The Classic: Botafogo-Fluminense

Fluminense's Thiago Neves in action against Botafogo
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When Charles Miller made his return to Brazilian shores from England in 1894, armed with two footballs, a list of rules and a desire to spread the gospel of his new-found passion, he provoked a national obsession. And as the popularity of futebol in Brazil exploded, derby days quickly became treasured occasions, locals gathering to share in the emotions unique to sporting rivalry.

Representing Sao Paulo Athletic Club, Miller starred in some of the country's earliest classicos, but it is over in Rio de Janeiro that Brazil's oldest existing derby takes place. Indeed, almost 101 years and in excess of 300 encounters on from their maiden fixture, Botafogo and Fluminense reignited the Clássico Vovô (Grandfather Derby) flames on Sunday.

On this occasion, it was the home side, Botafogo, who just did enough to edge their ancient rivals by the only goal of the game, scored by Diguinho. As well as securing local bragging rights, he win also handed the victors the upper hand in the battle to book a date with Flamengo in the Campeonato Carioca's decider.

Title dispute
In fact, Botafogo and Fluminense met for the first time in October 1905, the latter running out 6-0 victors, but their first official meeting was on 13 May 1906, when Fluminense improved upon their friendly success by winning 8-0. However, by the time the following year's Campeonato Carioca began, the Fogão had surfaced as a force to be reckoned with.

Amid fixture controversy, the pair finished the campaign level on points, but a suggested play-off match failed to come to fruition. Fluminense declared themselves champions due to a superior goal difference and a marginally better head-to-head record, while Botafogo believed that the crown belonged to them. As it transpired, it took the state's governing body up until 1996 to resolve the issue when it declared them as joint-winners.

Stars of the fixture
The first notable idol of the Clássico Vovô was an Englishman, Henry Welfare, who had left his native Liverpool in 1913 to teach Geography and Mathematics in Rio de Janeiro. Nevertheless, it was a footballing tutorial that the 'English Tank' became accustomed to delivering Fluminense's opponents.

A serial nemesis of Botafogo, his annus mirabilis came in 1918 when he scored a thumping header against the run of play to claim the Tricolor a 2-1 win over their arch-enemies; a result that turned out to be decisive in his side retaining their state crown. Fittingly, Welfare hung up his boots after scoring another winning goal against the Fogão in 1924.

Decades later and unbeaten against Botafogo in eleven outings, Fluminense entered the concluding match of their 1957 Campeonato Carioca campaign needing just a draw to secure the tournament's prize. However, they found the black-and-white striped double act of Garrincha and Paulinho Valentim in irrepressible form. The legendary Brazil winger turned in an impeccable performance, while his team-mate netted five times during a title-securing 6-2 victory.

In terms of goals in the derby, though, Paulinho Valentim is outranked by Heleno, who scored 16 times for Botafogo in the 1940s. Fluminense's leading marksman in the tie remains Waldo, who also bagged 16 goals between 1954 and 1961.

All to play for
Flamengo's triumph in the first bisection of Rio de Janeiro's state championship, the Taca Guanabara, means that Botafogo and Fluminense must win the ongoing Taca Rio to earn a place in the overall Final of the 2007 Campeonato Carioca . Following fruitful starts at the weekend, the rivals headed into Sunday's confrontation in confident mood. Indeed, Botafogo overwhelmed Friburguense 7-0 to assume pole position in Group A, and Fluminense defeated Cabofriense 3-1 to keep their title aspirations on track.

Alex Dias marked a brace in the Fluzão's victory, taking his tally to six goals in eight games this term, and he could have former UEFA Champions League-winner Carlos Alberto back to supply him with the ammunition in Round 2. Likewise, Botafogo are hopeful that veteran striker Dodo will return from injury for the showpiece, but with the likes of Joilson, Ze Roberto and Lucio Flavio in good form, a positive outcome was expected regardless.

Although Fluminense boast the superior record in games between the two sides, Botafogo have registered more wins inside the Maracana, which will play host to their forthcoming clash. More recently, the fixture has produced some tight affairs, with four of their five matches in 2006 ending in stalemates before Ze Roberto completed his double in the dying moments of the game to steal O Glorioso a 2-1 win in their latest meeting.

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