Ranking the 20 Biggest Rivalries in South American Football

Daniel Edwards@@DanEdwardsGoalFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2015

Ranking the 20 Biggest Rivalries in South American Football

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    South America's greatest football rivalries are well known across the world. Be it Boca vs. River, Corinthians meeting Palmeiras or Argentina's clashes against Brazil or Uruguay, whole countries are capable of grinding to a halt in order to witness the next chapter of an eternal competition. 

    But intensely fought matches can be found the length and breadth of the continent. From Bolivia to Buenos Aires and Paraguay to Porto Alegre, local loyalties always run deep and make for an intriguing spectacle on derby days. 

    The following 20 rivalries deserve to be recognised as the fiercest fixtures in South America, games where winning or losing is, sometimes literally, a matter of life and death. 

20. The Highest Derby

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    When talking about the world's greatest football rivalries, The Strongest vs. Bolivar may not spring immediately to mind. But the two La Paz-based clubs are far and away the best-supported sides in Bolivia, making their derbies a special attraction. 

    Aside from fervent fan following, the game has another curiosity. The Bolivian capital's main stadium Hernando Siles stands a daunting 12,000 feet above sea level, making this Paceno derby surely the highest game of its type in professional football.

19. The 'Shipyard Derby'

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    While Ecuador's capital Quito boasts several accomplished football teams, it is down on the coast at Guayaquil that the sport truly finds its national centre. Emelec and Barcelona are two of the country's most successful teams, and between them the pair fight out the curiously named Shipyard Derby (Clasico del Astillero) every year

    This tense clash has another claim to fame. In 1973, director Rene Cardona shot El Derecho de los Pobres, a film about Guayaquil which featured the derby. Not only is it one of the biggest rivalries in South America, but Barcelona's historic fixture with Emelec has also been immortalised on the silver screen. 

18. Galo vs. Raposa

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    Up in Belo Horizonte, they take their football very seriously. There, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo's finest have little sway, as the Minas Gerais city splits into those who pledge allegiance to the Galo, Atletico Mineiro, and the Raposa, Cruzeiro. 

    The wish to see one's rivals taken down a peg can sometimes lead to curious scenes. Atletico Mineiro fans managed to put aside the traditional enmity between Brazil and Argentina during the World Cup, when the Albiceleste used their Cidade do Galo training facilities. 

    The reason? Coach Alejandro Sabella had previously been in charge of Estudiantes, who triumphed in the 2009 Copa Libertadores. The fact that Sabella and the Pincha took down Cruzeiro to do so won him lasting loyalty from those on the other side of the Belo Horizonte divide. 

17. Alianza vs. Universitario

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    When travelling around South America, there is no better way to see the unique culture in the region than breathing in the colour and madness of a top football match. But those passing through Peru when Alianza and Universitario meet would probably be best off giving the country's most important derby a miss. 

    The game has in recent years been marred by a string of deaths, as passions were expressed in a most repulsive manner. In 2011, according to Leon Watson of the Daily Mail, an Alianza fan was thrown to his death onto the concrete stands below by Universitario hooligans who broke into a private box during the clasico. 

16. The University Derby in Chile

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    In Chilean capital Santiago, three teams rule the roost. Colo Colo fans may protest, and not without reason, at seeing themselves relegated down the pecking order; but even FIFA marks the Clasico Universitario between Universidad de Chile and Universidad Catolica as the nation's most traditional derby. 

    The derby's roots come from the early 20th century, when the two teams really were made up from students of Santiago's most prestigious universities. Catolica and La U have gone on to meet a total of 223 times in all competitions, with 89 U wins to 66 for their rivals. Catolica fans, however can point to a 5-0 thrashing in 1954, which was the biggest victory in the history of the derby.

15. The Derby of the Millions

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    Calling a football match the "Derby of the Millions" may sound like a gross exaggeration. In the case of Rio de Janeiro giants Vasco and Flamengo, however, who command massive support both inside and out of their home state, the hyperbole is more than justified. 

    The pair are traditionally two of Brazil's strongest outfits, and games between them never fail to arouse passions. The heyday of the derby came in the 1980s; Zico lined up for the Fla, while Roberto Dinamite led their rivals, two iconic players that symbolised the strength of the five-time world champions. 

14. Colombia's Clasico Capitalino

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    Colombian football came to prominence in the 1940s, attracting players such as Alfredo Di Stefano during the El Dorado heyday when a FIFA suspension paradoxically made the national league one of the best in the world. Two of the sides who were strongest in that era, Bogota's Santa Fe and Millonarios, remain among the best nearly 70 years later. 

    Over that period, no love has been lost. The Clasico Capitalino is invariably filled with big hits and savage tackles on the pitch, also the off-field violence associated with Medellin and Cali does not usually manifest itself in quite the same fashion.

    As well as fighting for football supremacy, class also comes in to the picture: Millonarios claim the upscale northern section of Bogota, while Santa Fe have roots in the rougher south side of the capital. 

13. The Clasico Platense

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    History tells us that Estudiantes de la Plata was formed when a group of students broke away from the more traditional Gimnasia club in 1905, when directors decided not to focus on football at the gymnastics and fencing institution. Ever since that time, the two representatives of La Plata have engaged in one of the fiercest derbies on Argentine soil, never missing a chance to rub in their successes. 

    Fans of the Pincha, for instance, carry a banner to all games reminding Gimnasia of a 7-0 destruction in 2006, the biggest win ever in the fixture. Lobo supporters will usually respond by pointing out they in fact are the most devoted and passionate, despite their lack of titles; Jose Perdomo's goal in 1992, for example, created such a roar that a tremor of more than six on the Richter scale was registered (Diario Hoy). 

12. The Two Calis

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    Set down in Colombia's lush Valle del Cauca and slowly shaking off the stigma of being the base for the fearsome eponymous drug cartels during the 1980s and '90s, Cali has a lot going for it as a city. Two of the country's biggest clubs call the Capital of Happiness home, and games between Deportivo and America are always fiercely contested. 

    The Clasico vallecaucano has not been disputed in the league since 2011, due to America's first-ever relegation in that year. But the two teams have met an incredible 278 times in their history, Cali holding a narrow 10-game lead over their rivals in the all-time standings. 

11. Chile vs. Peru

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    From the position of maritime borders to who was the real inventor of Pisco, Chilean and Peruvian nationals rarely run out of topics to maintain and renew a fierce inter-country rivalry. As it is across the world, football gives the nations an ideal stage to play out that competitiveness. 

    Peru and Chile meet often in the Copa America and the World Cup qualifying tournament, playing out the famed Clasico del Pacifico, a play on the War of the Pacific the pair fought in the late 19th century. As writer Greg Duke points out for CNN, nothing is above dispute; the countries even fight about who invented the bicycle kick, which the Chileans call a Chilena and Peru a Chalaca. 

10. The Clasico Rioplatense

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    Games between Argentina and Uruguay often, to the untrained eye, take on the appearance of club clashes, such is the rivalry and passion which can sometimes be lacking from international football. When the Rioplatense derby takes place, regional pride is on the line for both nations. 

    The first match between the two was played way back in 1902, making the fixture one of the oldest international games in the world. In total, Argentina and Uruguay have met 180 times, with one of the most famous clashes a fierce World Cup last-16 meeting in 1986 decided by a single Pedro Pasculli goal. 

9. Paraguay's Superclasico

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    The term Superclasico is by no means solely reserved for matches in Argentine capital Buenos Aires. Paraguayan fans believe that there own marquee derby is just as important as a spectacle, and while Olimpo and Cerro Porteno may not have the international reach of Boca and River for fanaticism, they are not far behind. 

    The battle for supremacy in Asuncion is complex. Olimpia, with an impressive 53 official titles that include three Copas Libertadores, are comfortably ahead of Cerro in the trophy race. But the Ciclon can, and do, point to their head-to-head record, winning 112 official Superclasicos compared to the Decano's 110. 

8. Gre-Nal

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    Brazilian football is much more than just Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. While Porto Alegre's derby between Gremio and Internacional is mentioned here, alongside the Cruzeiro-Atletico Mineiro showdown in Belo Horizonte, there are an almost unlimited number of states and cities which also deserve a mention. 

    The passion showed by the two Gre-Nal supporters, however, tips the balance in favour of the city in Rio Grande do Sul, in the far south of Brazil, and with more in common culturally with Argentina and Uruguay than perhaps with the northern reaches of their own country. 

7. Medellin Derby

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    In terms of football geography, Colombia has much more in common with Brazil than the more capital-oriented nations such as Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. The game is truly a federal pursuit; aside from Bogota, Cali, Barranquilla and Medellin are all football strongholds in their own right. 

    The latter of that group is divided between two clubs and notorious for the passion which Atletico Nacional and Medellin fans show in the terraces. Unfortunately, in a city with such a checkered history as Medellin, this can often spill over into unsavoury scenes

6. The Clasico Rosarino

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    In the interior region of Argentina, it is very normal for football fanatics to pick a Buenos Aires club to follow alongside their local heroes. But Rosario, Santa Fe is the exception. The city is divided into two parts; those who support Newell's Old Boys and those who follow Rosario Central, with a rivalry that is as strong as any in the rest of the nation. 

    Aside from hosting some of Argentina's most spectacularly colourful derbies, the clubs are also responsible for giving each other their nicknames. According to local legend, during the 1920s, a local lepers' hospital wished to stage a derby with the proceeds going to fund the facility. Newell's agreed to play, while Central pulled out. 

    From that day Central were derided as "Canallas" (Swine) for not taking part; they hit back by dubbing their bitter rivals "Leprosos" (Lepers). The names have stuck to the present day. 

5. Uruguay's Clasico

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    In most of South America's traditional footballing nations, there is some plurality of football giants. Of course, Boca and River, Flamengo and Corinthians exist, but aside from those powerhouses, historic teams can be found the length and breadth of Argentina, Colombia and Brazil. 

    In Uruguay, however, two teams rule the roost with a cold, brutal efficiency that is perhaps only repeated by Scotland's Old Firm. Penarol and Nacional are far and away the strongest sides in Montevideo and the nation, meaning clashes between the pair are liable to boil over at any point. 

4. The Clasico De Avellaneda

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    In the football-mad country of Argentina, Boca Juniors' biannual clash with River is rightly considered the biggest game of all. But in Avellaneda, just a few miles down the road from Buenos Aires across the acrid Riachuelo river, it is Racing Club and Independiente who are the main attraction. 

    The game can do funny things even to people from the same family. As youngsters Diego and Gabriel Milito lined up on opposite sides of the Avellaneda divide, with the former representing Racing and the latter El Rojo. Brotherly love did not come into the equation: according to La Nacion (Spanish), in 2003, the siblings almost ended up exchanging blows on the pitch while the rest of the family suffered in the stands. 

3. The Superclasico Sudamericano

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    Anyone who happened to be in Brazil last year for the World Cup and found themselves sharing a city with the thousands of Argentina fans who streamed north will know that the Albiceleste's rivalry with their neighbours is special. It is an enmity built on success, and the fact that the pair are two of the very best sides at international level in the world. 

    With five World Cups to Argentina's two, the Selecao have the edge in football's biggest prize. The Albiceleste, however, hold the edge in total titles 18 to 17, and in the nations' only World Cup meeting back in 1990, Claudio Caniggia's famous goal led them to victory. Supporters still do not tire of asking their counterparts "how it feels."

2. Paulista Derby

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    Four teams of impeccable history dot the metropolitan area of monstrous Sao Paulo. Palmeiras, Corinthians and Sao Paulo can be found inside the city, while Santos lie a few kilometres away in the port settlement of the same name, now almost swallowed by the ever-expanding metropolis. Between this quartet, any one of the derbies could be included on this list. 

    It is Corinthians' clash with Palmeiras, however, that really brings the state to a stand-still. The sides are among the most widely supported in all of Brazil, and both measure their fanbase not in thousands, but in tens of millions. 

1. The Superclasico

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    Not only is it the biggest derby in South America, but Boca Juniors' yearly showdown with River Plate has a legitimate claim to be called the greatest club encounter in the entire world. The quality these days may not be as high as a Barcelona-Real Madrid clasico, for example, but tell that to the thousands of fans who pack the stadium on Superclasico days.

    River and Boca command the support of the majority of Argentina's population, meaning that on derby days, not just Buenos Aires, but an entire country is paralysed. This writer heard it first-hand; even in the indigenous village of Amaicha, thousands of miles away in the Tucuman mountains, the entire town crowds into the main square to watch the game. This nationwide reach makes the Superclasico a clash almost without equal on the planet.