Polls estimation, though variable, attribute Flamengo and Vasco with about a combined 25% share of the overall population, i.e. totalling 45 million supporters nationwide (typically 34 million to Flamengo and 11 million to Vasco), thus making it also probably the most popular football derby of the world. At local Rio state level, polls suggest that both clubs cumulate more than three quarters of the declared supporter base (typically 40% of the overall Rio State population for Flamengo, 20% for Vasco, 15% for Botafogo and 10% for Fluminense).
Its intense rivalry, though more stressed in football since 1923 when Vasco rose to first division, started already in the first decades in rowing regatte, as both clubs were founded in late XIX century (Vasco 1898 and Flamengo 1895) as rowing clubs. Today, as multi-sports clubs in the Iberic tradition of Barcelona FC, Real Madrid, and Benfica Lisbon, both teams also compete often at national level in other sports such as basketball, swimming, futsal and judo.
Since its first year, it capitalized on the already-existing rivalry in rowing. But it took a whole new scale as football opened to the masses. Flamengo has had in 83 years a slight overall edge in teams of direct matches but also titles and direct decisions. In state league, since 1923 when both teams staged, it has won 23 titles (plus one Special as Rio State and Rio City merged in 1979) against 22 to Vasco.
At a time when both clubs were already known for their mass appeal but the rivalry still missed some anthologic matches, this championship was considered unique as twice Botafogo, Flamengo and Vasco had to play a tie-break triangular. The final match finally was disputed by Vasco and Flamengo, the latter playing for a draw which was eventually obtained, in front of a record crowd. This championship would though sign a drought period of 12 years for Vasco, which helped to promote other derbies like Flamengo x Botafogo and as ever Flamengo x Fluminense as challengers throughout the 1960s.
This period can be singled out as the one that established the derby's reputation as the top one in Rio and eventually in Brazil, definitely surpassing its Fla-Flu rival both in the field and outside it. In that span of 30 years, at least one of each team managed to reach every final phase of Rio state league. It also corresponds barely to the creation of the Brazilian national championship (1971), which displayed the popularity of both teams across the country, particularly in northern/northeastern states (but also southern states such as Santa Catarina), where often they constitute the main fanbase in front of local teams.
Given the once-traditional structure of Rio state league divided in "turno" and "returno" (home and away season) occasionally complemented by a shorter third "turno" with the top overall teams, Vasco and Flamengo have clinched 50 out of the 68 turnos (25 each). In 4 occasions an extra play-off between both teams was needed to decide the turno. In 9 occasions the derby was the last-round decisive game for both teams.
The first "turno" of Rio state league is given an extra importance as dubbed the "Taça Guanabara", incorporating a previously traditional competition only from the inner city clubs. Flamengo clinched it 13 times and Vasco 9 in this period.
They also participated together in a final phase (be it direct decision, triangular, quadrangular or semi-final) in 17 occasions out of 24 (in 6 occasions no final phase was needed as one team would win all turnos - this occurred 3 times for Vasco in 1977, 1992 and 1998 and also to Flamengo in 1978, 1979 and 1996).
Flamengo at the end clinched 11 titles in that period against 8 from Vasco. This in particular stems from a three-in-a-row win (see below) in the last years (1999-2001). Fluminense also clinched 8 titles, proving despite it much lower presence a greater efficiency (out of only 11 turno wins).
Though less frequent given the overall balance of national clubs and its scattered group structure, both teams met decisively 3 times in final phase, but never the finals: in 1983 in quarterfinal playoffs (Flamengo had the edge), and 1992 and 1998 in semi-final phase (Flamengo had the edge on the first but the derby was no ultimate decider as played two rounds before round-robin end, while Vasco had the edge in the latter in a famous 4-1 decider). Most notably, in each occasion the winner of the derby eventually clinched the title. Both teams in the 1971-2000 period ranked in the top 6 of the tournament (Vasco #1 and Flamengo #6) and feature each among the few clubs (alongside Palmeiras and Corinthians) to have clinched 4 Brazilian titles since its inception in 1971 (as Flamengo was denied by CBF a controversial 5th title in 1987, although the debate is still underway). In Brazilian Cup, though less prestigious, both teams were scheduled to meet in finals on July, 2006. It was Flamengo's 5th final and Vasco's first. Flamengo eventually clinched its second Cup title ever. The competition though did not count with the participation of the top 5 Brazilian championship teams as they participated the Libertadores Cup, but in relative terms it was for the derby's history one of the most important ever.
During the period above, the rivalry was personified in both players, still today considered the two most important players of each club ever. They played for about the same time lapse: though Roberto (or simply, Dinamite, after its powerful shot, a nickname given to him at the time he scored his first goal as a professional in 1972) started playing earlier, both reached early stardom around 1974 (when Vasco reached its first national title) and continued until the late 1980s. Both players cristallized the style of play, Zico embodying the more technical, refined Flamengo of the 1980s and Roberto the attacking, never-say-die style of Vasco at the time. It can be said that the first tests between both started in the play-offs of 1976 Taça Guanabara, where Zico missed a penalty kick to award Vasco the title. The same occurred a year later, to give Vasco the overall title. Later on, Flamengo had a clear edge as it swept all turnos of 78 and 79 (including the 79 Special championship). In the early 1980s, Vasco saw Flamengo raise to its three national titles then but still consistently gave a run for the money of their arch-rivals (as in the 1980 finals). After a long runner-up series to either the Flamengo and Fluminense from 1978 through 1981, they eventually defeated the brilliant world-champ Flamengo side in 1982 to recoup the Carioca title. Both players always displayed enormous respect for their opponents and somehow were constantly admired by the other side, most supporters secretly hoping that one day each one could turn sides and play for their club. Vasco supporters still pride the day Zico wore their jersey in a friendly for Dinamite's retirement.
After the Zico & Roberto phase, both teams experienced a transition period, though still maintaining a high standard . In that period some important players change sides, raising some passionated discussions. First Tita had been revealed by Flamengo but later on joined Vasco, only to score the winner goal in the 1987 Carioca final in Vasco's 1 x 0 victory. Also Bebeto followed the same path and offered Vasco brilliant participation in the 1989 Brazilian league, before going north and eventually clinching the 1994 World Cup with Romário.
In this year, the two teams decided the title in direct play-offs for the third time in a row. Flamengo had clinched the 1986 title and Vasco the 1987 one, so 1988 would define the best-of-three. Vasco confirmed its favoritism and won the last game 1x0 while playing for a draw. The reassuring goal though only came with 1 minute left to play and was scored by an unknown player that entered a few minutes before, nicknamed Cocada (after a popular coconut sugary), only to be sent off for provocative celebration. On the day after, Vasco supporters would tease their rivals by offering them cocadas.
Romário alone relayed somehow this rivalry, displaying ambiguous positions regarding his supporting. More recently he declared supporting none of both, buth rather América, a small and formerly prestigious club of Rio. Tough Romário was revealed at Vasco and started as a professional in 1986, clinching the 1987 title before going north, he later decided to join Flamengo in 1995 when returning Brazil, much to Vasco supporters' outrage. Despite this betrayal, he still managed to be hired by Vasco in the late 1990s. He was somewhat forgiven as he would still clinch its first Brazilian title in 2000 and Mercosul cup in 2001. This contrasts with the almost blank record playing with Flamengo except for the Carioca title of 1996. He also twice succeeded as top striker of the Brazilian championship, the last as recently as 2005 , at age 40. He expressed the desire of retiring by playing half time with the jerseys of each team.
Flamengo and Vasco had displayed very balanced statistics in the latter decades, with a very slight advantage though to Flamengo specially in direct decisive confrontations. This had from time to time allowed Flamengo supporters to call their arch-rivals as "freguês" (i.e. customer) and tease them as consistent "vice" (runner-ups), especially during the time of the great Flamengo side of the early 1980s. But Vasco eventually reverted this as in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it clinched its first tri-campeonato (three championships in a row, a rare feat). By the time of the late 1990s, Vasco could even claim to be the major Carioca winner since 1923, ahead of Flamengo and Fluminense. This "freguês" (similar to Boca vs River) teasing returned in early 2001 as Flamengo clinched another "tri-campeonato", with all three titles being won directly over Vasco, and largely contributing to the recent imbalance in statistics. Ironically, these wins of Flamengo at state league level were obtained at arguably the best period ever of Vasco's history, during which it clinched two Brazilian titles and two South American titles. In each final from 1998 through 2001, Flamengo was rated as the underdog. The title of the "tri" came in a specially dramatic way, as Vasco played the last game with a one-goal cushion advantage and saw Flamengo score 3 x 1 with few minutes to play. It was for Flamengo fans a compensation for the series of humiliating defeats (among which two 5 x 1) imposed by the brilliant Vasco side of the time.
Since 2001 when Flamengo clinched the tri and Vasco the Mercosud Cup, both teams have been plagued by financial problems and have simultaneously reached an unprecedented decadence, struggling to avoid the same spots of relegation to Brazilian second division. Vasco (2003) and Flamengo (2004 - over Vasco, again) still won since one state league title each. In their seemingly-atavic manner of crossing in each other's way, both teams recently managed to reach the finals of Brazilian Cup scheduled for July 2006.
In a painful re-edition of the early 1980s for Vasco supporters, Flamengo managed in July 2006 to win its fifth decision in a row in recent years. Though the previous ones could maybe have been minimized as local State leagues as Vasco then fought for Brazilian and South American titles, this time it was the first ever decision between both teams at national level. By the same way Flamengo clinched its second Brazilian Cup title against nil to Vasco.
First Match: Vasco 3x1 Flamengo, Rua Paysandú, on April 29, 1923 for Guanabara State league.
Arguably the first decision ever between both teams ever started in 1944, more than twenty years after their accession to first division, when Flamengo played Vasco in last round to clinch its first ever three-in-a-row title. Between then and 1972, only one decisive game was played in 1958 in the uniquely-named super-super-championship as twice Vasco, Flamengo and Botafogo had to play a tie-break triangular.
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