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Brazilian Big12 series, Episode 11/12: Cruzeiro
In this series I will present each of the 12 Brazilian teams that together compose the "Big 12". My point is to make them more knowledgeable to you, since each one of these teams have their share of the Brazil national team success and of Brazilian club football accomplishments as a whole. I'll try to be as smooth, efficient and non-boring as I can. If the feedback is positive, I'll keep bringing more to this series. So ok, let's do this!
Method: I'll present the teams in a chronological order, from the oldest foundation (Flamengo-1895) to the latest one (São Paulo-1930). The order will be: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Grêmio, Botafogo, Atlético Mineiro, Internacional, Corinthians, Santos, Palmeiras, Cruzeiro, São Paulo. How many of these have you heard of?
Extra clubs: Due to a high number of requests, I'll also present 3 teams who don't belong to the Big12, but are also considered big clubs in Brazil: Bahia, Athletico Paranaense and Coritiba. Welcome to the club!
Geographical reference: Before we start, I'd like to ask something very simple from you. I want you to keep in mind that these 12 teams are spread in 4 different States in Brazil. The club's State name is written below, next to the club's name. It has a direct link to Google Maps, so that you can check it out to make this experience more accurate.
Episode 11/12: Cruzeiro (State: Minas Gerais), founded in 1921
State rivals: Atlético Mineiro, América Mineiro
Major achievements: 2 Copa Libertadores (1976, 1997), 4 Brazilian Leagues (1966, 2003, 2013, 2014), 6 Copa do Brasil (1993, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2017, 2018), 2 Supercopa Libertadores (1991, 1992)
State League titles: 38 (Against Atlético Mineiro's 45, América Mineiro's 16)PLAY AND LISTEN TO CRUZEIRO'S ANTHEM WHILE READING - Click here
Palestra Italia and the first decades
Inspired by the Italian team founded in São Paulo in 1914, Palestra Italia (eventually Palmeiras), the Belo Horizonte Italian city colony decided to create their own Palestra Italia in 1921. In 1925 already, the club was open to any nationality.
Until 1959, due to Brazil's huge size and weak infrastructure, there wasn't a national league yet, so the teams played inside their own State Leagues. Cruzeiro won their first in 1928, followed by two more titles in 1929 and 1930. At that point, their rivals Atlético Mineiro and América Mineiro had 3 and 10 titles, respectivally.
In 1931, two Cruzeiro's players became the firsts Brazilians bought by an European club: Ninão (FW) and Nininho (LB) left for Lazio in 1931.
1942: World War II, Palestra Italia becomes Cruzeiro
After Brazil's war declaration against the Axis, every Italian/German/Nippon-associated name in the country would have to be rebranded. Palestra Italia became Palestra Mineiro (Mineiro meaning "from the state of Minas Gerais"). However, despite Palestra being a greek word, it had to be taken out aswell. Yale, Ypiranga and Cruzeiro were suggested at the assembly, with the latter being chosen, in honor of the Cruzeiro do Sul constellation.
Through the 1940s, 1950s and until 1965, Cruzeiro won 8 more State League titles, totalizing 11 titles, Atlético Mineiro and América Mineiro had 22 and 12 titles, respectivally.
1965-1977: the dream team
In this period, Cruzeiro stepped up from being a regional team to become a major national protagonist, notably beating the big teams from the Rio-São Paulo axis.
Cruzeiro won 1 Copa Libertadores (1976), 1 Brazilian League (1966) and 10 State Leagues (5 of them consecutively). They also finished 2nd in 3 Brazilian Leagues (1969, 1974, 1975) and 1 Copa Libertadores (1977).
Cruzeiro also provided 7 World Cup call-ups, with Tostão (1966, 1970), Fontana (1970), Piazza (1970, 1974) and Nelinho (1974, 1978). Besides, from 1970 to 1975, 6 Cruzeiro players' were elected to one of the greatest League XI in the world at that time: Brito (1970), Dirceu Lopes (1970, 1971, 1973), Tostão (1970), Piazza (1972), Nelinho (1975) and Palhinha (1975). Tostão was elected 1971 South American Player of the Year.
Everything started in 1965: the team wasn't performing well in the State League, until the building of the new city stadium ended - the Mineirão inspired Cruzeiro to become a more competitive team, so that they ended the State League as undisputed champions.
In 1966, the team was reinforced with some talents, for the 8th edition of the Brazilian League, still disputed in a short knock-out system. Only each State League champion of all the Brazilian states (21) were allowed into it, as well as the current champions. Cruzeiro had never gone beyond a top6 position, but in 1966 everything would be different.
It was in that 1966 season that Cruzeiro beat Pelé's Santos 6-2 in the final, at a full Mineirão (90.000 spectators). It was absurd, and no one could believe that.
|Cruzeiro (4-1-5)||6||x||2||Santos (4-2-4)|
|1. Raul||1. Gylmar|
|2. Pedro Paulo||2. Carlos Alberto Torres|
|3. William||3. Mauro|
|4. Procópio||4. Oberdan|
|5. Neco||o.g.||5. Zé Carlos|
|6. Piazza||6. Zito|
|7. Dirceu Lopes||3x||7. Lima|
|8. Natal||1x||8. Dorval|
|9. Evaldo||2x||9. Toninho Guerreiro|
|10. Tostão||1x||10. Pelé|
|11. Hilton||11. Pepe|
The first half ended 5-0 in Cruzeiro's favor, with a constant bombing from them. Santos scored twice in the second half, before Cruzeiro ended the match with their 6th goal: you can see all Cruzeiro goals here.
In the final 2nd leg, the rain transformed the pitch into a mud. Santos ended the first half with a 2-0 advantage, with Pelé scoring once - things seemed to have come back to normal. But they only seemed, as Cruzeiro score three times in the second half, at '63, '73 and '89, besides missing a penalty at '57. First with Tostão from this nice free-kick, then with Dirceu Lopes and Natal. It was over, Cruzeiro had beaten Pelé's Santos and were crowned Brazilian League champions for the first time. Highlights to goalkeeper Raul, who operated miracles throughout the second match and to defensive midfielder Piazza, who made Pelé disappear on the pitch.
This victory meant a lot in the development of Brazil's National League: the 1967 Rio-São Paulo Tournament (interstate league) was then opened and enlarged to teams from the states of Minas Gerais (Cruzeiro, Atlético Mineiro) and Rio Grande do Sul (Grêmio, Internacional), as a recognition of their level, thus creating a new Brazilian League, more condensed and elitized, gathering the best teams from 4 states, rather than the old democratic (but less competitive) format which gathered 21 states.
Cruzeito kept collecting State League titles against their archrival Atlético Mineiro: 5 in a row between 1965 and 1969, then 4 in a row between 1972 and 1975 - 9 titles in 12 years, Cruzeiro's best rate until today. Highlights to Roberto Perfumo, prestigious Argentine center-back, elected to Argentina all-time dream team, who played in 138 matches for Cruzeiro between 1971-74.
In 1969, they finished second to Palmeiras in the Brazilian League, due to just 1 fewer goal on the goal difference (1x2).
In 1974, they finished second to Vasco in the Brazilian League. They had a greater goal difference (2x1) but the rule determined an extra match, which Cruzeiro lost 1-2.
1976: the first Copa Libertadores title
After losing the 1975 Brazilian League final 0-1 to Internacional, Cruzeiro picked the second spot to the 1976 Copa Libertadores.
Only 1 of 4 teams would advance from their group stage, shared with Internacional, and the Paraguayans Olimpia and Sportivo Luqueño. It was pretty much clear that the spot would go either to Cruzeiro or Internacional: they met on the first match, a crazy 5-4 victory to Cruzeiro, who was never behind in the score - they were leading 3-1, Internacional tied at '51, Cruzeiro took the lead again, but Internacional tied at '70, before Cruzeiro closed the coffin at '84 from a penalty kick.
In the second group stage, Cruzeiro demolished Ecuadorians and Peruvians with 4 easy wins: 3-1, 4-0, 7-1, 4-1. They qualified to the big final against River Plate with a 9W-1D campaign, scoring 38 goals in 10 matches.
In the final 1st leg, Cruzeiro demolished the Argentines, beating them 4-1 at home. In the second leg, however, they were beaten 1-2 at the Monumental stadium in Argentina, and the title would be decided in an extra match, in Chile.
In the 3rd and decisive match, Cruzeiro had opened 2-0 at '55 with Nelinho and Eduardo, but River Plate reacted and scored at '59 and '64. At '88, Joãozinho scored the title goal from a free-kick, and Cruzeiro were declared South American champions for the first time, the second Brazilian team to do so.
Palhinha was the topscorer, with 13 goals in 11 matches. The South American level was so crazy back then, that no Cruzeiro player was included in the South American POTY shortlist, with the likes of Figueroa (1st), Zico (2nd) and Rivellino (3rd) making it.
This title qualified Cruzeiro to the 1976 Intercontinental Cup against European champions Bayern München. However, they lost the title over two legs - a 0-2 defeat in Germany and a 0-0 tie in Brazil.
In 1977, Cruzeiro entered the Copa Libertadores on the second stage, as current champions, where they beat Internacional and Portuguesa. In the finals, Boca Juniors beat them 5-4 in the penalties on the third match (0-1, 1-0, 0-0).
|Player||Period||Apps||Goals||Brazil NT Caps||Goals||World Cup att.|
|Piazza||1963-78||566||40||59||36||2 (1970, 1974)|
|Tostão||1964-71||378||249||65||36||2 (1966, 1970)|
|Nelinho||1973-82||427||105||21||6||2 (1974, 1978)|
|Jairzinho||1976||24||15||105||44||3 (1966, 1970, 1974)|
Cruzeiro vanished from the domestic and international scene in the 1980s, collecting just two state league titles in 1984 and 1987.
The 1990s however marked the rebirth of the Fox. They won 6 international titles (1 Libertadores, 2 Supercopa Libertadores, 1 Recopa, 1 Copa Ouro, 1 Copa Master), 3 Copa do Brasil, and saw the uprising of Ronaldo Nazário between 1993 and 1994.
1991-92: back-to-back Supercopa Libertadores titles
The Supercopa Libertadores (1988-97) gathered all the teams who had already conquered the prestigious Copa Libertadores, in a knock-out tournament, that would give a spot in the Recopa Sudamericana.
In 1991, Cruzeiro won it after 8 matches (2W-4D-2L), beating Colo-Colo (Chile) (0-0, 0-0, p.k. 4-3), Nacional (Uruguay) (4-0, 0-3), Olimpia (Paraguay) (1-1, 0-0, p.k. 5-4) and River Plate (Argentina) (0-2, 3-0) in the final.
Highlights to Cruzeiro comeback in the big final, scoring 3 goals on the return leg at home (6mn video), in front of 70.000 spectators. It was Cruzeiro's second international trophy, the second won against River Plate.
In the 1992 title campaign, Cruzeiro beat Atlético Nacional (Colombia) (1-1, 8-0), River Plate (Argentina) (2-0, 0-2, p.k. 5-4), Olimpia (Paraguay) (1-0, 2-2), and Racing (Argentina) (4-0, 0-1) in the final.
The next year, Cruzeiro won their first Copa do Brasil, which had been launched in 1989. They beat Nautico (0-1, 2-0) with this nice qualiyfing-goal after a nutmeg from Nonato. Then they beat the reserves of São Paulo in the quarter-finals, and Vasco in the semis (3-1, 1-1). The final would be against Grêmio, the Brazilian Rei de Copas (King of Cups). First leg away ended 0-0, and at home Cruzeiro won 2-1, with the winning goal coming from a header at '65.
In those years, however, Cruzeiro lost two Recopa Sudamericana to the Libertadores champions Colo-Colo, in 1992, and São Paulo, in 1993.
1993: Ronaldo Nazário, the birth of a legend
At the age of 16, Ronaldo made his professional debut for Cruzeiro. In that 1993 season, Ronaldo played only 29 matches of the team's 62 over the year, and still managed to score 28 goals, being the topscorer. He notably scored 12 goals in 14 Brazilian League matches, and 8 goals (topscorer) in 4 Supercopa Libertadores' matches. In the Supercopa Libertadores, he scored a hat-trick and a brace against Colo-Colo (Chile), a brace against Nacional (Uruguay), before his team fell on penalties.
He also scored 5 goals on the same league match against Bahia, notably this funny/iconic one against the celebrated Uruguayan goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodriguez.
The next season, in 1994, Ronaldo kept destroying his adversaries, before leaving to PSV. He scored 28 in 29 matches, 22 of them in the state league (which Cruzeiro won undefeated), and a special historical one against Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores, where he performed his traditional arrancada, going from the midfield past 4 adversaries, including the goalkeeper, before scoring.
He was called and won the 1994 World Cup with Brazil, before leaving Cruzeiro, having scored 56 goals in 58 matches.
|Player||Period||Apps||Goals||Brazil NT Caps||Goals||World Cup att.|
|Ronaldo Nazário||1993-94||58||56||105||67||4 (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006)|
As complete underdogs, Cruzeiro won for the second time the Copa do Brasil and the prestigious Copa Libertadores.
In 1996 Copa do Brasil, Cruzeiro demolished Vasco in the round of 16, beating them 6-2 and then tying 1-1. In the quarter-finals, they smashed the good Corinthians of Edmundo and Marcelinho 4-0 and advanced to the semis, where they tied twice against Flamengo (1-1, 0-0). The big final would be against the stellar team of Palmeiras, of the monsters Cafu, Júnior, Djalminha, Luizão and Rivaldo. Cruzeiro had Dida, who saved this shot at the end of the first leg, Marcelo Ramos, who scored the tying goal and the excellent/multichampion Palhinha. The 1-1 tie at home wasn't great, but Cruzeiro somehow managed to beat Palmeiras 2-1 away in the 2nd leg, in a great comeback.
Palmeiras opened the score at '6 with this majestic Djalminha-to-Rivaldo-to-Luizão goal - everyone was expecting a large win by Palmeiras. But Cruzeiro tied at '25 with Roberto Gaucho, after Amaral childish mistake.
In the second half, Dida appeared. The goalkeeper made several great defenses, which prevented Cruzeiro from suffering a massacre. The excellent Palhinha answered with this touch of finesse, saved by Velloso. At '85, Marcelo Ramos scored the winning goal and Cruzeiro were Copa do Brasil champions.
This title qualified Cruzeiro to the 1997 Copa Libertadores.
1997: Copa Libertadores title, Cruzeiro are continental champions again
After 21 years, Cruzeiro won the Copa Libertadores for the second time. Unlike their 1976 squad, the team had a difficult time, with 7W-1D-5L.
The team began with 3 defeats on the group stage (1-2, 0-1, 0-1), one at home against Grêmio and two away, against Peruvian teams Alianza Lima and Sporting Cristal. Cruzeiro needed at least two wins to be part of the 3 teams to advance: they beat Grêmio 1-0 away, then Alianza Lima 2-0 at home, and - already qualified - 2-1 against Sporting Cristal.
In the ro16, Cruzeiro lost the 1st leg away to El Nacional, 0-1. In the return leg, Cruzeiro opened 2-0, but the match ended 2-1, going to the penalties - where the star Dida defended two, and Cruzeiro advanced to the next stage.
Grêmio would be their opponent in the quarter-finals, and playing the first leg at home in the Mineirão, Cruzeiro won 2-0. In the 2nd leg, Cruzeiro opened 1-0, conceded two goals, and left the Olimpico stadium with a 1-2 defeat and qualified to the semis.
In the semi-finals, Cruzeiro met Colo-Colo. In the first leg, at home, the Brazilians won 1-0, after this master-dumb action by Colo-Colo goalkeeper. In Chile, Cruzeiro were losing 1-3, until they scored this savior goal at '63, taking it to the penalties. Dida star shone again, as he defended two penalties and put Cruzeiro on the final.
In the final against Sporting Cristal, the first match would be played in Peru, which was pretty balanced and ended 0-0. In Brazil, Dida saved Cruzeiro again, before Elivelto scored the title goal at '75. Cruzeiro were crowned Copa Libertadores champions for the second time.
However, Cruzeiro only escaped relegation in the national league on the last match - the board only cared about the Intercontinental Cup in December against European champions Borussia Dortmund. They got Bebeto and Donizete on loan just for this match, but they lost it 0-2.
1998: the runner-up season
Cruzeiro increased a lot in 1998 with the arrivals of Fabio Junior, Müller and Valdo.
They finished 2nd in the Brazilian League, in the Copa do Brasil and in the Copa Mercosul. However, they won the State League for the third time in a row, and also won the Recopa Sudamericana against River Plate (2-0, 3-0). In the Copa Libertadores, they were knocked out in the round of 16 by the eventual champions, Vasco.
Dida left at the end of the season to Milan.
2000: third Copa do Brasil title, and the end of a glorious decade
Cruzeiro played 13 matches, with 8W-5D, to secure the 2000 Copa do Brasil title. They notably beat Athletico (2-1, 2-2), Botafogo (3-2, 0-0), Santos (2-0, 2-2) and São Paulo (0-0, 2-1).
Highlights to the big final, against São Paulo. Cruzeiro tied the 1st leg away 0-0, and were losing 0-1 at home in the 2nd leg. At '80, Fabio Junior tied, but Cruzeiro needed one more goal. At '90, Giovanni scored from this free-kick, to the despair of goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni. São Paulo almost tied at '91, the match ended at '92, and Cruzeiro won the Copa do Brasil title for their third time.
|Player||Period||Apps||Goals||Brazil NT Caps||Goals||World Cup att.|
|Dida||1994-98||209||-||92||-||3 (1998, 2002, 2006)|
|Sorín (Argentina)||2000-02||110||17||76||12||2 (2002, 2006)|
|Valdo||1998-00||52||11||65||6||2 (1986, 1990)|
|Marcelo Ramos||1995-96, 97-00, 01-03||345||162||2||1||-|
|Fabio Junior||1997-98, 2000||65||30||3||-||-|
|Müller||1998-00||93||24||59||12||3 (1986, 1990, 1994)|
Luxemburgo, former Palmeiras, Corinthians and Brazil NT coach, took the job in late 2002, when the team was threatened of relegation, but got saved.
The new coach started building the team for the following season, and the result was an unprecedented national triple crown conquest, with the titles of the State League, the Copa do Brasil and the Brasileirão. Since the creation of the Copa do Brasil in 1989, the only teams that got close to winning both the Copa and the League was Cruzeiro in 1998, finishing second in both, and Corinthians in 2002, winning the Copa and losing the league's final.
But in 2003, Cruzeiro had a powerful and demolishing team that won it all. They started winning the State League undefeated, with 10W-2D. In the Copa do Brasil, they played 11 matches, with 8W-3D, beating Vasco (2-1, 1-1), Goiás (3-2, 2-1) and Flamengo (1-1, 3-1) in the final. Highlights to this back-heel goal by Alex in the final 1st leg. Despite winning the Copa, Cruzeiro still had to prove themselves in the league, because between 2001 and 2012 the best teams in Brazil weren't allowed to play the Copa do Brasil, so that they could focus in the Copa Libertadores.
The 2003 Brazilian League was the first one with a double round-robin and no play-offs in the history of the league. Cruzeiro biggest adversary were Santos, current Brazilian champions and runner-up of the Copa Libertadores, hyped by the upcoming talents of Diego and Robinho. But Cruzeiro had Alex, the most capped Brazilian player in history not to be called to a World Cup, a Palmeiras, Coritiba and Fenerbahçe idol. With him leading the team as a 10, they reached a rate of 72% on the league, over 46 matches, with a win rate of 67%. Cruzeiro led the league all the way around since the 8th round through the 46th round, with the exception of 2 rounds that Santos quickly led (16 and 28). Cruzeiro notably beat Santos 2-0 away and 3-0 at home, the latter match being seen as the most decisive of the league, in which Cruzeiro showed no mercy or fatigue. Until Flamengo's 2019 campaign, this was considered the most dominant display by a team in the "Double Round-Robin National League Era (since 2003)". However, the quality of the national league in 2003 was a couple of tiers above the 2019 one, making Cruzeiro accomplishment relatively more difficult to achieve than 2019 Flamengo's.
Until today, 2003 Cruzeiro is seen as the most powerful Brazilian team of the 21st century, along with 2010 Santos and 2019 Flamengo - in terms of aesthetics, strenght and superiority.
However, the team dismantled in early 2004, and couldn't reach higher levels anymore.
This 48mn documentary tells the whole story of Cruzeiro triple-crown season. Three Cruzeiro players were elected to the League Best XI, namely Maurinho, Maldonado and Alex, the latter also winning the League Golden Ball.
|Player||Period||Apps||Goals||Brazil NT Caps||Goals||World Cup att.|
|Maicon||2000-04||101||3||77||7||2 (2010, 2014)|
|Luisão||2000-03||114||13||47||3||2 (2006, 2010)|
|Aristizabal (Colombia)||2003-04||80||36||66||15||2 (1994, 1998)|
2013-14: back-to-back Brazilian League champions
After Cruzeiro's 2003 dream season, they reached the Copa Libertadores final in 2009, traumatically losing the final 1-2 at home to Estudiantes, after opening the score at '51 - they tied the 1st leg 0-0 in Argentina. In 2010, Cruzeiro was the Brazilian League runner-up. On the last league match in 2011, Cruzeiro feared relegation, but won the historical derby against their archrival Atlético Mineiro by the score of 6-1, a derby record. Cruzeiro also won some state leagues here and there, but never managed in their whole history to surpass Atlético Mineiro in overall state league titles - the closest was in 1930, when they had 3 titles each.
In 2013 and 2014 Cruzeiro won back-to-back Brazilian League titles, reaching the number of 4 titles (1966, 2003, 2013, 2014). In 2013, Cruzeiro led 26 of 38 rounds, and had 5 players elected to the League's Best XI: Fábio, Mayke, Dedé, Nilton, and Golden Ball winner, Éverton Ribeiro. In 2014, Cruzeiro led 32 of 38 league rounds, all consecutively since the 6th round - a league record, until 2017 Corinthians (33 leading rounds). Cruzeiro also had 2 players elected to the League's Best XI: Lucas Silva and Golden Ball winner, Ricardo Goulart. Later that season, they had a shot at winning their second national triple crown, but lost the Copa do Brasil final to their archrival Atlético Mineiro (0-2, 0-1).
Highlights to this golaço of Éverton Ribeiro against Flamengo in the 2013 Copa do Brasil.
|Lucas Silva||2011-14, 17-19||190||6|
|Marcelo Moreno (Bolivia)||2007-08, 2014, 2020-||103||47|
In 2017, Cruzeiro won their 5th Copa do Brasil title, with 7W-5D-2L. From the quarter-finals until the title, they won either on penalties or on away goal: against Palmeiras (3-3, 1-1), the qualifying goal came at home with this header at '84, then against Grêmio (0-1, 1-0, p.k. 3-2) with Fábio saving Luan's last penalty, and the final against Flamengo (1-1, 0-0, p.k. 5-3 - no away goal rule), with Fábio saving Diego's penalty.
In 2018, Cruzeiro won their 6th Copa do Brasil title, a national record, with 5W-2D-1L. They beat Athletico in the round of 16 (2-1, 1-1), Santos in the quarter-finals (1-0, 1-2, p.k. 3-0) with Fábio saving all three Santos penalties (Bruno Henrique, Rodrygo, Jean Mota), Palmeiras in the semis (1-0, 1-1), and finally Corinthians in the big final (1-0, 2-1), with this nice chipping last goal from Arrascaeta.
In 2019, Cruzeiro went from being title favorites to being relegated to Serie B. Not only the club went through a huge financial/debt crisis, but also the club's expensive players chose not to care about the results - a shameful and enormous disengagement led by Cruzeiro's biggest villain and conspirator, the midfielder Thiago Neves. The club now fights against FIFA-debts punishments and is in the Serie B relegation zone to Serie C.
To this day, Cruzeiro has a fanbase of 7 million supporters, and a stadium attendance average of 24.200, as of 2019.
If you have any questions about Brazilian football, feel free to join us at futebol, where you'll be very welcomed!
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