Premier League champions Liverpool are believed to be stepping up their pursuit.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL FRONTRUNNERS FOR MBAPPE

Liverpool are ahead of Real Madrid in the race to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe , according to Canal+ show Late Football Club.

Mbappe has been tipped to leave Ligue 1 champions PSG for LaLiga holders Madrid at the end of the season.

But Liverpool are reportedly the frontrunners to prise the France World Cup winner to Anfield amid doubts over Mohamed Salah 's future.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca says Madrid are preparing for the departure of Sergio Ramos as their star captain nears an exit. The soon-to-be free agent has been linked with the likes of PSG , Juventus , Manchester United and Manchester City .

- Will Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Inter's Alexis Sanchez swap clubs? Sky Sport Italia reports an exchange deal could be set to collapse. City reportedly turned down a chance to re-sign Dzeko, who has a fractured relationship with Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca.

Milan are continuing to target Palmeiras and Uruguayan defender Matias Vina , says Calciomercato.

- Cadena Cope reports PSG want to sign Barcelona defender Emerson , who is on loan at Real Betis.

- Sport Bild journalist Christian Falk says United are interested in RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano , but Bayern Munich lead the race to secure his services at season's end. Upamecano has also been linked to the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool .

- Falk also confirmed that Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate has a release clause in excess of €40million (£35m) amid interest from United , Liverpool and Tottenham .

United are eyeing Barca's Ousmane Dembele if Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho does not arrive ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, according to Falk.

Weverton and Gabriel Menino will be key to Palmeiras' hopes of defeating Santos in the Copa Libertadores final on Saturday, according to Zinho.

The former Brazil international, a World Cup winner in 1994, was part of the first and only Palmeiras side to lift the Libertadores in 1999.

Marcos made a crucial save in a penalty shoot-out as the Sao Paulo giants overcame Deportivo Cali on that occasion and Zinho believes their goalkeeper may prove key this year too.

"Their strength, for me, is the whole. But if you ask me to choose one, I would choose the goalkeeper, who for me is the best goalkeeper playing in Brazil, which is Weverton," Zinho told Stats Perform News.

In the Libertadores and Campeonato Brasileiro this season, Weverton has conceded 24 times from an expected goals on target (xGOT) value of 33.9, meaning he has prevented 9.9 goals.

Only Luan Polli (6.8) of Sport Recife and Athletico Paranaense's Santos (7.2) outperform his 5.3 goals prevented in the Brasileirao, while Sergio Rochet of Nacional (5.2) is the solitary keeper with a better figure than Weverton's 4.6 in the Libertadores.

The young star

Palmeiras are also blessed with young talent and Menino is undoubtedly part of their most promising players.

Having been converted from a midfielder to a right-back, it has been suggested Menino could be the long-term successor to Dani Alves for the Brazil national team.

The 20-year-old has already been called up twice by Tite but was robbed of a potential debut in November after contracting coronavirus.

"Gabriel Menino [can be important] because of his versatility. He plays on both sides, he plays in the middle. During the match, he also can play as a striker. He is very versatile and he is very important for the team," said Zinho.

Regardless of where he plays, Menino makes his impact felt for Palmeiras.

In the league this season he leads the team in assists (five), and his 34 chances created are only surpassed by Lucas Lima (40).

It doesn't stop there; Menino has the most successful passes in the opposition half (440), has won the joint-most fouls (48), completed the second-most dribbles (30) and won the second-most duels (139).

 

A potent attack

Menino has also scored three goals and supplied one assist in the Libertadores this season, but the competition has very much been Rony's domain.

"I will say these two guys [Weverton and Menino] are key players and they must be in the game. But, of course, Rony is one of the top scorers, one of the leaders in assists in this competition," said Zinho.

"Luiz Adriano is a great, experienced, very good player. So in the offensive part, that looks for the goal, there are Rony and Luiz Adriano with more evidence. So I stay with those players."

Rony has more goal involvements than any other player in the Libertadores this season (12 – seven assists, five goals) and two of his assists have been for former Milan striker Luiz Adriano, who has found the back of the net five times in his six appearances in this edition of the Libertadores.

A place in the Club World Cup is on the line and a potential meeting with Hansi Flick's all-conquering Bayern Munich in Qatar awaits.

"If Bayern go with their maximum strength and face the game seriously, man… in football anything can happen," said Zinho.

"In football you cannot say 'it's guaranteed', but the difference between them is so big, it's huge. Bayern is infinitely better. If Bayern go focused and with desire, looking for the title, probably all the favouritism is for Bayern. But this is football, and it's why it's so lovely."

Bayern Munich will face either Al-Duhail or Al Ahly in their Club World Cup semi-final on February 8.

The competition's draw took place on Tuesday in Zurich and confirmed European champions Bayern will tackle hosts Al-Duhail or CAF Champions League holders Al Ahly.

Al-Duhail secured their qualification as hosts by winning the Qatar Stars League in 2019-20, with no Qatari side managing to win the AFC Champions League.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly won African club football's biggest prize in November and qualified for the Club World Cup for the sixth time, having last appeared in 2013, which was also Bayern's only previous appearance.

Al-Duhail received a walkover into the second round after Auckland City, who had been nominated as Oceania's representative, pulled out due to coronavirus quarantine measures implemented by authorities in their native New Zealand.

The other second-round clash drawn on Tuesday will see AFC Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai face CONCACAF champions Tigres of Mexico, who are making their first appearance.

Tigres or Ulsan will go forward from that tie to play the Copa Libertadores champions – Santos and Palmeiras are due to face off in an all-Brazilian final of that competition on January 30.

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