Now here’s a question for all you football trivia buffs out there; which club holds the world record for the most consecutive games won? Chelsea achieved 13 last year in winning the Premier League title, but still fell one short of Arsenal’s Premier League record of 14. Neither, however, were anywhere near the world record total. What about Real Madrid? No. Barcelona? No again. Not even Bayern Munich? Afraid not. As verified by the Guinness Book of Records, the record run of 24 wins dates from February to May in 2011 and belongs to a club that many may have never even heard of.
The answer to the conundrum is the Brazilian club Coritiba Foot Ball Club. To be fair, though, even to fans of the Coxa – literally translated as ‘Thigh’ – that success probably pales in significance when compared to the 1985 season, when the club won their first, and so far only, Brazilian national title. They then carried the club’s colours in the Copa Libertadores the following year, becoming the first club from the state of Paraná to achieve such acclaim. As the oldest club in the state, founded in 1909, that statistic is probably appropriate, but it was a long journey for the club both from its founding to 1985, and then on their run to the title as well.
As with a number of stories relating to the foundations of the game in Brazil, this one begins with the tale of a foreigner turning up with a football. This, however, isn’t another tale of the fabled Charles Millar, the Scot who famously sailed from Southampton in 1894 with two leather footballs and a copy of the Hampshire Football Association’s Laws of the Game, and apparently became the midwife to the game’s birth in Brazil; Coritiba’s father was German.
Back around the turn of the previous century, the city of Coritiba hosted a sizeable expatriate German community and many of the younger men from the group met at the Clube Ginástico Teuto-Brasileiro Turnverein. Although the German word ‘Turnverein’ translates as a gymnastics club, it was an institution covering many sports, and became established as a key feature of the community.
In July 1909, Frederico “Fritz” Essenfelder entered the club carrying a leather football and explained to his friends about this new game he had seen. Convincing his fellow members to give this strange new sport a try, the game was added to the roster of sports played at the club and the foundations of Coritiba Foot Ball Club were laid down. Initially, games were played at the Quartel da Força Pública, with club members playing amongst themselves. Eventually, though, an unofficial game against a number of British workers who had been contracted to work on the nearby Ponta Grossa railway was scheduled, and competitive football in Coritiba had kicked off.
The game took root in the club and on 12 October 1909, at a meeting in the Theatro Hauer, the decision was taken to form a club purely to play football – the first in the state. It was christened, somewhat unimaginatively, if entirely diplomatically, as Teuto-Brasileiro, although at the time was still linked to Clube Ginástico Teuto-Brasileiro Turnverein.
The original organisation had not allowed non-German members into its ranks, but by now, the football arm of the club was gaining momentum – and new players, many of whom were local Brazilians, which was causing complications. After a number of meetings and some heated exchanges, it was finally concluded that a separate club should be formed, which would welcome members of non-German descent. On 30 January 1910, Coritibano Foot Ball Club was officially formed, adopting the purely descriptive name that had been used in its initial game against the British railway workers team.
With typical Teutonic efficiency, by April of that same year they had codified the laws of the game as supplied by organisations in the capital, had restyled the club name by using the now familiar Coritiba – rather than Coritabno – to avoid confusion with a social club in the city, and had appointed Essenfelder as the club’s first captain. In effect, the club had created organised football in the state of Paraná.
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After playing a series of friendly games, Coritiba took part in its first official competition in 1915 by competing in both the Campeonato da Cidade – the city championship – and the Campeonato Paranaense – the state championship. The following year, the club won both championships and their player José Bermudes – popularly known as ‘Maxambomba’ – became the first player from the state to be selected for the Brazilian national team.
The club continued to prosper, picking up state championships and cup competitions along the way, and in 1921 marked their arrival as a force in the Brazilian game when they played against Seleção Paulista. The opposing club, based in São Paulo, were highly rated and supplied many players to the national squad, but on 15 August 1921, Coritiba defeated them 1-0. The club had now not only introduced the game to Paraná but had also put the state on the national football map. The same year, Bermudes was joined by midfielder Gonçalo Pena in the national team, and both represented Brazil in the 1921 South American Championship – now known as the Copa América. A few years earlier, the club had moved to the Parque da Graciosa in Juvevê to play their home games, and would stay there until 1932.
The late-1920s saw intense state competition between Coritiba and Clube Atlético Paranaense, but the former usually had the advantage. The rivalry drove on improvement, and as well as development in results on the pitch, the club was becoming more diverse. In 1932, during a Campeonato Paranaense game against Palestra Itália, history was made. Although the city of Curitiba was demographically, culturally and financially dominated by European immigrants, particularly from Germany, Poland and Ukraine, by this time the game had spread far and wide across Brazil and there were many black players competing for clubs. Not, however, in Coritiba.
The club’s nominal player-manager was Moaçir Gonçalves, popularly known as Prince. He had been born in the coastal city of Paranaguá and worked in the railroad construction industry, until becoming a professional footballer in the early 1920s. In 1923 he joined Palestra Itália, captaining the team to state championships in 1924 and 1926, before eventually leaving in 1930. The following year he was appointed coach of Coritiba and, at the insistence of the club’s president Antônio Couto Pereira – whose name was given to Coritiba’s stadium in 1977 a year after his death – also registered as a player. On 17 January 1932, this insistence proved prescient.
Playing his former club, Gonçalves saw his team 3-1 down at the break and heading for defeat. Taking his lead from the former half of his title, he decided to substitute himself in for the second period. Despite his age, Gonçalves had lost little of his talent, and his presence on the pitch transformed the game with Coritiba running out 5-4 winners. In the course of the game, he also became the first black player to represent the club, and indeed any club from the state capital. Coritiba went on to win the state championship that season, showing that at least some administrators knew a thing or two about the sport.
Couto Pereira had already played a major part in advancing the fortunes of the club before his dalliance with growing the playing staff. In 1927 he purchased a parcel of land covering some 32,000 square metres to create a new home ground and headquarters for the club. Construction took almost five years, but when completed Coritiba had a home that could accommodate its growing status.
Due to a disagreement between local councillors as to what the new stadium should be called, it was left to Couto Pereira himself to come up with what was intended to be a temporary name. In honour of the former Brazilian player, João Evangelista Belfort Duarte, Couto Pereira chose the name Belfort Duarte. Although only intended to be a provisional title, it stayed in place until the last day of February in 1977 when the club decided to rename it in honour of their deceased president. To this day, it carries the name of the Major Antônio Couto Pereira stadium, or more popularly, the Couto Pereira stadium.
There’s also a story dating from that era that may have been romanticised in the mists of times, but surely has at least a basis in truth. José Fontana Rey was apparently a ball boy at the club, but not overly keen on maintaining a strict attention to his duties, earning him the sobriquet ‘Rei dos Vagabundos’ – King of the Bums. His apparently lazy demeanour could not have been as bad as all that, though. The story goes that for one game, the regular goalkeeper was missing and the coach put the young ball boy between the sticks. After turning in an outstanding performance, one that certainly belied his previously perceived insouciant attitude, he was registered as a player.
Picking up the easy nickname ‘King’ from his name, he later moved on to play for Vasco da Gama, and staying at the Maracanã from 1934 to 1938, secured two caps for his country. By that time, he had other ball boys to do the running and fetching for him. Despite seeing the ‘King’ abdicate his position to move to the Rio de Janeiro club, Coritiba continued to prosper, especially in its home state, hoovering up a number of titles as the decade rolled to a close.
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The 1940s also saw a number of innovations with friendly fixtures being played against foreign opposition, beginning with a home game against Argentine side Gimnasia. In 1943 Coritiba played the first game in the state under floodlights with a 4-1 victory over Avaí in a friendly to christen the installation of the lights at the Belfort Duarte. In 1949, they also triumphed by four goals to nil in a friendly against Rapid Vienna, the champions of Austria. It was the club’s first game against a club from a different continent.
As is often the case, success accompanied innovation, and in both 1946 and 1947 Coritiba were state champions. In 1947, they won all four available categories (defined as aspirant, amateur, junior and professional) of the Campeonato Paranaense, receiving the honour of Campeoníssimo or ‘Super Champion’. If the 40 had been good for the club, the next decade would be even better.
In 1950, the club set the tone for things to come by winning the Torneio Triangular de Curitiba, and followed it up by securing the Torneio Quadrangular Interestadual and Torneio Quadrangular de Londrina in 1953. They also secured the state championship six times in the decade, becoming champions in 1951, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1959. They would do so again in 1960, but then followed a fallow period of seven years without the state title heading their way, and in 1967, the Taça Brasil title was decided by the flip of a coin after three successive draws against Grêmio. Again, Coritiba lost out. In that same year , Evangelino da Costa Neves became the new president of the club, a position he would hold for over 20 years, taking in the national success in 1985. In many ways, it was a significant appointment.
Things immediately began to look like they were on the upswing when, in August of the same year, Coritiba defeated Atlético Madrid 3-2 in a home friendly, and then also overcame the Hungarian national team 1-0. The following year they ended their drought of state titles, winning the Campeonato Paranaense, also securing the Torneio Internacional de Verão. Things were now moving in the right direction, but playing success was still limited. In terms of any national title, they were very much also-rans.
Almost skipping national acclaim, in 1969 the club sought to make its mark outside of Brazil on its first international tour, playing friendly games in five countries across Europe, also competing in the III Torneio Cidade de Murcia and winning the Pierre Colon Cup in France. Such foreign jaunts were all well and good, and did much to grow the coffers of the club, but only by investing such funds to attract new players could national progress be made.
In 1970, the new president adopted his own, slightly more understated, version of the Galácticos strategy predating that of Real Madrid’s Florentino Pérez, although at a much more prudent level. It was a move that state rivals Atlético Paranaense had already adopted with success. Rinaldo, Hidalgo and Joel Mendes were signed and the next tour not only included five European countries, but also crossed the Mediterranean to take on the Algerian national squad. Success followed at home with consecutive wins in 1970 and 1972 of the Torneio Internacional de Verão.
The early to mid-70s saw a domination of state titles with six successive championships running from 1971 to 1976, a record in Paraná. The form was stamped by victory over the French national team in January 1971, shortly after Les Bleus had defeated Argentina. Another successful tour followed in 1972 and the following year, they won the Torneio do Povo – the first club from southern Brazil to win a national competition. It wasn’t the Brasileirão but they had burst through the glass ceiling that said they couldn’t win any meaningful title outside of their state. The 70s ended with the club winning eight state titles and finishing third in the Brasileirão in 1979. Perhaps – just perhaps n- the national title was a possibility, not just a dream. Dreams can often turn into nightmares, though.
In 1980 Coritiba finished fourth in the Brasileirão, but then encountered a financial crisis as the consequences of spending on players came home to roost. Despite their apparent inexorable rise over recent years, they would now suffer a dip in fortunes on the field as well that left them in steady decline, even competing in the second division of the Brasileirão in 1981 and 1983 due to poor performances in the state championship, and without any meaningful success until 1985. An improvement in fortunes began in 1984, and put the club back into the top rank of the Brasileirão. They finished eighth, but the following year they would emerge from their dark period of chrysalis, spreading their wings into the bright light of national acclaim.
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Until 1985, the southern region of Brazil had only contributed makeweights to the Brasileirão, state championships carrying little weight into the big time of the national titles. When the clubs from that region ran into the big names of Rio, São Paulo and Minas Gerais, they would always have their limitations cruelly exposed. It would take an unprecedented effort to break this mould, but in 1985 Coritiba achieved the task, bridging a gap that had seemed impossible.
The club’s coaches at the time were Dino Sani and Dirceu Krüger. The squad was not the best in the competition, but equally not the worst. There was a base of experienced players, coupled with some younger aspirants breaking through, with energy and drive. It was the task of the coaches to extract the full amount of quality and effectiveness that they could.
The first few games of that year’s Brasileirão suggested that it may be beyond their powers. Praiseworthy victories over São Paulo and Cruzeiro were coupled with a horrendous 2-1 defeat to Bahia and a thumping 3-0 loss to Vasco, alongside a dispiriting goalless draw with Goiás. It was enough to prompt the club’s hierarchy into action. Fearing that the partnership of Sani and Krüger would not achieve the club’s aspirations, they invited Ênio Vargas de Andrade to take control.
Andrade was an itinerant Brazilian football coach. When he arrived at Coritiba in 1985, he had already managed nine other clubs, on most occasions staying for a single year, and never for more than two. He had, however, won the Brasileirão on two occasions, with Internacional in 1979 – completing the tournament undefeated, a feat yet to be equalled – and then with Grêmio two years later.
He would bring three vital components to the Coritiba squad: the value of intense physical training, a strict concentration of defensive discipline and, perhaps most importantly, an ingrained will to win – or should that be a refusal to accept defeat. It would be these qualities that would guide Coritiba in their great enterprise.
Arriving at the club, Andrade realised that there was potential that he could exploit. The forwards, particularly Toby, Lela and Indio were pacey. Vavá and Gomes were resolute defenders, despite the latter having a tendency to get involved in altercations with opposition players, and Rafael was an outstanding goalkeeper.
Picking up the reins, the first five games had gone with only mediocre results suggesting anything but a successful enterprise, so Andrade knew that physical resilience would be a key factor if his players were to improve in the remaining games. Training was transformed, concentrating more on physical fitness than tactical awareness, but never forgetting the opposition. Players were compelled to pull 200kg rollers across the pitch to strengthen muscles and long runs were employed to build resilience. On the tactical front, Andrade decided on a counter-attacking policy and would use his reserve team to mimic the tactics and formation of upcoming opposition teams to highlight how and where his players could expose weaknesses to launch the pace of his forward line.
Moving forward, Coritiba’s tactics would be to deny space, mark tightly and look for opportunities to counter. The coach preached patience to his players. This wasn’t, however, a plan merely dropped onto an ill-suited group of players. Looking at his staff, there were already the assets for the plan in place; a solid back line that worked hard to absorb pressure, and flying forwards that could exploit spaces as teams pushed forwards. Andrade deduced that this would favour his team, especially against the bigger teams who expected to swamp Coritiba. It was a way to use their opponents’ strength as a weakness.
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Things often take time to gel and the first five games of Andrade’s reign hardly produced the required outcomes. A single victory accompanied four defeats. Internacional overcame Coritiba with the only goal of the game, and the same scoreline served for Portuguesa and Santos. Flamengo thumped Andrade’s team 4-0. It was a worse run than they had experienced before calling in Andrade, but the club’s hierarchy held their nerve, and things began to change.
Heraldo scored to secure a 1-0 win away to São Paulo, and then in Belo Horizonte, after being 2-1 down against Cruzeiro and without five regular starters, a brace from Indio inside the final 10 minutes turned the game around and brought a 3-2 victory. The ability to score late goals demonstrated the merit of the physical training Andrade had promoted. It was a startling improvement.
Two away games had brought two victories and the team was beginning to reap the benefits. It was a run that stalled when they returned to the Belfort Duarte, though. A disappointing 2-1 defeat and then a goalless draw took the wind from the Coritiba sails. To some, it seemed a strange scenario that the team were producing better results away than at home. Andrade’s tactics, though, were more suited to games where teams attacked, and this tended to happen more when Coritiba were the visitors. His team needed to learn how to play home games as if they themselves were the away team.
Next up, a visit to Goiânia brought a 2-0 victory over Goiás, and seemed to bear out the point. A solid display at the back and efficient strikes by Lela and Vicente from counter-attacks did the damage. Defeating the Verdão away was one thing, but the next game would be a big test of Andrade’s plans. Coritiba were to travel to Rio to take on Flamengo, complete with their range of star players and internationals. The home team was expected to win, but Coritiba carried out their coach’s plan with precision, and despite requiring an outstanding display by goalkeeper Rafael, they stole the win with a goal by Marildo.
Again, they found form a difficult thing to maintain. The next three games brought a goalless draw against Internacional and defeats to both Portuguesa and Náutico. It all meant that progress to the next stage depended on the final game of the round against Santos. Unfortunately for Coritiba, considering their wretched record so far, it would be played at home.
It was time for decisive action. On the face of it, the club decided that there were spirits at the Belfort Duarte that needed to be exorcised if Coritiba’s fortunes were to be transformed. According to the official history of the club, 120 candles, 22 cartridges of powder and an untold quantity of incense were deployed. The goalposts were swathed in seawater, champagne and animal fat and billowing smoke was created in the middle of the pitch to complete the spell. It’s unclear whether the powers that be at the club believed that this activity would have an effect, or whether it was a placebo to convince the players. All that matters, though, was that whatever provoked the means, it justified the ends. Lela netted a last-minute goal to win the game 2-1. Coritiba had qualified.
Fate now took a hand. Coritiba’s team had progressed but were still far short of the required standard if they were to compete for the big prize. Andrade needed more time with his players to inculcate his ideas fully. It so happened that international affairs entered the picture at the right time for the coach. With qualifying for the 1986 World Cup now a prime concern for the Brazilian authorities, the Brasileirão was put into cold storage for two months.
Andrade used the time well. One player, Dida, recalled the time when speaking to globesporte.com in June 2013. “Ênio had come up with a new game philosophy,” he said. “It was very good for the staff. He made some adjustments in the group, dismissed some athletes and hired other reinforcements. He adjusted a few pieces to fit his system.” The coach also used the time to play some friendly matches to hone his team. In July, when the competition began again, his players were ready.
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Coritiba’s opening game of the next phase was a visit to Sport Club do Recife. Sport had topped their groups in the first two rounds and were a formidable side, much fancied to progress. Escaping with a 1-1 draw, thanks to a strike by Marildo, was an entirely satisfactory result, but the value of it would only be seen if the remaining games brought good results. The next game saw the powerful Corinthians side visit Coritiba. With players such as Casagrande, Wladimar and Zenon, the São Paulo club were a dangerous opposition, but at this stage of the competition, there were no easy games as Coritiba were in with the big boys of Brazilian football. It now looked as though the home curse had been lifted, and Coritiba won again.
With a win and a draw from two difficult games, the Coritiba fans and players began to believe that perhaps this season their aspirations should be lifted beyond a top six finish. They were well on course for the semi-finals, and from there, who knew? The next game did little to puncture such inflated hopes, goals from Dida and Lela giving Coritiba a 2-1 victory over the visitors from Joinville. Qualification for the semi-final was now within touching distance.
An ill-tempered match away to Corinthians brought the club their first defeat of the section. Four players were dismissed during the game and Coritiba went down by the single goal of the game. In the last two matches, though, the team recovered from the setback, visiting Joinville and winning thanks another Lela goal, and then playing out a goalless draw against Sport. It all meant that with three wins, two draws and a single defeat, Coritiba had topped their group and, along with Brasil de Pelotas, Bangu and Atlético Mineiro, would contest the semi-finals of the 1985 Brasileirão.
A quick look at the records of the other qualifying clubs would have injected a note of caution into Andrade’s team. With eight points, they had the weakest of the group records and both Bangu and Atlético Mineiro had completed their section without losing a single game. Coritiba were to face Atlético, with the first leg being played at a packed Couto Pereira.
The stadium was rocking for the game, and although the visitors had the outstanding João Leite and Paulo Isidoro in their line-up, the home team lost nothing in comparison. With Rafael suspended, Andrade had been forced to play his number two goalkeeper, but Jairo excelled, and with his defence busy in front of him, kept the eager away team’s attacks at bay. Just after the break, Heraldo netted the only goal of the game and despite efforts to pull back the advantage, Atlético could not break down a defence well drilled by Andrade, and now benefitting in fitness from his driven regime. Coritiba travelled to Belo Horizonte for the return leg with their lead intact.
Despite being a goal behind, the Alvinegro would have fancied their chances of progressing. After all, Coritiba had been this far before but no further, whereas Atlético had already secured the title back in 1971 and had won their state title eight times in the previous 10 seasons. Coritiba’s recent form had been dismal by comparison. This was not the Coritiba team of recent times, though: this was Andrade’s team.
Despite Jairo’s performance and clean sheet in the home leg, the coach was delighted to welcome Rafael back to the colours with his suspension now served. If his team were to progress, the coach knew his goalkeeper and defence would be key to success. And so it proved. The defence was resolute and watertight. Any attacks that got through the disciplined back line were rebuffed by Rafael. Coritiba saw out the goalless draw and, against all odds, had reached the final of the national championship.
In the other semi-final, Bangu had also confounded the odds and won both legs of their confrontation with Brasil de Pelotas, winning 1-0 at home and 3-1 away. It meant that the national championship of Brazil would be played out between two clubs who had never previously ascended to such heights. It was a David v David final. All of the Goliaths had been slain en route and the only two left standing would meet at the Maracanã in Rio on the last day of July to decide the title.
Although officially a neutral venue, and certainly not a home from home for Bangu, whose compact Proletário Guilherme da Silveira Filho stadium’s capacity wouldn’t fill 10 percent of the cavernous Maracanã, it was nevertheless true that the game would be played in Bangu’s home city and the followers of the other, much bigger clubs based in Rio would rally to support their local club. For the further glory of football in Rio, at least for that day, Botafoguenses, Flamenguistas, Vascaínos and Tricolores became honorary followers of the Alvirrubro of Bangu.
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On the day of the final, somewhere in the region of 90,000 fans turned up to support Bangu. To many clubs, such an experience may have felt daunting, but the success of Andrade’s Coritiba had been built on winning away from home, when the crowd and momentum had compelled the home side to attack and leave gaps for the quick counter-attacks invited by open spaces. Could Coritiba perform the miracle one more time?
It was certainly true that in the face of such odds, the mettle of Andrade’s team would be tested, but these players were made of stern stuff and the early Bangu raids were subdued as the out-supported team played its way into the game. Then, in the 26th minute, after an unnecessary free-kick some 30 yards out, Coritiba took the lead.
Indio lined up to take the kick with two of his teammates forming a wall five yards or so in front of him. The ploy masked the ball from the goalkeeper and they split to allow Indio’s shot through. There was little time for the goalkeeper to react, and the ball flew into the top corner of the net. All but a small section of the crowd fell quiet. What the remaining section lacked in numbers, it more than made up for in volume. Looking at the goal again, even without the ruse of the additional wall, it’s questionable if the shot would have been saved anyway, such was the accuracy and power of the strike.
The lead, however, was to last a mere 10 minutes. A corner from the Bangu right was only partially cleared and although a Lulinha shot was scuffed, it took a deflection on its way to goal, deceiving the excellent Rafael and ending up almost apologetically in the net. The first half ended as it had begun – all square. Bangu had the better of the second half, and it took an inspired performance by Rafael to keep them at bay. Even when he was beaten, the linesman’s flag denied Bangu. The game ended at 1-1 and the title was to be decided by a penalty shoot-out.
Bangu netted first with Gílson Gênio driving powerfully down the middle as Rafael plunged to his right. Indio squared things up with a nonchalant shot rolled into the corner. A cool slot to the right by Pingo put Bangu back in front, but equally calmly, Marco Aurélio levelled things up. Two more kicks were converted by Baby and Édson, and still things were level. The pressure was now mounting. Another spot kick drilled down the middle was netted by Mário Marques, before Lela levelled again. There was now just a single penalty left of the original five for each team. Marinho’s goal piled the pressure onto Vavá, but he drove home.
Now it was up to the players who had managed to avoid the coach’s eye when picking out the first five. Ado stepped up, but as Rafael dived to his left, the ball evaded the opposite post. Ado had missed. If Gomes could score, Coritiba would be champions of Brazil. There was little doubt. The ball was struck low into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. Coritiba and Andrade had achieved what few had thought possible. From their humble beginnings, they had become champions of Brazil.
Ênio Andrade would leave the club, as was his wont. He had achieved something no other coach had managed to do: he had won the national title with three different clubs. But more than that, none of them were the powerhouses of Rio or similar metropoles. All three of his triumphs had come with southern clubs. It is a feat unlikely to ever be surpassed.
The path to national success in 1985 was a strange and twisting one. Out of 29 matches, they had only won 12 and lost 10. They had also conceded more goals – 27 – than they had scored – 25. What Coritiba had, though, was the organisation and staying power that Andrade had drilled into them, and the sheer will not to be defeated. It had served them well. In the same year, Coritiba also won the Torneio Maurício Fruet, and defeated Asunción of Paraguay in a two-legged friendly.
Whilst the club has not ascended to anything like such heights since those heady days of 1985, they remain a strong state side, securing their fair share of regional titles. Fans of the Coxa will always look back to that year, though, and remember the days when the ‘Thigh’ of Coritiba had the technique and the staying power to run the legs off Brazilian football.
By Gary Thacker @All_Blue_Daze