The southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, situated near the Uruguayan and Argentinian borders, is much more than just the Rio Grande do Sul state capital. With a population of more than one million, this industrial metropolis is also home to Internacional and Gremio, two of the biggest clubs in the land of the Pentacampeao.
Take a walk along its busy streets and you cannot miss the hordes of passionate city folk proudly wearing the red of Inter, or the blue, white and black of Gremio. But make no mistake, the city of origin is about the only thing fans of these age-old adversaries have in common as they vie for superiority in one of South America's fiercest footballing rivalries.
Until 1995, Gremio could rightly lay claim to local bragging rights, having twice been continental champions and once lifted the Toyota/Intercontinental Cup. However, the new millennium has seen the pendulum swing back towards the Colorados, thanks to their 2006 Copa Libertadores triumph and imminent appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup.
"The rivalry with Gremio really spurs us on," explained Inter chairman Fernando Carvalho. "For 97 years, the two clubs have been constantly trying to outdo one another. Now, after a long wait, we're in the ascendancy by virtue of being continental champions, although we mustn't be content with just that. We need to go further if we are to continue to be successful in South American and beyond," added Carvalho, whose aim it is to make his club the undisputed top side in South America by 2009.
A question of rivalry
"When I arrived at the club, it became clear that the priority was to win the Libertadores - something Gremio had already managed. Now we want to win in Japan and match their feat," says striker Pedro Iarley.
Inter's goalkeeper Clemer further illustrated the nature of the rivalry when he explained with a laugh: "It's so bad that even we keepers have to outdo each other. We simply have to be better than Gremio, and we'll be trying to show that in Japan."
Anyone still in doubt about the veracity of the players' sentiments need only watch the footage of the celebrations that followed Inter's Copa Libertadores triumph this year. Groups of delirious fans paid homage by doing laps of their stadium on their knees, while others organized marathon victory parades to remind their city rivals that they too could call themselves South American champions.
Fernandao, Inter's captain and formidable goalscorer, says he, for one, was not surprised: "We knew we had to match Gremio and win that cup, as that this was the most important thing for the fans. Ninety-seven years the club waited for that title, so when I put myself in the fans' shoes, I felt almost the same longing," the player told FIFA.com.
Gremio put faith in 'their' Ronaldinho
When the Colorados embark on their campaign to be world club champions this December in the Far East, the Gremio fans are sure to be lighting candles for one of their own graduates, the mercurial Ronaldinho, who will be hoping to lead his Barcelona side to the title.
For Fernandao, going head-to-head with the Seleção front man would be a "classic showdown in itself, given that he's the best player in the world. Of course, for the fans, the most important thing would be just to beat Barcelona. It would also be a historic moment for us players if we could overcome a rich and powerful European side like that."
Such a fascinating possibility also intrigues Iarley, who insists the fans would be in for a special treat if their team ended up facing Ronaldinho and Co: "Obviously, winning that one would be doubly sweet." Clemer, for his part, goes even further, saying: "Such a showdown would also pit us against the Gremio fans, so we'll be going all out to win and get one up on them."
Whatever the outcome of that potential meeting in Japan, Inter have already won the most important battle of the season, at least according to their coach Abel Braga: "Inter's growth over the last decade has created a whole new legion of fans, who will soon make a difference in the city. I'm also sure that their numbers will swell further with success in Japan." For the time being, at least, it seems the red of Internacional is flying highest in Porto Alegre.