Nobody has ever summed up the origins of the Flamengo-Fluminense derby better than the sports writer and dramatist Nelson Rodrigues, who once said "the Fla-Flu was created 40 minutes before nothing." It is a sentence that captures the sheer importance of the Clássico das Multidões (Derby of the Masses) to both the city of Rio de Janeiro and Brazilian football as a whole.
The latest instalment in their long-running rivalry will take place on Sunday, on Matchday 8 of the Brasileirao. And as FIFA.com reveals, few other derbies around the world can match the Fla-Flu for historical significance or for its ability to produce dramatic, defining moments.
The roots of the clássico stretch back years before the first meeting between the two sides on 7 July 1912. Founded in 1895, Clube de Regatas do Flamengo was dedicated mainly to rowing in its early years and it was not until 1911 that its football team came into being. Ironically, the founders were a group of nine players from another venerable institution called Fluminense Football Club, who broke away from the then-Rio de Janeiro champions to set up their own team, creating a rivalry born from within.
Despite having lost the core of their squad, Fluminense won that very first encounter 3-2, with Bartho scoring the winner after 77 minutes. The match was watched by a crowd of 800 people, a figure that was fairly respectable for the time but one that is dwarfed by the huge attendances the derby, now synonymous with a packed Estadio Maracana, would begin to attract in the decades that followed.
Neither Flamengo nor Fluminense, the winner of the first four Rio championships between 1906 and 1909, would lift the league trophy that year. The first time the teams battled it out for the championship was four years later in 1915, with Flamengo getting the better of their rivals to win the league for the second time. Ever since then the Fla-Flu has always been a distinguishing feature of Rio's footballing identity.
Facts and figures
This year's Rio de Janeiro state championship triumph was Flamengo's 31st in all, taking them one ahead of O Tricolor. Thanks to their Zico-inspired glory years, O Mengão also have the edge over their local rivals in other competitions, having amassed four Brazilian league titles to Fluminense's one and two Brazilian Cups to their one, not to mention one Copa Libertadores crown, a trophy that their arch-enemies have never lifted.
In the 368 matches the two sides have contested over the last 97 years O Rubro-Negro also hold sway, having won 132 times and scored 543 goals in the process, with Fluminense claiming 118 wins and amassing a goal tally of 499.
The top scorer in the fixture is Arthur Antunes de Coimbra, better known as Zico, with 19 goals, while O Fluzão's leading marksmen is Hercules, their hero of 1930s and 1940s, with 15. Fluminense's biggest win over their rivals was a 5-1 thrashing in 1943, a result avenged by a 7-0 Flamengo win two years later, their most handsome victory in the fixture to date.
Tales of derbies past
The derby's famous name of Fla-Flu was first coined in the mid-1920s by the celebrated sports journalist Mario Filho, whose status in Brazil was such that the Maracana was renamed the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho on his death in the mid-sixties. Filho came up with the moniker when the Rio side for the 1925 Brazilian State Teams Championship was announced. Made up entirely of Flamengo and Fluminense players, the revered writer dubbed the side the "Fla-Flu team", and when Rio promptly went and won the tournament the term entered the country's footballing lexicon.
The Maracana was officially opened in 1950, though it would be 13 years before the two sides met there in a Rio championship decider, a goalless draw securing the 1963 state title for O Rubro-Negro. That game was notable for the huge crowd it attracted. The official attendance of 177,656 is the highest in the history of the clássico and one of the largest of all time, with some sources putting the figure as high as 194,000.
The history of the derby is littered with famous names, from Flamengo greats Leonidas da Silva and Junior to Fluzão legends Tele Santana and Rivelino. A number of players have even turned out for both sides, though few with quite such distinction as Renato Gaucho. A Mengão idol in the 1980s and early 90s, Renato was sporting a Tricolor shirt when he scored one of the most famous goals in the fixture.
A thrilling 1995 state championship decider was reaching its conclusion, with Flamengo seemingly on course for the title after coming back from two goals down. Fluminense refused to give up and when Ailton sent a cross into the box, Renato bundled it over the line with his stomach, an unorthodox finish that gave them a 3-2 win and the championship at their rivals' expense.
The rivalry today
Though Fluminense won the Copa do Brasil for the first time in 2007 and came within a penalty shootout of claiming their maiden Copa Libertadores crown last year, Flamengo are enjoying the greater success this season. Having won the Rio de Janeiro state title, they also earned a 1-0 win in the first Fla-Flu of the year in April courtesy of a goal from left-wingback Juan.
Sunday's eagerly anticipated encounter features a duel between two strikers who formed part of the Brazil squad at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, with Flamengo's Adriano keen to outdo Fluminense's Fred in the scoring stakes. Both sides need their strikers to fire for differing reason. Coached by the legendary Carlos Alberto Parreira, O Tricolor Carioca are anxious to improve their lowly league placing of 11th, while O Rubro-Negro, with Cuca at the helm, can move into the Copa Libertadores places if they win.
Yet, as this potted history of this Rio rivalry shows, there is much, much more at stake on Sunday than just three points.