Know Thy Classics: Bogotá, Colombia

Santa Fe fans fly a huge flag.

Hey, I’m back with a second edition of Know Thy Classics, and even though most of us are probably catching Olympic fever right now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t alert you to another great South American derby. This one isn’t the biggest derby in Colombia, but it’s the main clásico for the capital city of Bogotá: Millonarios v. Independiente Santa Fe.

A lot of South American leagues seem to be frontloading their league fixtures with derbies, perhaps to generate interest early, and Colombia is no different. These two rivals square off in Week 1 of the Liga Postobón (which is a soft drink brand, in case you’re wondering) on Sunday night.

Although Sante Fe are the newly-crowned champions of Colombia, Millonarios have been the more powerful club down through the years. They’ve defeated Santa Fe 107 times, drew 97 matches, and lost 73. The rivalry dates back to 1942, but the first official match as professional clubs took place in 1949, when Santa Fe beat Millonarios 5-3. A month later, Millonarios would get revenge with a 6-3 win that featured a hat trick by Alfredo Di Stéfano. Yes, the Real Madrid legend. Unless you’re a hardcore soccer history buff, I bet you didn’t know Di Stéfano spent four seasons playing in Colombia before making the leap to Europe.

That Millonarios team from the late forties was one of the great clubs of the era anywhere in the world. The club signed Di Stéfano and two other Argentine legends in Adolfo “Big Forehead” Pedernera and Néstor “Pipo” Rossi from River Plate in 1949 to build a dynasty that won four straight league titles as well as the “Little World Cup” of 1953.  This golden age for Millonarios also saw the two worst beatdowns for Santa Fe in the Bogotá derby: 6-0 in ’52 and 6-0 in ’54.

This rivalry is also similar to Milan’s Derby della Madonnina in that Santa Fe and Millonarios share a stadium. Both teams play their home games at El Campín, a stadium built for $25,000 in 1938 that holds 36,000 fans (or 41,000 fans, depending on which web site you check). The ground was recently remodeled for the 2011 U20 World Cup. Millonarios fans in blue crowd the stands on the north end while Santa Fe fans in red pack the stands on the south.

These days, Santa Fe has the edge on Millonarios, having won the Apertura league title just two weeks ago, their first since 1975. The current squad is captained by Gerardo “the General” Bedoya, a veteran of the Colombian national team and Germán “the Gladiator” Centurión, from Paraguay. The rest of the squad is mostly younger Colombian players.

Millonarios haven’t won a league title since 1988. The current squad features journeymen from around South America, including Matías “King of the Rabona” Urbano, who made a name for himself in Chile by scoring a handful of headline-grabbing rabona goals last year. The team is captained by Rafael “R8R” Robayo, who signed with Chicago Fire at the start of this year, only to be loaned back to Millonarios just this last Tuesday.

You probably won’t find this clásico on TV in the US Sunday night unless you’re walking around the cafés in the Colombian neighborhood of Miami, but you can always find a stream online if you’re curious.


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