Palmeiras, the green giant

Green symbolises growth and the club synonymous with the colour in Brazil has certainly grown into a formidable giant. Palmeiras was founded to provide a casual pastime for a small group of Italian immigrants, yet it is now passionately followed by around 12 million Brazilians. presents the story of O Verdão (The Big Green); one of intense rivalry, legendary players and two stunning periods of success.

The birth of an institution
The Italian community was prominent in early-20th-century Sao Paulo. Following Brazil's abolition of slavery in 1888, Italians had descended in their droves on the bustling metropolis to capitalise upon its booming industry. They abated homesickness by gathering to eat their preferred pasta dishes and indulge in musical performances, but they still longed to partake in another old hobby.

Football had, since the end of the previous century, surged to popularity in the boot-shaped peninsula, and the Italians missed their regular kickabouts. Rather than join established clubs in the region, the proud immigrants wanted one of their own. Therefore, on 26 August 1914, Luigi Cervo, Luigi Marzo, Vicente Ragognetti and Ezequiel Simone founded Palestra Italia. They played their first game on 24 January of the following year, with a small collection of family and friends cheering on a 2-0 victory over Savoia. This support, which quickly enhanced, had greater cause for celebration in 1916: acceptance into the Paulista State Championship.

The making of a legend
Palestra Italia, who adopted the name Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras in 1942, had seized 12 Paulistão titles by the time they edged Juventus in the final of the eight-team Copa Rio in 1951, but they struggled for much of the rest of the decade. The Santos squad was, by the mid-50s, an assembly of stars, but inspired by Djalma Santos, Chinesinho and the outstanding Julinho, Palmeiras nonetheless ended a nine-year wait for Campeonato Paulista gold in 1959, and the following year they won their first national title following an emphatic victory over Fortaleza in the Taca Brasil.

O Verdão slid into a sharp decline in 1962, however, finishing the regional championship down in fourth, streets behind Pele and Co. The obvious answer was to spend, but the money the club had generated from the recent sales of Jose Altafini and Chinesinho to Italian outfits was spent on renovating their stadium.

Coach Geninho had little option but to gamble on Ademir da Guia, whom they had snared from lowly Bangu in 1961. Despite being the son of the legendary Domingos da Guia, Ademir was an unassuming youngster who had found his new surroundings intimidating. He was, however, to let his performances do the talking.

And though a Santos side in its immaculate pomp, one which had made the Taca Brasil prize its exclusive property for five years from 1961, began almost every campaign during 'Era Pele' as title favourites, the attacking midfielder propelled Palmeiras to the state crown in 1963 and between 1967 and 1973, five national titles.

Sixteen years and 11 trohpies after arriving at Palmeiras, Ademir da Guia retired the best-loved player in Verdão history. Not that he was short of help during his reign at the Palestra Italia. As well as Djalma Santos and Julinho, goalkeepers Valdir and Leao, defender Luis Pereira, midfielders Dudu and Leivinha, and forward Cesar Maluco made significant contributions to the trophy haul of O Divino (The Divine One). The team they formed became known as A Academia (The Academy), its sparkle ingrained in the memories of the Palmeirenses.

Despite this competition with Santos, the club shares greater rivalries with the remaining two members of the state's 'big four'. O Choque Rei (The King's Clash) pits them against Sao Paulo, while the fixture between Corinthians and Palmeiras, known simply as O Derby (The Derby), is undoubtedly one of the biggest in world football.

It was against Corinthians that O Verdão ended a 17-year trophy wait in 1993. With Roberto Carlos, Cesar Sampaio, Mazinho, Zinho, Edilson, Evair and the mercurial Edmundo gracing the esteemed green jersey, Vanderlei Luxemburgo's side overwhelmed O Timão 4-0 in front of over 100,000 at the Morumbi to resurface atop of the Campeonato Paulista podium, and then beat their arch-enemies in the Rio-Sao Paulo tournament decider. Palmeiras capped a stunning return to eminence by lifting the Brasileiro crown later that year, and in 1994, now with Rivaldo complementing their side, successfully defended their state and national titles, Corinthians once again their victim in the final of the latter.

With Rivaldo, Djalminha and Muller thriving, Palmeiras cruised to Paulista glory in 1996, before the arrival as coach of Luiz Felipe Scolari the following year. Felipão built a team headlined by playmaker Alex and forward Paulo Nunes, and it was one that won Copa do Brasil and Copa Mercosul honours in 1998, and delivered the club a maiden Copa Libertadores triumph in 1999.

*The recent years *Palmeiras' worst-ever season culminated in relegation from Serie A in 2002, although they bounced back up at the first time of asking. After narrowly escaping another demotion from the Brasileiro in 2006, they finished seventh last year. Vanderlei Luxemburgo returned to the helm for the start of the 2008 campaign, and he immediately led O Verdão to their first state championship since 1996.

*The stadium *Palmeiras are outlived by the stadium they have owned since 1920. The Estadio Palestra Italia came into existence in 1902 and its inaugural game, on 3 May the same year, was also the Campeonato Paulista's, with Mackenzie beating Germania 2-1. Nicknamed the Parque Antárctica, it is one of the most traditional and important stadiums in Brazil, having staged several crucial matches over the years. Today, following a number of renovations over the years, the Palestra Italia holds around 32,000.

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20 Jun 2008