While the rivalry between Porto and Sporting Lisbon might only the third-biggest in Portugal, behind the two each club plays out with Benfica, that does not mean to say the fixture, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, is any less exciting.

Thanks to the passion generated by both sets of fans, their successful records and the antagonism that exists between the country’s two major cities, Os Dragões and Os Leões have both played very visible roles in the history of Portuguese football.

The origins
Porto and Sporting met for the first time in June 1922, in the first leg of the final of the inaugural Campeonato de Portugal, the forerunner of the Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup). Played at Porto’s old home ground, the Campo da Constituicao, the game ended in a 2-1 victory for the hosts, with Tavares Bastos scoring both goals for Os Dragões. Sporting won the return, however, to force a replay in Porto, the northerners winning the decider 3-1 to claim their first major trophy.

It was not until the mid-1930s that the rivalry gained in intensity, thanks in the main to two massive wins for either side. In 1936, Porto dished out a 10-1 thrashing in the Liga Nacional – now known as the Liga ZON Sagres – a result that was avenged in equally humiliating fashion the very next season, when Sporting racked up a 9-1 win.

Home advantage counted for a lot in those days, so much so that Porto only gained their first win in Lisbon in 1949, at the 23rd attempt. That hoodoo coincided with a golden era for Sporting, whose famed five-man front line of Jesus Correia, Vasques, Albano, Peyroteo and Travassos, dubbed Os Cinco Violinos (“The Five Violins”), terrorised opposing defences and helped the club dominate the domestic scene.

Tales of derbies past
It was also at this time that football hit the silver screen, the game providing the backdrop for the 1947 film O Leão da Estrela (The Lion of the Star), in which a Sporting fan travels with his family to Porto to watch a derby match between the two sides.

The rivalry became even fiercer following an unusual incident nearly 30 years later at a snow-bound Estadio das Antas, where Porto trailed 2-0 before pulling level thanks to a controversial helping hand from off the pitch.

Conditions on the pitch got even worse as the fog came down, and when a header from Porto’s Fernando Mendes created confusion in the Benfica box, a ballboy stole onto the pitch, unnoticed by the officials, to divert the ball into the back of the net. Despite protests from the visiting players, the goal stood, though Os Leões had the last laugh when they scored to seal a 3-2 win.

That foggy away triumph would be the Lisbon side’s last in Porto for some considerable time, Sporting failing to win there in their next 19 attempts, a drought they only ended in 1997.

The clássico held at the Estadio Jose Alvalade three years later proved to be an extra-special one for Sporting, a 2-0 win allowing them to leapfrog Porto in the table and triggering a run that would taken them to their 17th league title and their first in 18 years.

Over the years a little extra spice has been added to the fixture by a clutch of big-name players who have ran out for both clubs, among them Maniche, Helder Postiga, Derlei, Ricardo Quaresma, Paulo Futre, Fernando Gomes, Antonio Sousa and, most recently of all, Joao Moutinho.

Yet, perhaps the member of that club who is most revered by the two sets of fans is Mario Jardel. The Brazilian striker pocketed the European Golden Boot while at Porto in 1999, and made off with the accolade again in 2002, this time in the green and white of Sporting, when he scored the small matter of 42 goals in 30 games.

With six goals, Jardel also shares the record as the top-scoring foreign player in the fixture with former Porto star Radamel Falcao Garcia, though the Colombian ace needed six games less than the Brazilian’s 11 to amass his haul. However, the two stand some way behind the rivalry’s all-time highest goalscorers: Sporting’s Peyroteo and Porto’s Pinga.

There is also a place for the inimitable Jose Mourinho in the story of the fixture, the current Real Madrid coach popping up at both clubs as Bobby Robson’s assistant before going on to enjoy a hugely successfully spell as Porto’s head coach.

Overall, honours have been fairly even between the two sides since that maiden game in 1922. Of their 213 meetings, Porto have won 77 to Sporting’s 76, with the other 60 matches ending in draws.

The rivalry today
In the last two decades Porto have matched the dominance Sporting enjoyed in the 1940s and 50s, and have also held sway in their recent clássico encounters. The northern giants have lost only two of their last 11 meetings with the Lisbon outfit, and dished out a 5-2 hiding in the quarter-finals of the Taça de Portugal in 2010. And only this year Os Dragões clinched their 26th league title courtesy of a 2-0 home defeat of Os Leões on the penultimate day of the season.

Though those recent statistics might suggest otherwise, matches between Porto and Sporting are always exciting affairs and not just for the two clubs’ supporters. Benfica fans also take a close interest in what their rivals get up to when they meet. The only problem they have is deciding which of the two they should support.