By Tom Webber
It began almost 100 years ago. When Santos defeated Corinthians 6-3 at Campo do Parque Antarctica in 1913, the Classico Alvinegro was born.
Ever since then the clubs have experienced success mutually exclusive of each other. Pele, Rivelino, Robinho and Ronaldo have all played their part in the rivalry, but their previously fluctuating inverse eras of glory have now, finally, coalesced almost a century later. At this confluence lies the Copa Libertadores semi-final and this Wednesday evening, the derby will take place on an unprecedented level. In their 302nd meeting, Santos and Corinthians will go head-to-head on the continental stage for the first-ever time.
Corinthians did not record their first win over the Peixe until their seventh meeting in 1919. Yet their failure to triumph over the team from the seaside town was somewhat insignificant. Santos did not win their first Campeonato Paulista until 1935. Though they were the defeated finalists, Corinthians had already lifted the trophy eight times and had also inflicted an 11-0 demolition in what remains the biggest margin of victory in the classico.
The rivalry was characterised by streaks, something that has largely remained a constant theme until the present day. Both teams have enjoyed lengthy unbeaten runs against the other but while Corinthians had already become the Peixe's main rivals, it was not viewed the same way in the city of Sao Paulo. With the town of Santos being based on the coast 70 kilometres outside of Sao Paulo, the focus of the Musketeers' animosity was more local in the shape of Palmeiras. But everything would change in the 1950s when Santos signed a certain 15-year-old from Bauru Atletico Clube who went by the moniker of Pele.
Making his debut at just 16 years of age, Pele would become the star of one of the greatest club sides to have ever played the game. He left an indelible mark on the classico and proved the bane of Corinthians fans with 50 goals in 48 games. His immense ability to find the back of the net inspired Santos to a 22-game unbeaten derby run in the Paulistao between 1956 and 1968. During this time the Santistas became world champions on two occasions with O Rei supported by the likes of Zito, Dorval, Coutinho and Pepe. They played a fluid, attacking brand of football that put them in high demand the world over and they travelled the globe competing in, and winning, a huge variety of tournaments.
In stark contrast, Corinthians were enduring a barren spell that would ultimately last 23 years. The Peixe's success grated bitterly on Corinthians fans as their side failed to lift a single trophy while Pele kicked a ball professionally. Society has taught us that huge levels of inequality breed discontent and the case proved no different in football as the rival took root in a bitter envy on the part of the Timao fans.
"The current Brazilian champion and the champions of the Libertadores will go face to face. It will be two great games"
- Current Santos captain Edu Dracena stokes the rivalry
Rivelino inspiring the club to their first victory over Santos in 1968 provided little comfort as their rivals went on to claim the title anyway. When O Rei hung up his boots, Santos struggled to rebuild and the roles reversed as the Peixe failed to defeat the Timao between 1976 and 1983. Glory had deserted Santos and their rivals were crowned Paulista champions no less than four times in the ensuing years. It was not until 1984 that Santos won the state championship again with a 1-0 victory over, you guessed it, Corinthians.
In more recent years the derby has continued to be the platform for some of Brazil's greatest players to stamp their authority in the game. A 17-year-old Robinho, along with Diego, was at the heart of the Santos side that lifted the 2002 Brazilian championship. After scraping into the final phase of the tournament having finished eighth in the table after 25 games, Santos made it to the decider where they met Corinthians.
With a 2-0 aggregate lead, Robinho set his side on their way to the title by winning, and converting, a penalty in the second leg after throwing a series of stepovers at Rogerio. Unable to cope, the defender brought the teenager down. Santos went on to win 3-2, becoming Brazilian champions for the first time since Pele left the club.
Corinthians got a taste of revenge seven years later though. This time it was not the emergence of a young star, but the return of a veteran national icon that provided the difference. That man was, of course, O Fenomeno - Ronaldo. Despite being somewhat overweight, the two-time World Cup winner showed his class with an exquisite brace as Corinthians overcame Santos in the 2009 Paulistao final first leg. The second of his goals was an impeccable chip from 20 yards as the Peixe were unable to overturn the deficit in the return fixture.
The present now offers another player to etch their name into a classico that is steeped in history. The tie is unique in two ways. Firstly, the clubs meet having both enjoyed success in 2011, something else absent from the past. Corinthians are the current Brasileirao holders while Santos are battling to defend their Copa Libertadores title.
It will be a Classico Alvinegro the likes of which have never been seen before, a Superclassico. No matter the result, history will be made. These are the affairs where heroes are made. Should this hard-working Corinthians side come out on top, they will be remembered as a side that proved team ethic is more important than individual stars.
If Santos triumph, having already secured three consecutive Paulista titles, few would bet against the names of the talismanic duo Ganso and Neymar resonating through time. It is a rivalry already steeped in such a rich history, yet there has never been a bigger clash than this semi-final.
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