Atletiba, the rivalry that went national

Hailing from the southern Brazilian state of Parana, Atletico Paranaense and Coritiba looked on from the sidelines for many, many years while the big clubs from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais or Rio Grande do Sul traded the country’s most important trophies.

Having been resigned to battling it out on the state front in the meantime, the arch rivals from the city of Coritiba eventually began to make their mark on the national scene in the 1980s, doing battle with the country’s heavyweights in the decades that followed and gaining a new-found status that added a little extra spice to their local rivalry, dubbed O Atletiba.

Their respective quests for glory put Parana firmly on Brazil’s footballing map. The state is one of only five to boast two national league champions, with Coritiba winning the title in 1985 and Atletico-PR following suit in 2001. Once of sole interest to local fans, *O Atletiba *has subsequently grown in stature, becoming one of the biggest rivalries in Brazil and throwing up some memorable matches along the way.

The originsThe arrival of a large number of German immigrants in Parana in the mid-19th century helped trigger the region’s economic growth and also directly led to the sport of football taking root there. The pioneer was a young man of German descent called Frederico “Fritz” Essenfelder, who introduced a group of friends to the game one day in 1909 and played a leading role in founding the state’s first team, Coritiba Football Club, shortly afterwards.

Taking on a decidedly Teutonic flavour, football in Parana began to attract people from all walks of life. Following the example set by German workers, members of the Curitiba aristocracy decided to set up a club of their own, merging America and Internacional – two outfits set up by well-known families in the city – to create Clube Atletico Paranaense.

Boasting loyal but markedly different fanbases that had helped forge the state’s identity, the two clubs promptly embarked on a fierce battle for supremacy. The story began in a Parana state championship match in 1924, which ended in a 6-3 win for Coritiba, four of their goals being scored by Ninho.

*Facts and figures *Over 350 more derby meetings have taken place since then, with Coritiba having a slight edge thanks to their domination of the fixture between 1950 and 1980 and again in the last decade. During these periods they won the state title six times and then four times in a row and even chalked up an incredible 24-match winning sequence. O Coxa (The Thigh) also led the way in Paranaense championship play-off finals between the two, winning ten of them to their rival’s seven, four of the ten coming consecutively between 2010 and 2013.

While Coritiba are top dogs at state level, things are a good deal tighter when it comes to the more than 30 games the Parana foes have fought out in the top two tiers of the Brazilian league. And as for the leading goalscorer in the fixture, that accolade goes to Florisval Lanzoni, also known as O Neno (The Kid), who scored 26 goals in O Atletiba, 20 of them for Os Alviverdes and six for O Rubro-Negro, in the 1940s and 50s.

Tales of derbies pastThat first encounter in 1924 was followed in the next three years by a series of friendlies, during which O Atletiba grew in intensity before taking on an entirely new dimension in the two-legged 1941 state final, which Coritiba won. In the process they were dubbed O Coxa-Branca (White Thigh) by Atletico president Jofre Cabral e Silva, a term of insult that referred to their German stock. Proud of their roots, Coritiba later adopted the jibe as one of their nicknames.

After a string of yet more state finals, O Atletiba finally made its national debut in 1973, a match won 2-1 by Os Alviverdes. Having broken new ground, the rivalry moved up a gear when Coritiba stunned the nation by winning the 1985 Brasileirão and even acquired an international flavour in 1999, when Atletico beat their old adversaries in the second round of a national Copa Libertadores qualifying competition, which they went on to win to progress to the continental tournament proper.

Though the duo punched above their weight on an ever more frequent basis against the giants from Sao Paulo, Rio, Minas and Rio Grande do Sul, never more so than when Atletico claimed the 2001 Brasileirão, they also had their low points. The 1995 season is a case in point, when the two faced off four times in the national second division. Coritiba plumbed the depths again in 2009, dropping back down to Serie B despite a victory over O *Furacão*.

The roles were reversed when the two sides met on the final day of the 2011 Brasileirão season, a game that has gone down in history as O Atletiba do Século and which relegation-threatened Atletico-PR had to win, while hoping for results elsewhere to go their way. O Coxa, meanwhile, needed three points to book their place in the Libertadores. As it turned out, neither side got what they wanted, O Furacão winning 1-0 to thwart Coritiba’s plans but still dropping down to the second tier.

The rivalry todayIt did not take long for Atletico to recover their top-flight status and they are now pushing hard for a Libertadores place themselves, thanks in no small part to the goals of Ederson and the experience of Paulo Baier, the two stand-outs in a team that makes up for a lack of star appeal by being supremely well organised.

Boosted by the skills of their eternal idol Alex, who has returned to the club after a 16-year absence, Coritiba led the championship at one stage but are now hovering just above the drop zone. This Sunday sees the latest staging of this clásico, and regardless of the two sides’ contrasting fortunes this season, the whole of Brazil is sure to be tuning in. 

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