Brazilian giants Flamengo took a huge stride towards the Copa Libertadores final on Wednesday, dominating Ecuadoran club Barcelona SC to seal a 2-0 victory in their semi-final first leg.
Two first-half goals from striker Bruno Henrique set up a convincing win for Flamengo at the Maracana Stadium with the visitors outclassed for long periods of a one-sided encounter.
With Brazilian clubs Palmeiras and Atletico Mineiro battling it out in the other semi-final, Flamengo’s win increases the chances of an all-Brazil Libertadores final for a second straight year.
Barcelona made a bright start, with Gonzalo Mastriani and Byron Castillo forcing Flamengo keeper Diego Alves to save twice during a frenetic opening.
But thereafter it was all Flamengo, and the Rio club took the lead on 21 minutes when Gabriel’s perfectly flighted cross was met by Henrique, directing his header across goal and into the net.
Barcelona midfielder Nixon Molina let his frustration get the better of him straight from the restart, earning a booking for taking out goalscorer Henrique.
Henrique should have had a second on 34 minutes, ghosting into the area to meet Gabriel’s cross only to hit the bar with a header.
Andreas Pereira, on loan from English giants Manchester United, also hit the woodwork soon afterwards with a dipping long range shot on 37 minutes.
But a minute later, Flamengo’s second goal duly arrived after a clinical counter-attack from the hosts.
Gabriel broke forward at pace and released Vitinho, who squared to Henrique for the simplest of tap-ins.
It got worse for Barcelona on the stroke of half-time when Molina was sent off after a second yellow for another rash challenge.
Despite the man advantage, Flamengo were unable to extend their lead after the break, and it was Barcelona who came closest to scoring early on with substitute Michael Carcelen forcing another smart save from Alves.
Flamengo went close with two headed chances from Vitinho, but the Brazilians could not find a third goal.
In the dying minutes, Flamengo needlessly gave up a red card when defender Leo Pereira flicked an elbow into Fernando Leon’s jaw.
The second leg takes place in Guayaquil next Wednesday.