Atlético Paranaense – When a “Hurricane” Hit Brazil
Football powerhouse Brazil has a gigantic domestic league. However, even though there are 27 different state leagues, Brazilian domestic football is largely dominated by two states—São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In 2001, Brazilian Serie A saw the incredible rise of a team from the state of Parana—a team that went on to defy every expectation and win the tournament. The team was Atlético Paranaense, our Brazalian Black Swan, presented to you by Tamas Sinha at Goalden Times.
In 1949, Brazil had no national domestic league structure. Instead, state leagues were held regularly, and the state championship of southern Brazil’s Parana was known as Campeonato Paranaense. That year, during this tournament, people witnessed the remarkable run of a club that caught an entire nation’s fancy. Atlético Paranaense had been champions eight times already, but they were extraordinary that season. Not only did they win eleven out of twelve games, they also scored a mammoth 49 goals in all. They humiliated their arch-rival and the most successful club of the state, Coritiba, by 1-5 in front of their home crowd at Belfort Duarte stadium. In the next round, they steamrolled Auga Varde 3-7 in another away match to almost ensure the championship. Although they lost the last encounter of the season to Ferroviário—the runners up that year—that campaign is remembered as the best from the rubro-negro (signifying their red and black jersey).
Viana, Rui, Neno, Jackson, and Cireno created a formidable attacking line up under the mastermind Motorzinho. This line up eventually went on to become a part of Parana’s football folklore. The top scorer of the championship was Neno with 18 goals. Interestingly, he used to play for the archrival Coritiba before and had been the top scorer of the league several times already. However, something changed his mind after he returned from serving in the World War ii, and he wanted to play for the rivals instead. His presence had given this Atlético side the much-needed weapon of destruction, but he went on to play only one season. Neno still holds the record of scoring the most number of goals (21) in the Atle-Tiba derby—the fiercest derby of Curitiba—that is held between Atlético and Coritiba. The team made headlines in the local press, and were named as “typhoon” at first. But the phenomenon everyone witnessed was more appropriately named “furacão” later. Furacão is Portuguese for hurricane. After defeating every state team, the “Hurricanes” went to explore outside and kept on winning against clubs from other states as well. They became the first team from Parana to go outside of the country to play a football match—visiting Asunción in Paraguay to play a series of matches against Olimpia, Cerro Porteño and Nacional. However, their best performance came against the mighty Corinthians—the strongest name from Brazil’s football capital of São Paulo. The match ended in a 3-3 draw, but Atlético had surely made their presence felt at a national level. After this incredible season, the team threw a big party at Clube Curitibano, the most aristocratic club in the city. They also decided to have a lavish “doctoral party” and honour the players with doctorate degrees in football. Apart from being grand, this party was also meant to belittle their rival Coritiba.
Football Culture in Curitiba
Curitiba, popularly known as “the Green Capital” of Brazil, is an example to the world for its uniquely green urban areas. Founded by the Portuguese in late seventeenth century, Curitiba has been different from other Brazilian cities largely due to its German influence. After the declaration of Brazil’s independence in 1822, German immigrants started coming to southern Brazil in heavy numbers, helping in turn to shape its culture and usher in modernization. Before that, Portuguese and Spanish immigrants, natives and mestizos inhabited this land. Sustainable economic growth influenced the development of a community with high quality medical care, social activities, and sports.
In 1905, the members of Clube Ginástico Teuto-Brasileiro (German-Brazilian Gymnastic Club) in Curitiba acquired a football, and started to play the game without knowing the basics of the sport. It didn’t take them long to learn the “beautiful game”, as Frederico “Fritz” Essenfelder came to rescue. Fritz was a German from Buenos Aires. In 1909, he became a part of the gymnastic club after settling in Curitiba, and then finally explained the basics of the game to his fellow club members. Soon they set up the first football club in the state—Coritiba. However, the club wasn’t accessible to non-Germans, and not everyone was happy with this discrimination.
Football culture spread in the state like wildfire and new clubs started springing up. Current big names like Paraná Sports Club (1910), International Foot-Ball Club (1912), América Futebol Clube (1914), and Britânia Sport Club (1914) all came into existence at that time. Joaquim Américo Guimarães, a councillor of Curitiba and a great sports lover, was one of the most respected figures in the sports scene of Paraná at that time. He decided to found the International Foot-Ball Club. The club’s name was a sign of protest against colonial teams like Coritiba (German), Palestra Itália (Italian) and Britânia (British) that had been dominating football in the city. Soon he rented a farm from the Hauer family to build the first stadium in Paraná—Estádio da Baixada do Água Verde (1914). He managed to build a formidable side, and International won the inaugural Campeonato Paranaense in 1915. But his premature death in 1917 brought about uncertainty to the football club. That was when Britânia started ruling the championship and won six titles back-to-back from 1918 to 1923. Just as Britânia had started to look unstoppable, the socioeconomic, political, and cultural elite of Curitiba decided to form a new club—Club Atlético Paranaense in 1924. Atlético accepted players and supporters of other ethnic groups and social classes—going on to become the team of the people. It had the largest fan following in Paraná. In 1925, Atlético won their maiden Campeonato Paranaense and went on to become one of the mightiest clubs in the state along with Coritiba. However, as discussed before, football in Brazil was largely dominated by clubs from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. So, even the “Hurricanes” needed a miracle to win the national title!
The Complexities of Brazilian Serie A
Brazil is as large as a continent, and the economic strength of clubs in various states differ from one another. However, long before Taça Brasil, the national championship competition of Brazil from 1959 t0 1968, Brazilian football powerhouses São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro initiated an interstate championship—Torneio Rio–São Paulo. It was always less popular than the state championship, though. Meanwhile, Taça Brasil was dominated heavily by Os Santásticos. The dream generation of Santos featured legends like ‘O Rei’ Pele, Coutinho, Pepe, and Gilmar, and the club ruled world club football. Between 1961 and 1965, they won five national, two continental, and two inter-continental championships—beating the best teams in Europe in the process. But the violence in Libertadores by Uruguayan and Argentine clubs became a concern for Brazilian teams, and they preferred to opt out from the Copa Libertadores in 1966. As a result, and Taça Brasil lost its relevance. This became an opportunity for Torneio Rio- São Paulo, and they expanded the tournament for Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Paraná. The tournament was renamed Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa after the former São Paulo president of the same name. After this, the tournament became the most celebrated league in the country and the winners of this competition were given tickets to Libertadores.
In 1964, armed forces in Brazil (supported heavily by United States) overthrew the erstwhile President João Goulart and established a military regime in the country. In 1969, Emílio Médici became the president of the country and took the military government to its pinnacle. Economic growth of the country took a giant leap under Médici, and this event is often referred to as the Brazilian Miracle. Brazil’s third world cup victory in 1970 cemented this era as the golden age of the nation’s development. Brazil’s football craze had reached its peak, leading to the first National Championship. However, the first edition wasn’t much of an improvement from previous unofficial ones—with only seven states participating. Soon the number of participants started increasing rapidly and the tournament was renamed Copa Brasil in 1975. In 1979, a record 98 teams were considered for the fifth Copa Brasil in a peculiar seeding system, where 80 teams participated in the first stage, 16 more in the second and two more in the third stage. Although four São Paulo teams refused to participate in the second phase, a whopping 94 teams played in the edition and Internacional of Rio Grande do Sul won the championship undefeated. It thus became the only club in the competition’s history to do so. The number of teams was again reduced to 44 from the next season.
The championship is colossal. Teams from 27 states participates in the four tiers (Serie A, B, C and D) of the league—and each state has a league of its own. Only clubs from seven states have managed to win the official competition till date. This includes Sport Recife from Pernambuco that won the controversial 1987 title. (It was controversial because Flamengo—the people’s champion—refused to take part in the play-off.) The domination of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in this tournament is almost total. Only one team outside the big four states (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul) has managed to win the trophy since its reform in 1989.
How important are derbies? Truly, a lot. Nothing exhilarates football fans more than seeing their beloved team taking on its bitter rivals. The famous Atle-Tiba derby of 1995 will always be remembered by both sets of fans for many reasons. It was the 81st Paranaense Championship, and on an Easter Sunday Coritiba hosted its rival Atlético at Couto Pereira. The humiliation started in the first half itself, when Coritiba took a 3-0 lead in front of their home crowd. The “Hurricanes” tried to get back in the game with a goal in the second half, but emotions ran high. A fight broke out between the players during the celebration and Atlético went down to ten men. However, the match was far from over. Two more goals after that secured a 5-1 win for Coritiba and the green-white brigade celebrated in style. A defeat of this magnitude in a derby had never been witnessed by this generation of supporters and they couldn’t accept it. Players were evicted from their apartments, and the existing board members of the “Hurricanes” decided to step down due to fan pressure. “I confess I did not know what Atle-Tiba was, what could happen in the event of a defeat. I treated the game as if it was a normal one,” confessed Sergio Cosme, Atlético’s manager during that fateful encounter. However, that which does not kill you, definitely makes you stronger. This defeat completely changed the team and reshaped the history of Curitiba’s football culture. The legendary Mario Celso Petraglia became the president of the club and formed a new board of directors. They came up with the concept of “Atlético Total”—a strategic project to modernize the club.
Changes were already visible in the management and Atlético continued its brilliant run in the Brazilian Serie B. The new board members were hungry for success, and quickly hired the famous Pepe (of Santásticos) as the club’s manager. These decisions paid off and the “Hurricanes” reached the semis of the competition. The dream of a national win started to take shape. But more drama was in store. Coritiba also qualified for the final stages of Serie B, and another thumping 3-0 victory in the Atle-Tiba on the penultimate round put Coritiba ahead in the competition in terms of goal difference. On 16 December 1995, the title was up for grabs between the two Paraná clubs, and both teams were scheduled to play their matches at the same time. Atlético was hosting Central at Baixada, whereas Coritiba travelled to São Paulo to play Mogi Mirim. Fans in the stadium had their eyes on the pitch, while their ears were glued to the radio. Coritiba’s win would have ensured them the trophy despite Atlético’s victory. The soccer God didn’t break the “Hurricanes’” heart that evening, and Mogi Mirim held Coritiba 1-1 while Atlético won their game convincingly by 4-1. Nothing is as sweet as defeating one’s fiercest rivals. This victory gave the club a major boost. Although it was only a second division title that earned them a spot at the elite league, a national conquest meant a lot to fans. They added a silver star in the badge to denote the triumph. Coritiba, though, already had a golden star for their tournament victory in 1985. Atlético’s journey had just begun.
Being promoted to the Serie A, the “Hurricanes” started making their presence felt to the big guns. In 1996, the league started with 24 teams and eight best teams were to qualify for the knockout round. Atlético finished the first phase of the competition at fourth place, earning a ticket to the knockout stage. Their match was to be against former champion Atlético Mineiro. Despite a victory at home, the team from Paraná got eliminated from the championship race by goal difference. Estádio da Baixada was the asset that the “Hurricanes” had inherited from Guimarães’ International. In 1997, the board members of the club decided to demolish the old one to replace it with a new stadium—a part of the “Atlético Total” project. Within two years they built the Arena da Baixada that had the most modern infrastructure in Brazil at that time. “Atlético Total” was supposed to restructure the club as one of the strongest in the country with a new stadium, improved training techniques, and grass root trainings. However, the club’s Serie A campaign was not going anywhere. In 1997, they finished two points above the relegation zone.
CBF always found it difficult to control such a mammoth league structure, and legal issues kept cropping up every year. Finally, in 2000, they decided not to host the championship and handed over the responsibility to Clube dos 13 again and the tournament was renamed the João Havelange Cup.
When the “Hurricane” Arrived
Though they were still struggling nationally, the “Hurricanes” dominated the state championship at the start of this millennium. After winning the title in 2000 over Coritiba, they reached the final next year again, facingas they were leading the league qualification and the club managed to secure back-to-back state titles. This was known territory for them, but Serie A was still proving to be difficult. They needed more reinforcements to leave an impact. In came Mário Sérgio, the new tactician for the national league, replacing Flávio Lopes. He ushered in radical changes in the team. Atlético left no stones unturned to make sure they were prepared for the championship, and tried to sign two more players—Fabiano and Souza (José Ivanaldo de Souza) in the middle of the year. However, the Fabiano deal failed and local Curitiba boy Ilan Araújo Dall’Igna became a part of the team. They had already been eliminated from the Brazilian Cup but the signing of Alex Mineiro from Luis Felipe Scolari’s Cruzeiro was the best thing that happened after it.
The master plan of Sérgio with 3-5-2 had set the standard higher, and the “Hurricanes” started the league with much promises. The journey started against another powerhouse, Tite’s Grêmio. The team successfully crossed the hurdle—beating the Porto Alegre side 2-0 at Baixada with goals from Kléber and Kléberson. Next stop was Cruzeiro. An important away 1-2 victory ensured that the team found the right rhythm at the start of this competition. After a goalless away match against Sao Caetano, team returned to Baixada to play two home matches. The first one was against Flamengo where the “Hurricanes” thrashed the Rio de Janeiro club 4-0. This was followed by a 1-0 victory against Atlético Mineiro. Baixada became the fortress for them.
Alas, good times don’t last, and soon uncertainties surrounded the team. The players were performing well, but injuries and suspensions became a headache for Sergio. They were missing key players in every match and the Paraná side couldn’t escape the consequences. The rubro-negros flew to São Paulo to play the sixth-round match, and handed over the first defeat of the season at Morumbi. That was only the start. More bad news was waiting. The team played its worst game of the season in its next match at Rio’s São Januário against Vasco da Gama. Not only did they lose by 4-0, they also finished the game with nine men. Their winning streak had come to an end. This heavy defeat rattled everyone in the team, and the blame game started in earnest. They needed a win in the next home fixture against Santos to bring back some confidence, but that match ended in a draw as well. Situation worsened when coach Sergio started bashing the players publicly for their life style and night outs. “Either Atlético ends the night or the night ends Atlético,” he claimed. This internal fight was blown up by the media, and Sergio almost resigned from his job. This time, however, the players persuaded him to stay on. Unfortunately, their game continued to suffer, and team lost back-to-back matches away and at Atlético managed to get one point from the five games they played, and the debacle predictably resulted in Sergio’s expulsion from the club.
When Geninho took over the reins, he was not a very familiar name in the circuit. However, he had a plan of his own. Keeping Sergio’s 3-5-2 structure unharmed, he improvised tactically. He created a stronger midfield with Kléberson, Adriano, Kléber, and Alex Mineiro and concentrated primarily on attack. He disciplined the unruly team and appointed psychologist Suzy Fleury to prepare them mentally for big matches. Under the new coach, the nation witnessed a transformed squad that routed every team in its path, starting with a victory against Portuguesa. The team remained unbeaten for the next 12 rounds and registered massive successes against Santa Cruz (1-5) and Ponte Preta (1-5) away from home. Their most memorable win came against Bahia, when Kléber scored a hat trick to trash them 6-3 in front of a full house. The “Hurricanes” had arrived nationally. They did lose to Juventude and Vasco da Gama after this, but by then they had already secured a spot in the next stage.
A great start, a fall, and an ultimate revival were enough for the team to qualify in the knockout stage (eight out 28 teams qualified for quarter-finals in 2001). The “Hurricanes” finished second in that round behind São Caetano—with 15 victories, six draws and six defeats. They also had 58 goals in 27 matches, the highest in the competition. This second seed helped them in the knockout phase, as both the quarter-final and semi-final was a single-match-affair where better seeded teams would host the matches. Geninho didn’t want the team to lose its concentration and decided to keep the players in the modern training facility of Caju CT (named after Atlético legend Caju). This would keep them away from their drinking and lifestyle problems. Suzy made sure that the players were motivated ahead of the toughest matches of their careers.
The battle ring was ready, the opponents had arrived, the force of the Baixada was with them, and it was finally show time!
Birth of a Legend
Transfers are important in modern football. While the biggest transfer in English football till date—Paul Pogba—made headlines for several months, it was Manchester United who first let him go to Juventus. The return of the star to Old Trafford confirmed that that decision was a blunder. It’s unpredictable how a transfer decision can hurt or help a team in the long run. An interesting transfer saga took place in early 2001 when Luis Felipe Scolari wanted Atlético midfielder Marcus Vinícius for his Cruzeiro side. Alex Mineiro was like a currency exchange for Cruzeiro—whenever they wanted a player they offered Alex as a loan. He travelled to many places as a loan, and then finally came back to Cruzeiro again in 2000. Now when Cruzeiro asked for Vinícius, Atlético demanded Paulo Isidoro and Donizete Amorim in exchange. The deal was closed, but failed at the last moment as Paulo Isidoro had a serious injury. Desperate to get the deal, they offered Alex as a replacement. Alex was not sure about joining the Paraná side, but he changed his mind after Scolari confirmed that he would get a number of chances to prove himself. He was not Baixada’s favorite at first, but his partnership with Kléber in front gave Atlético a lethal attacking option. Although Kléber was the team’s leading scorer with sixteen goals in the league stages, Alex was in the second spot with nine nets.
Atlético’s opponent in the quarter-final was the star-studded São Paulo. The latter had already beaten the former in league stages, but this time the dynamics were different. Rogério Ceni, Juliano Belletti, Fábio Simplício, Júlio Baptista, França, and budding superstar Ricardo Kaka—São Paulo apparently had all the fire power in the world. However, their strength was predominantly on paper and they suffered from internal ego clashes. The quarter-final started with much promise in front of a cheering home crowd. The “Hurricanes” scored the first goal (Kléber), but the match was far from over. The Tricolor (nickname of São Paulo) had already won the championship three times, and their previous experiences in crucial matches now came useful. They kept the pressure on the home side in the second half. Defensive errors soon cost the “Hurricanes” and the Tricolours were awarded a penalty due a malicious foul marginally inside the box. São Paulo’s Adriano Gerlin almost tore apart the net with a powerful shot, and the stadium experienced pin drop silence. Ten minutes before the end of the match, Alex became Atlético’s saviour when he pushed the ball into the net as Ceni faltered in the six-yard box. The crowd went crazy again. They lit up flares and cheered like never before. A young Kaka couldn’t take all that pressure and burst into tears when he was substituted. São Paulo tried their best to find an equalizer but the match ended in favour of the rubro-negros. Alex became an instant hero among Atlético fans and that goal changed his life forever. He later stated that he was confident about scoring that match winner.
The only team that had beaten the “Hurricanes” at the Baixada that season was Fluminense. So, when the famous Rio de Janeiro club and two times Brazilian league champion travelled to Curitiba for the semi-final match everyone was on tenterhooks. It promised to be an epic clash and fans spent entire nights in queue to get match tickets. On that evening, Arena da Baixada witnessed arguably the best match of the season when two teams with lethal offensive options went at each other, all guns blazing. Both teams created chances in the first half, but couldn’t open the score sheet until the very last minute. Magno Alves opened up the match with his tenth goal of the competition, and the travelling fans went berserk in joy. Atlético went into the break hanging from a steep cliff. They knew they needed to make their comeback as soon as possible, and the urgency kept them in the hunt. It was a corner that the Flu’s defenders failed to clear, and Alex—the ever-lurking eagle inside the box—pounced upon the prey. The score was now 1-1! It was a box-to-box fight. But it was another mistake on the slippery pitch that led the ball to Alex’s feet a few yards outside the box. He grabbed the opportunity and accelerated with the ball inside the box, and the crowd stood up from their seats in excitement. Seeing the goalkeeper coming forward, he just placed the ball in the right direction with his left foot, and voila! The wonder of Paraná was ahead in the semi-final for the first time and the rubro-negro crowd went crazy with delight. However, the match wasn’t over yet. Magno Alves struck again from outside the box to beat Flávio and silence the home crowd once more. 90 minutes was just about to be over when Alex received the ball a few yards outside the box again. Finding some space around the D, he made a forward run and right on the edge of the box blasted the shot on the left-hand side of Murillo. It was a GOAL! This 89th-minute marvel was enough to seal the match and get tickets to the finals. Against all the odds, the Flus were eliminated and the club of Paraná was making its first-time appearance in the finals of the most coveted trophy in the country. Alex—the hattrick hero—had already become the talk of the town, and he was hungry for more.
The league couldn’t have had a more fitting finale. The best two teams of the competition were facing each other in a two-legged tie to decide the ultimate champion. The Azulão or the “blue bird”, as São Caetano was called, were the runner up in last year’s João Havelange Cup (Serie A 2000). There, they lost the final to Vasco da Gama, and this time they were determined to win the tournament. The day of the match was like a festival in Curitiba. Christmas was nine days later but Atlético fans had started celebrating already. The match was a perfect example of an immovable object meeting an unstoppable “hurricane”. The Azulão team under Jair Picerni’s management were disciplined about their defence and difficult to beat with their firm marking techniques. But could anything have kept Atlético’s brilliant attack from scoring? A full house Baixada kept cheering loudly, and Ilan scored the first goal in only four minutes. The crowd erupted. Flag, flares and chants—fans were giving the players all the mental support they needed, but The Azulão came back in the match. Mancini got the much-needed break for Azulão with a powerful grounder free-kick, and they were able to tame the “Hurricanes” momentarily. São Caetano had their plans well-rehearsed and the results were about to come. Another freekick from Mancini got blocked midway, but this time Marcos Paulo gave the away team a valuable second goal. The home crowd started panicking. And who do you call when the team is in trouble? Yes, Alex Mineiro! It took him only two minutes to score an equalizer. The score was now 2-2! The game was open and both teams were failing to convert their chances. A wonderful volley from Alex missed the post by a whisker. Ten minutes before the regulation time end, it was Alex again who made a difference. He got the ball right before the penalty box, went past two defenders like a hot knife through butter, and put Atlético ahead with his second goal. The match was almost over when Adriano was brought down inside the penalty box, and Atlético were awarded a penalty. Alex scored again. Another hattrick from the rising superstar! Alex was immortalized in every rubro-negro fan’s memory. A legend was born.
The missing star
A day before the season finale at São Paulo, psychologist Suzy Fleury came up with a game to motivate the players for the most crucial match of their career. She locked them in a room and gave them a puzzle to solve. Players tried their best to assemble the pieces of the puzzle before finding out that one of the pieces was missing. Defender Igor could only decipher that Suzy’s plan was probably to show the players that the missing piece in their life was the winning trophy. Atlético had a silver star on their badge for the Serie B victory in 1995, but the arch-rival Coritiba already had a golden star. So after all these days, one final lap remained between them and that coveted golden badge. They were all charged up to earn that missing piece. It was the fans who motivated them even more and before leaving for São Paulo a large number of supporters came to the airport to cheer them up. A few of them travelled with the team as well. The Atlético board had made arrangements for a giant screen outside Baixada for people who couldn’t travel. The city, painted in red and black, stayed awake all night before the match-day.
Atlético’s 3-5-2 shape was heavily dependent on their back-three—captain Nem (Rinaldo Francisco de Lima), Rogério Corrêa and Gustavo (Gustavo de Souza Caiche). Nem was a born leader. He was not technically the most gifted, but always put in extra effort and led from the front. Corrêa, on the other hand, was the most technical defender. His excellent pace always helped the attack. The best in the trio was Gustavo. The defender had a brilliant season after a six-month-break due to injury. When he injured himself again in the first leg of the final, it looked like this would keep him away for a few weeks again. It was Geninho who wanted to field him at any cost. So he talked to the team physician and made special arrangements for this match only. Edilson Thiele, Atlético’s team doctor in 2001, had to use anaesthesia to relieve Gustavo’s pain. The “Hurricanes” had the perfect line-up available for this last encounter. Beside these three, this team had the best possible players in every position. Flávio (Flávio Emídio dos Santos Vieira) was the man beneath the bars. His agility and reflexes made him a great goalkeeper and he had kept the game alive in crucial moments with magnificent saves many a times. Alessandro (Alessandro da Conceição Pinto) and Fabiano (Fabiano Lima Rodrigues) at the flanks were very effective the entire season. Alessandro even got a call up for the national team after his sensational season. Another interesting name was Cocito (Thiago Marcelo Silveira Cocito). Cocito was not a skillful midfielder, but kept on supporting the defense at all times. His USP was that he kept the best player of the opponent in check in his own violent way. But the main pillars of the lethal attack of the team were the two midfielders—José Kléberson and Adriano Gabiru. Gabiru joined the team in 1998 as a 21-year-old unknown face, but soon became Baixada’s favorite name with his hard work and talent. When he left for Olympique Marseille as a loan in 2000, his transfer helped the club financially to take out some debts. But after a short stint in Europe, he rejoined the team to make a major contribution to the club’s best ever season. On the other hand, Kléberson was the best find of the season. Geninho’s squad was incomplete without this versatile midfielder. He could play any role in the team, and he earned a place in the 2002 World Cup winning squad where he played a major part in the final against Germany. The team with the most number of goals in the season also had two goal machines in front—Kléber (Kléber João Boas Pereira) and Alex. Kléber had scored sixteen goals in the qualifying rounds, and later went on to become one of the greatest scorers of the club’s history. Alex was in a dream phase in his career with seven goals in the last three matches. The next remarkable thing about the “Hurricanes” was their squad depth. The bench strength Geninho had was brilliant. Souza and Ilan were brilliant signings. José Pires and Adauto da Silva brought their best games whenever the team needed.
The Azulão fans tried their best to rattle up the away players with their banters, but it actually motivated the team to do better. The match started on a rainy afternoon at Anacleto Campanella stadium in São Paulo, and the club from Paraná was determined to leave their mark on Brazilian football’s most successful state. The first half went goalless and Atlético had one more half to defend in order to win the title. São Caetano, desperate for goals in the second half, kept leaving spaces at their half. The “Hurricanes” took advantage of it. It was Atlético that broke the deadlock at the 66th minute with a trademark goal by Alex. No more goals were scored, and the Paraná side went on to win the match and the championship. A truly iconic moment the football history of the state—a new millennium started with a new champion. The green city of Curitiba saw celebrations like never before. The return flight was delayed, and people waited till dawn to welcome the team. Even atheists celebrated Christmas that year in the city. The players, who had spent this last month in a training centre away from all parties, couldn’t wait any longer. So Nem started off with a bottle of whiskey at the São Paulo airport when the flight got delayed and everyone joined him. More good news was waiting. Alex won the Golden Ball (best player) award that year from Placar Magazine, while Gustavo grabbed the Silver Ball award for his brilliance. It was truly a tournament to remember!
When Mario Celso Petraglia became the club’s president in May 1995, he promised to deliver a national title within ten years. It only took six years to bring on the biggest success of the While Atlético have later gone past their fiercest rivals in Paraná to become the best club from the state at the national and continental level, they could never relive the success of the 2001 season again. Their next season was disastrous. The management failed to pay the title bonus and couldn’t keep the team intact. Geninho left as well. Atlético was a normal team again.
The league format changed again in 2003, and it adopted the European style of double round-robin league without any play-offs. Atlético came close to the title once again in 2004 due to the heroics of Washington (Washington Stecanela Cerqueira). They eventually ended up being the runner up after leading the table for eleven weeks. This was followed by a great campaign in Copa Libertadores in 2005 where they ended up being the runner up as well. After a few mediocre seasons since 2007, they were finally relegated in 2011. Even after coming back to the top flight, they had not been consistent. Now the club has one of the most improved stadium and training infrastructures in the country, but teams from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are still ahead in terms of their quality and consistency. To win the league, Atlético would need something extraordinary again! Otherwise history will remember them as one-time wonders.
Feature Image – HTE Sports
- 1. We are grateful to Atletico Paranaense club historian Professor Heriberto Ivan Machado, without whose valuable inputs and assured guidance this article would not have been possible.
- 2. Special mention, Andre Vidiz, football writer at Sem Firulas, for his incredible help during initial research.