THE SIX SOUTH AMERICAN DERBIES FOR YOUR FOOTBALL BUCKET LIST
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.
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 paralyzed. 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.
The Uruguayan Clásico
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.
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 lies a few kilometers 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.
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. You can tick off the Avellaneda Derby off your bucket list this season.
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.
The Clásico Rosarino
In the interior region of Argentina, it is very normal for football fans and travelers 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 colorful 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 was 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.
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