Brazil Giants Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro Enter into Battle in Cup Cracker

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportNovember 7, 2014

SANTOS, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 05:  The team of Cruzeiro celebrates scoring the second goal during the match between Santos and Cruzeiro for Copa do Brasil 2014 at Vila Belmiro Stadium on November 5, 2014 in Santos, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

It's not a tale of two cities, rather a tale of two giants from the same city. There is no doubt which metropolis reigns supreme in domestic Brazilian football in 2014: Belo Horizonte.

This month, across two legs, the two juggernauts, Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro, will lock horns in a grand final. The prize? The Brazilian Cup.

Aside from the fact that a fiercely fought classico will decide a major national title, it pins two forces of considerable strength against one another.

Cruzeiro are the defending Brazilian league champions after romping to the title last December. They look odds on to retain the championship, currently holding a five-point lead over closest rivals Sao Paulo with six rounds left to play.

Not only are they considered the finest side in the land, they have a team brimming with international potential. Central defender Dede has long been viewed as a potential successor to Thiago Silva. On his day, he is the proverbial brick wall no one can bulldoze their way through.

Everton Ribeiro is just one Cruzeiro star with international potential.
Everton Ribeiro is just one Cruzeiro star with international potential.Washington Alves/Getty Images

Midfielder Lucas Silva has been linked with some of Europe's biggest clubs throughout this season, whilst, further forward, Everton Ribeiro and Ricardo Goulart have recently been given chances to prove themselves worthy of the famous yellow shirt by Brazil boss Dunga.

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And Atletico, winners of the 2013 Copa Libertadores, are sitting fifth in the table and threatening to qualify for next season's edition of the South American Champions League.

Yesterday afternoon, as confirmed by ESPN Brasil (link in Portuguese), Atletico president Alexandre Kalil confirmed his club would play the “home” leg at the Estadio Independencia, their fortitude for some victories during their Libertadores success 12 months previously.

Smaller and more compact than the Mineirao, used during the World Cup, when the crowd are whipped up into a frenzy, the atmosphere can be enormously intimidating for opponents, even if they are from the same city.

Atletico have lost just one of their last six Brasileirao outings and under coach Levir Culpi are playing some scintillating football. They have lost Ronaldinho and Bernard, the two creative forces that drove them on towards that continental crown last year.

Just days ago, Selecao striker Jo was suspended for 30 days following a serious breach of discipline whilst staying in a hotel with the side, as reported by the club's official website (link in Portuguese).

Yet, despite these setbacks, on they march.

Led by new Brazil No. 9 Diego Tardelli, ably supported by Carlos and the bulldog-like Luan, Atletico have a force that can match their powerful rivals. Indeed, in league meetings this season, it is Atletico who have triumphed, emerging victorious on both occasions.

Diego Tardelli celebrates Atletico's progress at the expense of Flamengo.
Diego Tardelli celebrates Atletico's progress at the expense of Flamengo.Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

They have shown their dogged spirit over the last two rounds of the cup. Galo have now eliminated Brazil's two biggest clubs, Corinthians and Flamengo, in identical circumstances.

Going 2-0 down from both first legs and falling behind in the second, Atletico needed four goals to progress, and in successive ties they turned it on at the right time.

In little Luan, they have an absolute giant of a player, a creative energy who has stepped up admirably in the absence of former heroes. In addition, goalkeeper Victor proved he has not been tainted by the country's World Cup debacle, making a smart save at the death to maintain his club's advantage on Wednesday night.

This could be billed as the underdogs against the higher power. Plucky Atletico, in their smaller, less glamorous stadium, up against the pacesetters in their modernised, engulfing arena.

But Atletico have shown, not only in this cup run but their recent league form, that they are a force to be reckoned with in their own right. In a dazzling second-half display on Wednesday night, Culpi's troops showed they are capable of beating the odds whilst putting on a show all of their own.

The final of this year's Copa do Brasil could not have been planned better by the script writers. Two great rivals, two of the greatest teams in the country, one glittering prize.

It's all to play for.

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