Clássico dos Milhões: World Football's Fiercest Rivalry?
"Either I'm going to jail or I'm gonna get killed today."
The latter came true for Germano Soares da Silva, a 46-year old Flamengo hooligan who said this to his mother shortly before his team's all important derby against rivals Vasco da Gama.
Both on and off the pitch, the rivalry between Vasco da Gama and Flamengo is intense.
Compared to Scotland's "Old Firm", the derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate in Argentina, El Superclasico makes the game up in Scotland seem like "a primary school kickabout."
And according to my Brazilian friend Ricardo, the game in Argentina is a "preseason friendly compared to Brazil's Clássico dos Milhões."
Clássico dos Milhões translated into English means "the Millions Derby," as it always draws the largest crowds in Rio de Janeiro.
Although nowhere near as intense off the pitch, action on that hallowed turf in the world famous Maracana Stadium can be one of the most intense in world football.
For many years the games between both sides have been crucial in deciding who stays up and who goes down in Brazil's highest league, Serie A, as well as deciding who wins the championship and who wins in the cup final.
Both Flamengo and Vasco da Gama are established power houses in samba football—both having won four Brazilian championships and one Copa Libertadores each. With such an equal record, it is a colossal victory for either side when they win.
An example of this would be the 1978 Rio State Championship Final at a packed Maracana Stadium with an estimated 125,000 crazy football hooligans.
In the 86th minute, defender Rondinelli became a legend in Flamengo colours when he suprised the Vasco defence and headed home a Zico cross to take the championship.
"That goal was unforgettable. Every Flamenguista (Flamengo supporter) has a special affection for that ball that blasted past Leao (Vasco's keeper)."
These were the words recalled by the defensive legend who was given the nickname "God of Race" because of his love for Flamengo.
Flamengo may have had that one, but Vasco's sweetest moment came in the 1988 final.
Again at a jam packed Maracana, future 1994 World Cup champions Mazinho, Romario, Jorginho, Aldair, Leonardo, Bebeto, and Zinho, were all put aside by a lowly bench-boy.
A substitute who was named by fans after a Brazilian sweetmeat made of coconut and sugar, Vasco forward "Cocada," came on in the 86th minute. He scored the winner in the 89th and got sent off just 60 seconds later after celebrating his wonderstrike.
He recalls, "In four minutes, I entered the annals of Vasco da Gama. I am a blessed person."
A die-hard Rubronegro (Vasco da Gama supporter), Cocada went from a lowly bench-boy to a Vasco legend in just four minutes, errupting the Maracana into a cacophony of delirious delight.
Rio de Janeiro: The Gaza Strip of Football
When it comes to football, Rio is owned by two gangs—or organizadas as they're known in Brazil—the FJV (Vasco's ultras) and the TJF (Flamengo's ultras).
Speaking to Brazilian newspaper O Dia, an FJV member described the fans' rivalry as a war zone with both the TJF and the FJV having their own "territory," saying, "To invade an enemy's territory today is the same thing as trying to cross the Gaza Strip waving an Israel flag. You'd be asking to be shot."
Looking at statistics, a war between these organizadas seems evident in Rio as over 600 utlras were arrested last year by police for fighting in and around the stadiums.
Police know there are these ultras around, but find it very difficult catching such criminals.
Major Marcelo Pessoa, a man responsible for police supervision in Rio's stadiums, told football magazine FourFourTwo, "They use drug-trafficking tactics, like sending motorcycles to search the area, find where the enemy is, and look for the best routes."
All in all, there is one thing which emphasises the hatred between Vasco da Gama and Flamengo supporters.
During a police raid of the FJV headquarters, an illustrated course called "How to Kill a Flamenguista" was found. In the pictures, the ultras simulated stabbing and kicking a man wearing a Flamengo shirt.
Hatred is Rife in the Wonderful City
Despite being the most-hotly disputed clash, the Clássico dos Milhões probably isn't the most famous in Rio.
This derby is just pipped by the one between Flamengo (again) and Fluminense, which is simply known as "Fla-Flu."
Brazilian journalist Nelson Rodrigues immortalised the showdown in his writing for the Rio de Janeiro press, "The Fla-Flu doesn't start. The Fla-Flu doesn't end. The Fla-Flu was created 40 minutes before nothing."
Another one of his famous quotes on the spectacle is: "On the day the Paradise was inaugurated, there was an open gate Fla-Flu. And people dripped from the walls."
The last great decisive Fla-Flu was in 1995, when all eyes were on Romario. Renato Gaucho stole the show however with his "belly goal," earning Flamengo the trophy, and him the title "King of Rio."
Next time you think of the world's greatest derby, never forget the football-mad continent South America, and in particular a country called Brazil, where fans will go as far as killing the fans of other teams in order to have their club at the top.
As the cliché saying goes: "Football is not just a matter of life and death. It's more important than that."
Clearly, that is the case in Rio de Janeiro.
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