This year marks the centenary of the first meeting of São Paulo giants Corinthians and Palmeiras, a clash that has gone on to become arguably the biggest derby in Brazil. Last night I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the first game between the two sides in this adversaries’ anniversary year.
The game took place at the Arena Corinthians, the stadium built to host the 2014 World Cup in São Paulo which has since become Corinthians’ home. It was, as you can imagine, an emotional affair and the fact that it is the hundredth year of the rivalry seemed to give it a little extra poignancy.
There was also the small matter of Palmeiras winning their ninth Brazilian title in December and Corinthians having a poor 2016. For the Corinthians faithful this made the game a chance to exact revenge upon the old enemy.
It started in explosive fashion for the home side when ex-Palmeiras man Gabriel hit the bar from 25 yards after just two minutes. For most of the rest of the first half both sides had spells of possession in the middle third of the pitch without really creating any clear cut chances. Colin Kazim-Richards, in his first start at the Arena, was holding the ball up well and bringing his colleagues into play but failing to infiltrate the Palmeiras area.
It was a hard-fought game, with strong challenges from both sets of players, and well-balanced until a horrible mistake from the referee in the closing stages of the first half.
Palmeiras new-boy Keno, signed from Santa Cruz over the summer, was breaking away, bearing down on the Corinthians penalty area. He was pulled down by Maycon and there was no doubt the yellow card was coming out. Unfortunately the referee showed the card to the wrong player, Maycon’s central midfield partner Gabriel, who had already been booked. The yellow card was promptly followed by the red and Corinthians were down to ten in a horrible case of mistaken identity.
Consequently the second half turned into a game of attack against defence. Corinthians played with two banks of four packed in front of their own goal and Kazim-Richards trying to block passing lanes and close down midfielders in front of his team-mates.
It was fairly effective, and the new centre-back partnership of Pablo and Balbuena looked solid, but the more time wore on the more it appeared Palmeiras would score. Alejandro Guerra, another summer signing for Palmeiras, and the best player in last year’s Libertadores, started to float between the lines and threaten with his delightful passing. The fingernails of most in the crowd were being chewed to reveal the skin beneath.
Then, in the 87th minute, Maycon managed to break away after Alejandro Guerra cheaply lost the ball in his own half. Maycon was joined by Jô, the ex-Manchester City player who had just come on for Kazim-Richards, and managed to play him in. Jô was one-on-one with Fernando Prass and coolly tucked the ball beneath the onrushing ‘keeper to win the game for Timão.
The Arena erupted. The outpouring of emotion was incredible.
The unfair sending off. The building Palmeiras pressure throughout the second half. Beating the champions after a poor season. Beating the old enemy in the first derby of the centenary year. All that raw tension poured out in a moment of pure unbridled joy amongst those clad in black and white.
It was a wonderful occasion and it was a pleasure to be present.