On 31st January, 51,233 people went to the Maracana hoping to see a spectacle between Fluminense and Flamengo. 13 minutes gone, a goal, and 24 minutes later, another. It seemed that Fluminense would have an easy day, but three minutes later a third goal, and the score was 2-1. Once again the result was in doubt, but it wasn’t to stay that way for long as it soon became 3-1, and that was the end of the first half.

Fluminense and over 51,000 in the crowd could be forgiven for believing the win was in the bag, but in the second half only one team was at the races, and a massacre was seen. Six minutes after the teams returned Flamengo scored, then again two minutes later, and then in the 79th minute, and again four minutes before the final whistle. The match finished 5-3 to Flamengo, but rather than thinking they had witnessed something they would never see again most fans thought "just an ordinary match in Brazil’s most extraordinary derby".

This is exactly what is expected when Flamengo meet Fluminense – the game most of Brazil agree is their biggest derby – but 5-3 isn’t always what people get every time they go to the Maracana for this clash. However, the excitement generated is so big that just experiencing the electric atmosphere makes the trip worthwhile, even if it ends 0-0. A sea of colours, songs and people, a Flamengo-Fluminense derby is something everyone should experience. But why exactly is it Brazil’s biggest?

The two met for the first time on 7th July 1912, but the story really began even earlier. Fluminense are considered as the first big club of Brazilian football, having been founded in 1902 as the first football team in Rio de Janeiro. Many Flamengo associates were also Fluminense members, as at that time the Rubro-Negros, like the majority of the clubs in Rio was a place where rowing was the sport practised. After a split at Fluminense, some of the Tricolor players decided to club together and create Flamengo’s land sports division, starting with football on 8th November, 1911. The first meeting between the two ended with Fluminense winning 3-2, even though nine of their former star players were turning out for Flamengo. That match was but a preview for what fans could expect over the next 90 or so years: a derby closely and keenly fought and extremely unpredictable.

As with any other long lasting derby, Flamengo-Fluminense has had some interesting episodes. On 22nd October 1916, Flamengo missed a penalty when winning 2-1, just a few minutes later another missed penalty, but this time the referee ordered a re-take, again the keeper saved. The referee once again ordered the penalty re-taken, arguing Fluminense players had encroached into the area. At that moment, a writer called Coelho Neto and a police officer named Ataliba Correira Dutra invaded the pitch, encouraging other supporters to do likewise. The game was halted, and the rules of that year’s competition stated that if a match was stopped for five minutes or more then it must be cancelled. The crowd remained on the pitch for seven minutes, and another meeting had to take place, this came on 8th December the same year, with Fluminense running out 3-1 winners.

Perhaps the most famous derby between the two however, happened in 1941 and is called Fla-Flu da Lagoa (Lagoon’s Fla-Flu). In that meeting, in Gavea, Fluminense needed at least a draw to win the title, and they soon scored twice. Just a few minutes before the referee blew for the end of the first half, Pirilo netted for Flamengo. The same player bagged another to level it 2-2 in the 83rd minute, tension was building. Flamengo began to crank up the pressure, and Fluminense responded by hoofing the ball into a nearby lagoon. Reasoning the balls would soon run out, Fluminense continued this tactic, however, when no balls remained, Flamengo’s able rowing division retrieved balls from the lagoon. After a Fluminense player was sent off, his team-mates began passing to ball to a brilliant player called Romeu. Romeu hogged the ball, darting and weaving, and running down the clock. Even with a massive 12 minutes of injury time Flamengo could not find a winner. Fluminense’s goalkeeper, Batatais, who suffered a dislocated collarbone in the 85th minute was from that day forth considered a hero.

In a poetic interpretation of the derby, famous Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues once said: "Fla-Flu was created 40 minutes before the nothing." His brother, Mario Filho, whom the Maracana is named after, is the man responsible for giving the derby the title "derby Classico das Multidoes" (the crowd’s derby), as in 1963 these two broke the highest attendance record for a match between clubs, when 194,603 people packed inside the Maracana to watch the two decide their state’s championship and creating the name Fla-Flu.

Because the football side of Flamengo was in many ways born inside Fluminense, critics say their relationship is that of a mother and her son, where the son constantly tries to break free, but the mother is always bringing him back, diminishing his achievements and showing him she is the one who holds the power. In this special relationship, for the first time Flamengo are now ahead of Fluminense with 31 Rio de Janerio State Championships, a lead of one.

As the years pass the Flamengo-Fluminense derby has retained its importance and continues to make a good case for its status as the biggest derby game in Brazil. In the 1970s, when the president of a famous soft drinks company was thinking about sponsoring Brazilian sides he did not know if he had struck upon a good idea or not. Joao Havelange, FIFA’s president at that time, took the businessman to Flamengo v Fluminense. As Havelange led the president into the stadium he remarked: "President, this is football".

In 1969, a Scottish journalist from The Observer newspaper attended a derby meeting between the two to decide a State Championship. He wrote: "Huge, overwhelming, capable of turning a football spectacle into a carnival, the Maracana is already a legend. The reality however, is much greater. The memory I’ll forever have of Fla-Flu and, even more, of Brazilian football itself, will be of this huge, pungent, happy human experience.

The experience of Fla-Flu for non-Brazilians stands as perhaps the greatest evidence possible that this derby is Brazilian football and the very best the nation has to offer.