By Gabriel Stargardter
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 23 (Reuters) - When the downpour began in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, with hometown soccer team Flamengo losing 1-0 to River Plate, it appeared to be a gloomy sign: Flamengo's hopes of winning a first Copa Libertadores title in 38 years were washing away.
But then, just minutes before the game in Lima was set to end in victory for the Argentine club, Flamengo striker Gabriel Barbosa scored an equalizer. Then, a few seconds later, he nabbed a late winner, turning Rio's sodden streets into a frenzied, red-and-black party.
Fireworks blasted into the sky as fans at Zig Zag, a bar in the Rio neighborhood of Ipanema, danced, embraced and sloshed ice-cold beers to celebrate Flamengo's second Libertadores title.
Flamengo's domestic progress - they are one win away from claiming the league title - and seamless path to the Libertadores final has lifted the mood in Rio, where years of crime, corruption and unemployment have dented spirits.
Monica Barcelos, 41, was at the bar to watch the game with a group of fellow metro workers. She said Flamengo had been a rare joy for Cariocas, as Rio's residents are known.
"This is a light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "Things are getting better in Brazil, but there's a long way to go."
Diego Alonso, her colleague, agreed.
He said his father, a lifelong fan of rival Rio club Vasco da Gama, had cried when he told him he had chosen to support Flamengo, his mother's team.
"There's loads of Flamenguistas who have never seen their team win the Libertadores. This is immense. It's bigger than the World Cup," he said.
"Life here is tough," he added. "This is a moment of happiness and it helps you get through the problems this country is suffering."
Aldacir Luiz, who also works for the Rio metro, gulped the last dregs of his beer before returning to work. He said he would finish his shift and clock off at 9.50pm.
"Then I'm going to celebrate again," he said.
Luiz, who was brought up by a single mother, said he never had a father to raise him as Flamengo fan.
But that didn't matter: "You're born a Flamenguista," he said. " It's almost a religion." (Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Daniel Wallis)