The Classic: Atletico-Cruzeiro

Cruzeiro's Fernandinho (L) vies for the ball with Atletico Mineiro's Eder Luis

Two of Brazilians' favourite weekend pastimes are watching football and going to the beach. For inhabitants of Minas Gerais, however, the latter is an option that involves a long, cross-state trip. It is a circumstance that makes being a football fan almost constitutional in the makeup of a mineiro, and in the state's capital city, Belo Horizonte, loyalties are divided largely between its two giants: Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro.

Drenched in tradition, the meeting between these two clubs is one of Brazil's biggest clássicos, and when black-and-white stripes of Atletico and the blue of Cruzeiro come together, so does two of the country's most passionate sets of supporters.

The rivalry explodes
During the first half of the 20th century, Minas Gerais' biggest derby was contested by Atletico and America. The former were the state championship's inaugural winners in 1915, while America claimed ten successive crowns between 1916 and 1925. Cruzeiro, then known as Palestra Italia and starring the legendary Fantoni brothers, did pocket the first of three successive Campeonato Mineiro titles in 1928, but it was not until the mid-50s that their rivalry with Atletico became the most prominent in the region.

This was fuelled by the fact that they were forced to share the trophy in 1956, and nine years later the rivalry exploded as the grandiose Estadio Mineirao was erected. The stadium's curtain-raiser came on 5 September 1965, when a Mineiro selection took on Argentinian giants River Plate. Even then, though, Atletico and Cruzeiro supporters cheered for one of their club's players to score the very first goal at Belo Horizonte's new footballing temple - a distinction that went to Atletico's Bugle, his 47th-minute effort clinching the hosts a 1-0 victory.

Blue dominance
The dawn of Era Mineirao coincided with a period of blue dominance. With a richly talented team comprising Raul, Piazza, Dirceu Lopes, Natal and Tostao, A Raposa swept to five successive state titles from 1965, O Galo their runners-up on each occasion.

The third of these losses was particularly hard to swallow for Atletico. They had held their enemies to a rare goalless stalemate before claiming a 3-3 draw with the defending champions in their second meeting of the campaign, but a one-sided final ended up 6-1 on aggregate in Cruzeiro's favour. "It's never a nice feeling to lose in a final, but losing to our biggest rivals really hurts," admitted Atletico's then-coach, the Paraguayan Fleitas Solich, afterwards.

Galo strike back

By the mid-70s, Atletico had established an impressive cast of players of their own, and over the coming years the likes of Joao Leite, Luizinho, Toninho Cerezo, Paulo Isidoro, Nelinho, Eder and, in particular, the inimitable Reinaldo were to make them one of the most revered forces in Brazil. During this period, they consistently outstripped their rivals in direct confrontations and won 11 state titles in 14 seasons along the way.

Cruzeiro have enjoyed a majority of success in the Campeonato Mineiro since the turn of the century, seizing five golds to Atletico's two, although the 39-time champions still outrank A Raposa by four on the title count.

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