After humble beginnings as a sports club for Italian immigrants in the province of Minas Gerais, Cruzeiro Esporte Clube has grown into a true heavyweight of the Brazilian game - both in terms of popularity and success. FIFA.com takes a closer look at the history of the club, which includes memorable conquests and performances from the likes of Tostao and Ronaldo.
Birth of an institution
Such is the ethnic diversity of the millions of Cruzeiro followers now spanning the length and breadth of Brazil, it is hard to believe the Belo Horizonte outfit began life as an Italians-only club. The team which currently battles for the hearts and minds of football fans in Minas Gerais with fierce rivals Atletico Mineiro came into being on 2 January 1921, under the name of Societa Sportiva Palestra Italia, wearing a strip in the red, white and green of the Italian flag. Their first official match, in April of that year, was a 3-0 win over Atletico.
The club's policy of only fielding players with Italian backgrounds continued until 1925, while the team still went by the name Palestra Italia when claiming their most notable early successes: a hat-trick of Minas Gerais state championships between 1928 and 1930. Palestra Italia's identity change came about during the Second World War, in January 1942 to be precise, when the Brazilian government passed a law forbidding any private institution from carrying a name relating to any of the three members of the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan).
Consequently, Palestra Italia became Palestra Mineiro, and that same year the club's directors decided to adopt new colours of blue and white, along with two more new names. In September the name Ypiranga was adopted but did not meet with great affection, so the new identity, Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, was taken just one month later on 7 October 1942. This was in homage to the Cruzeiro do Sul (Southern Cross) constellation, a Brazilian national symbol only visible from the Southern Hemisphere, which also became part of the club's badge.
Making of a legend
Palestra Italia's successful beginning had hinted at a title-laden future and, once their adaptation to the turbulent global political situation was complete, Cruzeiro promptly completed another Mineiro championship treble between 1943 and 1945, largely thanks to the goals of legendary players Niginho and Ismael. It was around this time that Cruzeiro earned the nickname of A Raposa (The Fox), in reference to the club's president between 1942 and 1947, Mario Grosso, who was known as a cunning operator.
After being hit by a financial crisis in 1952, which led to the club having to release all of their professionals and spend a number of years as an amateur team, a generation of players began to emerge who would subsequently help Cruzeiro gain a reputation and a fan base far beyond the borders of Minas Gerais. Once the state government had concluded construction of the Estadio Mineirao in 1965, football in Minas Gerais gained prestige in national terms. And it was around this time that Cruzeiro began assembling its all-time greatest team, adding a crop of talented youngsters led by Wilson Piazza and Dirceu Lopes to the squad that won another three consecutive Mineiro championships between 1959 and 1961.
Yet the brightest star in the Cruzeiro galaxy was an attacking genius by the name of Eduardo Goncalves de Andrade, better known as Tostao. He and his team-mates went on to write the club's name in bold letters in the annals of Brazilian football in 1966, when beating Pele's Santos to gold in the Taça Brasil, a precursor to the Campeonato Brasileiro, which began in 1971.
That glittering array of talent was swiftly followed by another brilliant batch, which would take A Raposa to international renown. The arrival of Palhinha, Joaozinho and Nelinho helped the team finish national league runners-up in 1974 and 1975, before claiming the Copa Libertadores 1976 crown with a defeat of Buenos Aires giants River Plate. Back in the final of the continental showpiece event a year later, this time River's fierce rivals Boca Juniors proved too strong for the Cruzeirenses.
The 1980s featured little in the way of Cruzeiro success, but the 1990s kicked off an impressive run of trophy wins. The year 1993 was notable for a first Copa do Brasil triumph and the emergence of a young striker called Ronaldo Nazario de Lima. They won the national cup once more in 1996, this guaranteeing their place in the following year's Copa Libertadores. With Dida between the sticks, Cruzeiro claimed their second Libertadores triumph with victory over Peru's Sporting Cristal in the final.
The club's traditional formula of unearthing great players, building top-class teams and winning titles aplenty continued into the new millennium. The high point was the ‘triple crown' in 2003, when, inspired by attacking midfielder Alex, Cruzeiro won the Mineiro state title, a fourth Copa do Brasil and finally claimed their maiden Campeonato Brasileiro.
Cruzeiro's record in recent years means they are generally grouped among the favourites for any tournament they enter. And after finishing the Brasileiro 2008 in third, they have enjoyed an impressive start in the Copa Libertadores 2009, boosted by the performances of midfielder Ramires and the return of former fans' favourite Juan Pablo Sorin.
In spite of an excellent infrastructure that includes two training centres, Cruzeiro do not have sole use of a stadium for their home games. Instead, they share the Estadio Mineirao, which belongs to the Minas Gerais state government, with rivals Atletico Mineiro. Inaugurated on 5 September 1965, the vast arena has previously held more than 130,000 spectators, although since the introduction of new security measures this capacity has been reduced to 75,783.