La Plata, fondly known as la Ciudad de las Diagonales (the City of Diagonals), is one of Argentina's most cited examples of 20th-century city planning. And the capital of Buenos Aires province also boasts another characteristic that sets it apart from other Argentinian urban centres. In La Plata, footballing passions burn fiercest not for River Plate or Boca Juniors but for local rivals Estudiantes and Gimnasia y Esgrima.
On Sunday 5 April, Estudiantes and Gimnasia will go head to head for the 145th time. Fans of Los Pincharratas (the Rat-catchers), as Estudiantes are known, will no doubt be busy recounting details of their club's many domestic and continental successes - titles that lead them to proclaim their team as "the pride of La Plata." Los Triperos (Tripe-handlers), so called because in their early days many fans worked in meat-processing plants, always respond by saying "we've always had it tough so good times must be around the corner". Adding extra spice to the occasion is the fact the legendary Clásico del Terremoto (Earthquake Derby) took place exactly 17 years previously.
The origin of this rivalry is a curious one. Founded on 3 June 1887, Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata are the only current Argentinian top-flight outfit not to have started life as a football team. Instead, as their name suggests, the club's focus was squarely on gymnastics and fencing until in 1901 some members took up the fledgling game of football, known back then "that crazy Englishmen's sport."
In 1905, Gimnasia's eviction from their premises caused a schism within the club, with some members preferring to continue concentrating on indoor sports while others expressed their desire to keep playing football. Therefore, on 4 August that year, the latter group decided to break off and found Club Atletico Estudiantes, which would later become Estudiantes La Plata.
Estudiantes joined the first division of the now defunct Argentinian Football Federation (FAF) in 1911 while Gimnasia, who began fielding a football team once more in 1913, joined them in 1914. However, the first meeting between them was not until 27 August 1916, a game Gimnasia won 1-0 in front of a packed crowd at their opponents' stadium - the winner coming via a Ludovico Pastor own goal.
Facts and figures
The teams' first derby of the professional era took place on 14 June 1933 and ended 1-1. To date, the duo have squared off in 144 clásicos, with 50 wins for Estudiantes, 44 for Gimnasia and 50 draws, scoring a total of 212 and 192 goals respectively. To make matters worse for fans of El Lobo (the Wolf), as Gimnasia are also known, their rivals El León (The Lion) have had the upper hand overall since a 4-2 win way back in August 1945.
Los Pincharratas' all-time leading scorer in derby games is Manuel Pellegrina with 11 goals, while Los Triperos pair Arturo Naon and Manuel Fidel have seven apiece. Estudiantes' 7-0 victory in October 2006 is the biggest margin of victory between the two sides, and Gimnasia's most comprehensive success over their neighbours was 5-2 in August 1963.
El Lobo do boast the longest run of clásicos without defeat, going ten derbies unbeaten between 1986 and 1990 - a sequence of four wins (one on penalties) and six draws. But it is El León who have collected the most consecutive wins, having emerged victorious in the last five encounters.
Tales of derbies past
Such was the prowess of the Gimnasia team of 1933, they were dubbed El Expreso (The Express Train) for their ability to overhaul opponents. In the midst of their push for that year's title, however, a players' strike meant El Lobo were forced to field a youth team against their fierce rivals only for the youngsters to pull off a shock 1-0 success.
In 1945, Estudiantes had the dubious pleasure of sealing their neighbours' relegation from the top flight after a 3-1 win on the last day of the season. Pincharratas' fans will also have very fond memories of the September 1985 derby. That eagerly anticipated clash, which followed four clásico-free years due to Gimnasia having dropped down a division, was won 1-0 thanks to Jose Daniel Ponce's free kick.
But as far as free-kick goals are concerned, nothing can match the impact of Jose Perdomo's effort for Gimnasia at Estudiantes on 5 April 1992. Quite literally, in fact, as the visiting fans' roars actually registered on the city's seismograph! "The Gimnasia fans always remind me of that and thank me for it. I never thought I'd experience something like that," said the Uruguayan protagonist of what became known as the Clásico del Terremoto.
For many, no derby had as much riding on it as the meeting on 18 August 1996. On the final day of that year's Clausura, Gimnasia visited Estudiantes needing a win to claim a historic first ever title, only to miss out after being held to a 1-1 draw.
They would have revenge of sorts in 2005, when beating Estudiantes 4-1 to end their chase for the Clausura title, though that was the last Triperos victory to date. What is more, El León roared louder than ever on 15 October 2006 when, inspired by Juan Sebastian Veron and hat-trick hero Jose Luis Calderon, they destroyed El Lobo 7-0 on the way to their last title triumph. "For someone who has come through the ranks at this club, going down in history with a win like this is utterly priceless," said Calderon.
Psychologically speaking, Estudiantes go into the game with a discernible advantage having won the last five meetings - three of them after having men sent off. Yet in purely footballing terms, Gimnasia appear to have the more solid unit, despite being embroiled in a relegation battle (decided on points average over the last three years). Indeed, El Lobo are currently 5th in the Clausura standings on 11 points, six ahead of El León who are back in 18th spot. Can Estudiantes put a damper on Gimnasia's promising start? Or will Gimnasia ensure their rivals remain in the lower reaches while boosting their own survival hopes? Watch this space...