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Fla-Flu: A History of the one of the Fiercest Rivalries in World Football

The Flamengo-Fluminense Derby, also known as Fla-Flu, is one of the fiercest and most traditional football rivalries in Brazil. It brings together two of Rio de Janeiro’s most iconic clubs: Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, commonly known as Flamengo, and Fluminense Football Club, known as Fluminense.

Whilst the Boca Juniors and River Plate rivalry gets the most reverence of derbies that take place in South America, the Fla-Flu is arguably the most underrated in terms of passion from its fans with the glory and bragging rights of Rio’s two main clubs on the line.

Historical Background

The origins of the Fla-Flu rivalry can be traced back to the early 20th century when both clubs were founded. Fluminense was established in 1902 by a group of young football enthusiasts from Rio de Janeiro’s upper-class society, led by Oscar Cox, a Brazilian of English descent. Flamengo was formed in 1895 as a rowing club before adding football to its activities in December of 1911.

In 1911, a group of disgruntled players, unhappy with Fluminese’s elitism, left the team to form their own. With Football very much still early days in Brazil, there were limited options in the way of joining a new team, so instead they’d take to the Flamengo rowing club, forming Flamengo’s first-ever football side.

By December 24th,  the club was officially founded, and their inaugural meetings no doubt focussed on besting Fluminese from day one.

It is these different social backgrounds and identities of the two clubs that were unarguably the catalyst to spark the intense rivalry between them.

As is seen the world over, nothing divides people quite like class does; the so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ at war with each other is a common theme in many football rivalries such as the aforementioned Boca Juniors v River Plate rivalry in Argentina.

The Birth of the Derby

The first official encounter between Flamengo and Fluminense took place on July 7, 1912, and was held in front of just 800 people. The match, held at Laranjeiras Stadium, ended in a 3-2 victory for Fluminense. This inaugural clash marked the beginning of a fierce rivalry that has continued to this day.

The nickname “Fla-Flu” originated from the frequent encounters between the two clubs. The combination of the first syllable of “Flamengo” with the first two syllables of “Fluminense” created a catchy and widely recognized term that has come to represent the intense rivalry between the clubs.

The ‘Fla-Flu’ moniker was originally coined by wildly-respected Brazilian sports journalist Mário Filho.

Rivalry Characteristics

The Fla-Flu rivalry is characterized by passionate fans, exciting matches, and a strong sense of identity. Flamengo, known as the “Mengão,” boasts the largest fan base in Brazil, while Fluminense, often referred to as the “Tricolor,” has a loyal and devoted cohort.

The matches between these two clubs attract large crowds, creating an electric atmosphere in the Maracana. The match has even been dubbed in Brazil ‘The Derby of the Crowds’.

What takes the rivalry up a notch is the stadium. With both sides are based in the same area of Rio de Janeiro, with Flamengo born from Fluminese players, and they share the same stadium. This only exacerbates ill will towards each other, with a cacophony of emotions bouncing around the Maracana.

These Fla-Flu games are like a cup final that both sides are guaranteed to play in every year, yet it never loses tension.

The rivalry extends beyond football. Both clubs have had success in various sports, including basketball, volleyball, and rowing, which adds another layer to their competition. However, it is in football where the Fla-Flu rivalry truly comes alive.

Historic Matches and Iconic Players

Over the years, the Flamengo-Fluminense Derby has produced numerous memorable encounters and iconic players. In the 1950s and 1960s, Fluminense enjoyed a period of dominance, led by the legendary striker Telê Santana. Meanwhile, Flamengo rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, featuring stars like Zico, Junior, and Leandro.

One of the most famous matches in the history of the Fla-Flu rivalry occurred in the final of the 1975 Campeonato Carioca, the state championship of Rio de Janeiro. Flamengo won the match 2-0, with Zico scoring both goals. This victory is still celebrated by Flamengo fans as a defining moment in their club’s history.

In recent years, the rivalry has continued to produce thrilling encounters. The 2008 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A final, where Flamengo clinched the title with a 2-1 victory over Fluminense, stands out as a significant moment in the modern era of the Fla-Flu rivalry.

In 2010 however, an instant classic was born. This particular encounter was in the Guanabara Cup fifth round, as few would have expected the whirlwind of a football match that would occur. The match would have everything. A comeback, one side grabbing a winner with 10- men and a heroic performance from a former star of European football.

This match would finish 5-3 to Flamengo, but Fluminese would go into Half-time 3-1 up, the former Inter striker, Adriano grabbing Flamengo’s only goal so far.

Looking on course to knock their rivals out of the competition, the home side were blindsided by a quickfire double in the space of the first 8 minutes of the second half. The goals would also come from names European fans might recognise, with the enigmatic Vagner Love scoring to make it 3-2 before former Man United wonderkid Kleberson brought Flamengo level.

 Adriano’s only spent one season with Flamengo but earned cult hero status in just this one game, scoring 2 more to secure a momentous Flamengo victory, and earning himself the match ball with a hat-trick.

The result was even more impressive considering the away side were reduced to ten men at 3-3.

The Maracanã Effect

The Maracanã Stadium, one of the most iconic football arenas in the world, has been the stage for countless unforgettable Fla-Flu matches. Located in Rio de Janeiro, this legendary stadium has a rich history and can accommodate over 78,000 spectators. When Flamengo and Fluminense face each other at the Maracanã, the atmosphere reaches its peak, creating an unforgettable experience for both players and fans.

The spiritual home of Brazillian football is a pilgrimage for Brazillian football fans. A place of football worship, regardless of club affiliation. It was first opened in 1950 but didn’t host a Fla-Flu derby until 1963 when the two sides would meet to decide the winner of the Rio championship.

The match was, in truth, lacking in quality, far from a classic match where football is considered, a dull 0-0 draw handing the title to Flamengo. However, the match would be etched into the rivalries folklore, thanks to the crowd the match attracted. The official attendance at the first Fla-Flu derby held at the Maracanã was 177,656; the highest Fla-Flu attendance of all time.

However boring the football may have been, the atmosphere, the noise and the sheer support for the respective sides left an indelible mark on football. As overused as the word can be, the only word to describe such an experience would be palpable.

The Maracana on such a day would have felt like the Hadron Collider, with fervent nerves, desperation and the audacity of hope permeating the air, only punctured by rousing support for either side that would leave even the most stoic in awe. As the old broadcasting saying goes “You could cut through the atmosphere with a knife”, a phrase that has never been more apt for a situation.

Impact and Cultural Significance

The Flamengo-Fluminense Derby goes beyond football; it is deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of Rio de Janeiro. The rivalry is not limited to the pitch but extends to all aspects of daily life in the city. From conversations in bars and restaurants to discussions at work, the passion and intensity of the Fla-Flu rivalry are ever-present.

The rivalry has also influenced popular culture in Rio de Janeiro. Artists, writers, and musicians have used the emotions and drama surrounding the Fla-Flu matches as inspiration for their work. The derby has been featured in songs, books, and films, cementing its place as a symbol of Rio’s sporting and cultural heritage.

The Flamengo-Fluminense Derby, or Fla-Flu, is a historic and passionate rivalry that has captivated fans for over a century. It represents the essence of Brazilian football, showcasing the intense emotions, rivalries, and cultural significance that surround the game.

As Flamengo and Fluminense continue to battle for supremacy in Rio de Janeiro and beyond, the Fla-Flu Derby remains a spectacle that captures the hearts and souls of football enthusiasts, promising excitement, drama, and moments that will be remembered for generations to come.

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