You could be forgiven for thinking that a game ranked as only the third biggest derby in its city might lack appeal. But then again, there are very few cities that are as passionate about their football as Sao Paulo, the largest metropolis in the Southern Hemisphere and home to three of Brazil’s most successful clubs.
And though meetings between Sao Paulo and Palmeiras may not enjoy the same standing and tradition as the clubs’ respective rivalries with neighbours Corinthians, there can be no underestimating their status as intense footballing spectacles. With ten national league titles between them and 43 regional crowns, neither club lacks pedigree or support, boasting as they do the third and fourth-biggest followings in the land respectively.
O Choque Rei has the power to bring Sao Paulo state, with its population of 25 million, to a standstill. And unlike the area’s other classic rivalries, the spoils of victory have been shared equally over the years, although Sao Paulo do have the edge in Copa Libertadores meetings. Fierce foes since a dispute between the clubs’ directors in the 1940s, the two have nurtured a mutual animosity over the years, one that has made for gripping entertainment out on the pitch.
Palestra Italia had established itself as one of the pre-eminent forces in the city long before they changed their name to Palmeiras. Founded by members of the city’s Italian community at the end of 1914, the club grew quickly and was soon battling it out with Corinthians for the major honours. It was not until 1930, however, that they crossed swords with Sao Paulo for the first time, a state league match that ended in a 2-2 draw - a stalemate that proved a sign of things to come.
State champions in 1931, Sao Paulo would nevertheless lead a troubled existence in the years that followed, prompting calls by its members to merge with another club, which led to the demise of its football team. By the time O Tricolor Paulista reappeared on the scene in 1935, Palestra Italia had established a firm grip on the local football scene, winning four state titles between 1932 and 1936.
The outbreak of the Second World War marked a turning point in the history of Palestra. Giving its support to the Allies rather than the Axis powers, Getulio Vargas’ national government banned sporting and other associations from having any kind of links with the country’s enemies. After accusing rivals Sao Paulo of exerting pressure behind the scenes to ensure the law came into effect, Palestra Italia were forced to change their name to avoid punishment and possible closure. And so, in 1942 Palmeiras came into being.
The “new” club, which now sported an all-green strip shorn of the red of the Italian flag, went on to win the state title that same year, prevailing in a controversial final against Sao Paulo. Marred by violent scenes, the game came to a premature end when the Tricolor players left the pitch following a hotly disputed penalty award in the second half.
Facts and figures
The two sides have played each other 295 times since 1930, with Sao Paulo recording 102 wins to Palmeiras’ 97 and the other 96 games ending in draws. Sao Paulo’s leading goalscorer in the fixture in recent years is Muller, who struck times 12 against O Verdão, while Evair tallied nine for Palmeiras. Strangely enough, the biggest idols at both clubs these days are their goalkeepers, Rogerio Ceni and Marcos, who have sparred many a time in nearly two decades of loyal service.
The rivals have amassed trophy after trophy. Six-times Brazilian champions, Sao Paulo also have three Copa Libertadores crowns to their name in addition to two Intercontinental Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup. Libertadores winners in 1999, Palmeiras have won two less Brazilian titles and the same number of state titles, 22 in all. No other Brazilian clubs have made more Libertadores appearances than these two proud institutions (15 for Sao Paulo and 14 for Palmeiras), whose training grounds also happen to be side by side.
Tales of derbies past
A year after losing that fiery 1942 league decider, Sao Paulo gained revenge, pulling off a major shock by securing a 0-0 draw with O Alviverde to pip both them and Corinthians to the state title, only the second in their history. So unlikely was that success, achieved against the two dominant teams of the time, that it since became known among Sao Paulo fans as “a moeda que caiu em pé” (The coin that dropped at our feet).
A regional affair up until the early seventies, O Choque Rei then became a national and even international event, In 1973 Palmeiras won their second Brazilian championship running after a goalless draw with O Tricolor, who avenged that result a year later by beating O Verdão home and away in the group phase of the Libertadores.
Both sides had their fair share of glory in the 1990s, which produced some memorable encounters. Sao Paulo excelled during Tele Santana’s glorious five-year reign as coach, which included a notable 1992 state title secured after two defeats of Palmeiras, the second of them coming shortly after an Intercontinental Cup triumph over Barcelona.
Not to be outdone and backed by affluent sponsors, O Alviverde put together a star-studded side that would defeat Sao Paulo in a 1993 Brazilian league play-off semi-final at the Estadio Morumbi, courtesy of a spectacular Cesar Sampaio strike. The two would meet again in the Libertadores the following year, with eventual runners-up Sao Paulo edging out their city foes in the last 16.
Further Libertadores clashes have followed since then. In 2005 O Tricolor prevailed once more in the round of 16 en route to their third title, and came out on top at the same stage the following year, Rogerio Ceni converting a late penalty to dash Verdão hopes yet again. In four ties in the competition, Sao Paulo have never lost to the men in green, winning six times and drawing twice.
The rivalry today
The most gripping instalment in the history of O Choque Rei since then was the 2008 Paulista semi-final. Losers in the first leg, Palmeiras won 2-0 in the second to book a place in the final en route to their 22nd and last state title. Lately however, O Verdão have tended to struggle against their neighbours, failing to win at the Morumbi on their last 16 visits in the Brazilian league, the most recent of them ending in a 1-0 defeat earlier this year. In view of that underwhelming record, victory at the Estadio Pacaembu on Sunday would be gratefully received by the Palmeiras faithful.