Almost 83 years on from their first meeting, The Strongest and Bolivar are all set for the latest instalment in Bolivia’s biggest derby. FIFA.com tells the tale of a clásico with a long and fascinating history.
Founded in the Bolivian capital of La Paz on 8 April 1908 by a group of well-to-do, twenty-something friends just out of military service, The Strongest is regarded as Bolivia’s most senior club. In accordance with the fashions of the time, the new institution adopted an English name, the idea being to let everyone know that they were indeed the strongest team around. The adoption of the tiger as the club’s mascot reinforced that image and would come to symbolise the qualities for which it has become known, namely drive, persistence and grit.
In the early days The Strongest’s fiercest rivals were Universitario de Sucre and the now-defunct Colegio Militar. All that changed, though, with the creation of Bolivar on 12 April 1925. Founded by intellectuals and nationalists, the new club was initially known as Atletico Bolivar Literario Cultural before becoming Club Atletico Bolivar shortly afterwards. Due to its roots, it has always been referred to as La Academia.
A crowd of around 3,000 were in attendance for the first meeting between the sides on 16 October 1927, which although it ended goalless, was described by the newspapers of the day as an entertaining affair. Their first official encounter came on 1 March 1928 in the championship organised by the La Paz Football Association, with Bolivar (also known as Los Celestes) running out 3-0 winners at the old Estadio Hernando Siles.
Facts and figures
In the years that followed the two sides became the most popular teams in the land, with their rivalry intensifying as a result, particularly after the creation of the Bolivian Professional Football League (LPFB) in 1977.
The La Paz adversaries have now played each other 168 times, with La Academia claiming 72 wins and Las Estronguistas 40, the remaining 56 games ending in draws. Bolivar have also outscored their arch-enemies by 253 goals to 204 in these fixtures.
Aside from their local domination, Los Celestes have won 16 league titles since the advent of the professional era, nine more than The Strongest. On top of that they have also appeared in an international final (in the 2004 Copa Sudamericana) and have qualified for the Copa Libertadores 26 times to Los Aurinegros’ 17.
For their part The Strongest can at least boast of being the LPFB’s first league champions. They also pride themselves on being the only La Paz side never to have been relegated to the Second Division, a fate suffered by Bolivar in 1964, when the league was still a semi-professional concern.
Tales of derbies past
The highest-scoring clásico was Bolivar’s 6-3 win in April 1978, a result they followed up a year later with an emphatic 6-0 triumph. El Tigre had to wait some 25 years to exact revenge for that humiliation, although Strongest fans would argue that the wait was worth it: their 7-0 win in December 2004 remains the biggest victory in the history of the derby. “We had the reserve team out that day,” argue Bolivar fans whenever that famous encounter comes up for discussion.
Unusually for two such successful sides they have only ever crossed swords once in a championship play-off final. That encounter came in January 1989, held to decide the winner of the 1988 Torneo Anual, and was won 3-0 by Bolivar, earning them their sixth league crown.
Another much-remembered duel took place in December 1999. Dubbed “The Last Clásico of the Century”, The Strongest won the game 1-0 despite playing the entire second half with only ten men, earning a return to the Copa Libertadores for the first time in six years in the process. “It was a hard-won victory, in keeping with the history of the club,” said the then club president Jorge Sfeir Byron.
Bolivar have held sway in the last couple of years, however, and have gone 13 games unbeaten against their old foes, a run that includes six straight wins in 2009. The most important of those successes were the two 2-1 victories that saw them tame El Tigre in the semi-finals of the Clausura Championship, a competition they would go on to win.
The last of those six games was the 3-0 win in the first leg of the 2009 Torneo Play-Off semi-finals on 2 November. The run came to an end just four days later when The Strongest prevailed 3-2 in the return match, the most recent meeting between the sides.
The rivalry today
After four rounds of games in the 2010 Apertura, Bolivar lead Group B with maximum points, while The Strongest lie fourth in Group A. Victory over La Academia would provide Los Aurinegros with a timely boost therefore.
“There are no favourites in clásicos and form doesn’t count for anything,” commented El Tigre coach Andres Coelho. “All the players want to play, do their bit and make names for themselves. Let’s hope it’s an exciting game.” The Strongest’s all-time top scorer in the fixture with ten goals, Coelho is clearly in a position to know.
So can Bolivar live up to their status as favourites? Or will The Strongest triumph against the odds? All will be revealed on Sunday.