Such is the passion for football in Colombia that one of the most heated debates there is which footballing rivalry is the biggest in the country. And though impossible to settle here, few would dispute that the Medellin derby is one of the main contenders.

Colombia’s second most important city in terms of population and trade, Medellin is the capital of Antioquia, a predominantly mountainous region in the country’s northwest. Its inhabitants are popularly known as paisas, an abbreviation of paisano, meaning countryman or someone from the same area. And so it was that games between Atletico Nacional de Medellin and Deportivo Independiente Medellin came to be known as the Clásico Paisa or Clásico de la Montaña.

Ahead of the clubs’ latest meeting in the national championship this week, takes a closer look at an eventful and enthralling 63-year-old rivalry.

The origins
Deportivo Independiente Medellin, or simply DIM, are the oldest club in Colombia, having come into being on 15 April 1913 as Medellin Football Club - barely three years after British railway workers brought the game to Colombia. Its pioneering role led to one of its many nicknames, El Decano (The Senior Members), with the club’s red colours also giving rise to the monikers El Rojo de la Montaña (The Mountain Red) and El Rey de Corazones (The King of Hearts).

By 1947 the club had changed its name to Independiente Medellin, and it was on 30 April that same year that their city rivals, or Atletico Municipal as they were then known, were officially founded. Nicknamed Los Verdolagas (derived from the green colour of their shirts), the newcomers met their established opponents for the first time in the inaugural national league championship of the professional era in 1948. First blood went to DIM, who ran out emphatic 3-0 winners on the day.

Facts and figures
That first win set the tone for the early exchanges, with Independiente dominating their rivals despite missing out on the 1952 and '53 championships due to financial problems. By the end of the '50s, El Verdolaga had begun to reverse that trend and today have by far the better head-to-head record. Indeed, over the course of 266 top-flight meetings, Nacional have racked up 109 wins and 355 goals to their rival’s 74 victories and 306 goals.

Verdolaga fans can point to a raft of other statistics to assert their superiority. Not only have their side won 11 national championships to DIM’s five, they also have five international titles while their age-old foes have none. Pride of place goes to Nacional’s Copa Libertadores triumph of 1989, the first by a Colombian team. Moreover, it was first in a proud sequence of titles that earned the club their latest nickname, El Rey de Copas (The Cup Kings).

Nacional also boast the derby’s leading scorer in the legendary Victor Hugo Aristizabal. The striker, who netted 19 in total, including seven in successive derbies, said on his retirement in 2008: “Scoring against Independiente was on a par with winning a title.”

Tales of derbies past
The first showdown with silverware at stake was in 1954 during an era known as the Golden Age because of the amount of foreign stars then gracing the Colombian game. DIM, with a couple of games in hand on their rivals, needed a victory to stand any chance of taking the league title. However, a goal by Humberto Turrón Alvarez, one of the country’s all-time greats, gave Nacional a 1-0 win and their first league crown.

Independiente would exact a measure of revenge the following season, however. Inspired by the great Argentinian Jose Maria Charro Moreno, they won two of the three derby games en route to their own maiden league title, leaving Nacional five points back in second place.

After repeating their league success in 1957, El Rey de Corazones did not contest the 1958 championship. On their return the following year, their arch-rivals handed them one of their heaviest defeats in the derby’s history, a 7-2 thrashing in July. Nacional’s biggest winning margin over their foes would come in November 1976 in the form of a humiliating 6-0 reverse. For their part, DIM would have their day in the sun in April 1979, when they ran out 5-1 winners, a feat they managed to repeat again only this year.

The '90s brought two other memorable moments for El Verde. In 1994 on the last day of the championship play-offs, a late derby goal by Juan Pablo Angel forced DIM fans to watch their city rivals celebrate another league title, incidentally the only one enjoyed by goalkeeper Rene Higuita in his time with Nacional. Five years later, the pair met again this time with the Torneo Clausura and a place in the grand final on the line. Once again the men in green prevailed, thanks on this occasion to Wilmer Ortegon, who scored the only goal of the game in the second leg.

The following decade was kinder to Independiente, however. In 2004 they finally made Nacional suffer by defeating them in the final of that year’s Apertura, their 2-1 aggregate win being secured with first-leg strikes by Jorge Serna and Rafael Castillo. In 2008 DIM were at it again, booking their passage to the grand finale at El Verde’s expense after a scoreless draw in the penultimate matchday of the play-offs.

Other memorable derbies in the last decade include the 1-1 draw played out behind closed doors in May 2002, and the June 2005 showdown in which Mauricio Mao Molina scored one of only two goals direct from a corner in the history of the fixture. Speaking of his wonder-goal afterwards, the player now with FC Seoul said: “For what it meant to the fans, that goal, along with the one against Deportivo Pasto when we won the title in 2002, was one of the most treasured moments of my time with Independiente.” The other goal direct from a corner was scored back in 1967 by Uriel Cadavid, again for DIM.

The rivalry today
Despite winning league title number 11 with the last Apertura, Nacional’s sequence of four straight derby wins ended abruptly in June, when El Decano trounced them 5-1 in the Copa Colombia. Heading into their latest showdown, both sides are enjoying rich veins of form. Independiente scored late to take a point off Pereira (2-2) in their last league outing and, with 11 points, could go top if they win their game in hand. Nacional, for their part, won 2-1 at home to Once Caldas last time out and remain two points behind joint leaders Junior, Quindio and Huila. All to play for then when El Clásico Paisa ignites Medellin once again this week.