We all know that Brazilians live for football. And while many like to call the Brazilian League a subpar competition, the football played within our borders is not at all bad. But no League can be great without some spectacular rivalries – and Brazil has plenty of them. Every major club has its nemesis – and sometimes more than one. However, bitter rivalries also define football in smaller markets, like the Northern and Northeastern regions.
For many fans, hating a rival is a question of loyalty. No matter how well or how bad your team is doing, the stakes are always high when playing rivals. While such intensity often translates into games with great atmosphere, it can also take negative turns. From time to time, groups of fans decide to act like complete knuckleheads, and the rivalry seems on par with a medieval battle. That’s why the São Paulo government imposed a rule stating that, during derbies, only home fans attend games played in the state.
We’ve selected the derby games that define Brazilian football. The best part is that almost all them have great nicknames:
10. FlaFlu – Flamengo vs. Fluminense
This rivalry is so iconic that the term “FlaFlu” is used in Brazil to describe a polarized atmosphere. These teams hated each other from the very first time they played against one another back in 1912. At the time, Fluminense lost nine starters who signed with Flamengo. Still, Flu managed to secure a 3-2 win.
In 1963, these teams broke the world record for the football game with most spectators: 194,603. Since 2012, the “FlaFlu” is considered a cultural patrimony of the city of Rio de Janeiro. This rivalry doesn’t rank higher because both teams have other nemeses, like Vasco and Botafogo.
9. Repa – Remo vs. Paysandu
The derby between the two Belém-based teams is also known as the “King of the Amazon Classic.” With more than 700 matches since 1914, it is arguably the most played football derby in the world. The feud began in 1915, after financial disagreements between the clubs’ management. The biggest win in the Amazon Derby belongs to Paysandu: 7-0, in 1945.
Remo and Paysandu fans are known for their loyalty. They remain fanatical supporters, even if neither team has managed much success at the national level.
8. Guarani vs. Ponte Preta
Known simply as “The Derby,” this is the oldest rivalry in the state of São Paulo. Guarani and Ponte Preta are both based in Campinas, a city two hours away from São Paulo’s city center. The first time these teams played was in 1912 – and the result of that game remains unknown.
Just like the northern fans, Guarani and Ponte Preta supporters are famous for their intensity and loyalty. In a state where most people choose to align with one of the Big Four (Palmeiras, Corinthians, São Paulo, and Santos), fans in Campinas are proud to root for these smaller – but by no means less traditional – clubs.
7. BaVi – Bahia vs. Vitória
The state of Bahia is not exactly known for having football powerhouses. But that doesn’t prevent fans from adoring their two biggest clubs: Bahia and Vitória. The Salvador-based teams dominate the state championship, having won every year since 1970 except for 2006 and 2011. Bahia has managed a total of 46 state titles, with Vitória trailing behind with 28.
In 2014, both teams were relegated to Brazil’s second division. Vitória achieved a promotion in the following year, and Bahia did the same in 2016. This year, both will face off in Brazil’s top-tier league.
6. Cruzeiro vs. Atlético Mineiro
The largest derby in the state of Minas Gerais took a long time to become relevant. While the first game between Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro occurred in 1921, it was only during the 1950s that things started to heat up. At first, Atlético won the majority of games. After the 1960s, however, Cruzeiro reversed that trend.
Cruzeiro also holds the advantage at both the national and international level, having won more Copa Libertadores, Brazilian League, and Copa Brazil titles. Atlético, however, has more state championships (41 to 37).
5. Recife teams (Sport, Santa Cruz, Náutico)
The city of Recife is home to three big clubs that hate each other with the same ferocity: Sport, Santa Cruz, and Náutico. Their dominance of the football landscape in Pernambuco is such that no other team has won the state championship of Pernambuco since World War II.
Sport is by far the most successful team among them, having won the Brazilian League (1987), the Copa Brazil (2008), and a Brazilian Serie B title (1990). The other teams have only achieved success at the regional level.
In 2017, Sport will be the only of them to play in Brazil’s first division.
4. “The King Clash” – Palmeiras vs. São Paulo
This old, traditional rivalry is considered to be São Paulo’s second biggest and behind only the Paulista Derby (which will be on this list). The rivalry between the teams began during World War II.
When Brazil joined the Allies, the government seized possession of businesses owned by Italians, Japanese, and German immigrants. Palmeiras were a team of Italian immigrants and were called Palestra Italia at the time. The team faced a dilemma: change its name or cease to exist. Rumor has it that São Paulo executives were the ones that pushed for authorities to gang up on Palestra Italia.
In overall matches, São Paulo hold an advantage – 107 wins to 102 losses, and 102 draws. In games for the Brazilian League, however, Palmeiras fares better: 20 wins over 14 losses and 28 draws.
3. Grenal – Grêmio and Internacional
The Grenal is one of South America bitterest rivalries, involving emotion, competition, and occasional violence. This feud is so fierce that brands sponsoring one team automatically sponsor the other to avoid fan-organized boycotts.
Created six years before its rival, Grêmio dominated the rivalry early on. The overall stats, however, show that Internacional fare better in almost every category: wins (154 against 127), national titles (3 against 2), and international titles (6 against 5).
In 2017, however, the clubs will play each other only in the state championship, as Internacional will play in Brazil’s second division.
2. Derby of Millions – Flamengo vs. Vasco
Rio’s fiercest rivalry began during the 1910s, at rowing competitions. Back in the day, football was not the most popular sport in Rio de Janeiro. The name “Derby of Millions” refers to the large crowds both teams attract. According to some polls, 20 percent of all football fans in Brazil support either Flamengo or Vasco.
During the 1970s, the rivalry was epitomized by the two best players in both teams’ history: Zico for Flamengo, and Roberto Dinamite for Vasco.
The rivalry has lost steam in recent years, as Vasco has been haunted by poor management and terrible results. In the last decade, the team was demoted to the second division twice, while Flamengo have enjoyed responsible management in recent years. It translated into positive results, as the team fought for the 2016 Brazilian League title until the very end.
1. Paulista Derby – Palmeiras vs. Corinthians
While fans of other clubs may dispute our choice for the top rivalry in Brazilian football, allow us to explain. Palmeiras and Corinthians have already decided many state, regional, and national championships, not to mention Copa Libertadores semifinals and quarterfinals. No other major rivalry has had so many trophies involved. And CNN ranked this derby as the 9th biggest in the world.
Many think that Palmeiras were born as a dissidence from Corinthians, which is not true. In the early 20th century, Corinthians was the team for all immigrants. In 1914, people from Italian descent decided to create their own club, Palestra Italia (later called Palmeiras, as we’ve seen). Corinthians fans and executives nicknamed them “the betrayers.”
The rivalry between them became what it is today by the late 1930s. This was when Clube Paulistano, the team to beat in São Paulo, folded. It meant that Corinthians and Palestra Italia became the two primary forces in the city’s football landscape.
One can make a case that Palmeiras got the best out of their rivals. The team won the 1994 Brazilian League over Corinthians and eliminated their rivals both times they faced off with one another in Copa Libertadores. Palmeiras is also the only visiting team not to have a negative record in Corinthians’ stadium.
In the 21st century, however, Corinthians were far more successful than its competitors. The black and white team won three national titles, a Copa Libertadores, and a Club World Cup. Meanwhile, Palmeiras was relegated twice. The green and white team, however, has bounced back, winning the Copa Brazil in 2015 and the Brazilian League last year.
Who will fare better in 2017?