With the first pitch being thrown tonight in the beginning of a new season of America’s pastime and the game marking it between the fiercest rivalry in the sport, TSG thought we’d love back and some of the rivalries–the biggest, the up-and-comers–in the global pastime: soccer.
We’ve got a guest columnist for this one. Matt Biggerstaff, who has participated already in one of TSG’s Jumbles. Thanks Matt for the work and good read here.
The blood pumps through your body. Your heart pounds as you size up your foe and know that this is no ordinary game.
Certainly you say it’s just another game in the press, but deep inside you know it means so much more. This is that match that you circle when the schedule comes out, the game that you dig deep for during the off season, the one you fall asleep dreaming about.
It is the rivalry match.
The passion, the agony, and the glory that always runs through every game is intensified to a whole new level when you face your rival. And you are only a fan! You can only imagine the intensity that the players feel. Rivalry games can define a season, where all was lost, one win can change everything and losing that derby can destroy an otherwise great season. Worldwide, there are stellar rivalries everywhere and to save you from boredom I can only highlight some of the best around, what might be, what isn’t anymore and a couple outside thoughts that will leave you questioning my credentials.
Rangers – Celtic
A rivalry that defines a league, Celtic and Rangers are the SPL.
Straight up. So when they clash, it is legendary. The combination of the religious ties that pit Catholics against Protestants fueled with the violence that surrounds that relationship, political affiliations that divide the two sides into very clear groups, and a soccer rivalry that stretches back to the late 1800s makes this rivalry one of the finest in the world.
Recently American Maurice Edu bagged a winner that will likely propel Rangers to the league title and add him to the lore of Old Firm history. The first I ever knew of this match was a Sports Illustrated photo where Rangers and Celtic supporters were in sections next to each other with two full lines of police lining the aisles between them.
That photograph captured the intensity and the raw power of the Old Firm. The passion of the fans and the incredible history make the Old Firm what it is today.
River Plate – Boca Juniors
Rangers Celtic may define a league, but River – Boca defines a continent.
When you think think South American soccer, you think Brazil and Argentina on the world stage, and River – Boca on the club stage. Any time an English newspaper says that this rivalry makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick around, you know you have run into a serious derby.
Both teams originated in the working class areas of Buenos Aires, and these fans are a majority of what makes this rivalry so special. The banners, streamers, fireworks and chants just help showcase the insane passion of the fans. The fact that these two teams often find themselves at the top of the table battling for the Argentinean title just adds to the fervor of this rivalry.
Barcelona – Real Madrid
The defining rivalry in Spain, Barcelona – Real is breathtaking.
Battles in the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu, which are two of the most spectacular stadiums in the world, often decide the champion of La Liga so there is all to play for. A deeper vein runs through the rivalry beyond just the game, as Barcelona represents Catalonia and the progressive independent thinking Catalans and Real Madrid representing Spanish nationalism and the desire for Spain to operate as one.
This clash is so much more than soccer, it is a clash of culture, of the ideologies of the two biggest cities in Spain, so to say that the fans and players on each side have a lot invested doesn’t even begin to touch the surface. In the 21st century, we have seen some of the best players in the world playing for each of these teams, and continuing this trend Messi and Ronaldo currently line up on opposite sides of the pitch. El Clasico is the finest rivalry on the European continent and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Argentina – Brazil
There are so many incredible international rivalries that I really couldn’t select more than one for this part. I think the definitive international rivalry is Brazil Argentina, because both sides are so talented and they square off more than any of the other major international rivalries of note. Argentina and Brazil always play during qualification and often you see them in finals of tournaments like the 2007 Copa America final. The beauty of this rivalry is the incredible talent on both sides of the ball. Each team is supremely talented and every time they square off it promises incredible fireworks. Both teams have established claims as a top five team in the world and their up and coming talent shows nothing to think that they won’t stay there long term. Throw in two of the most passionate fan bases around and mix in a combination of national pride and being neighbors and you have an incredible rivalry that exceeds any other at the international level.
Manchester United – Chelsea
The EPL’s finest sides in the past five years have a special relationship that can only be described as riveting.
It is the reason that I am still awake at 3am, awaiting kickoff two hours from now. As Chelsea turned the corner in the Prem when Abramovich purchased them in 2003 and infused cash into the club, the rivalry was renewed at a level that had never been seen before. Having won the last five championships between the two of them, they have established themselves as the new class of the EPL, and their games have elevated to the intensity of this renewed rivalry.
The most riveting game of recent memory was the Champions League final two years ago, where United defeat Chelsea in PKs in an incredible game. The fact that each game is played for so much has increased the intensity of the rivalry. Each side has some of the greatest fan support across the globe and playing their matches at the Bridge and Old Trafford makes every meeting even more majestic. Everyone circles this game on their calendar worldwide.
The Up and Comers
Manchester City – Manchester United
Funny to call this an up and comer as this rivalry has been around for decades, however the Manchester Derby has become so much more the last three years.
With Carlos Tevez switching allegiances and a greatly changed City side improving to the point where the Manchester derby is no longer a given win for United, this rivalry has blossomed recently.
With the insults flying back and forth of late, the intercity dynamic, and the commitment from City’s ownership to continue pursuing United at the top of the table, this rivalry could eclipse all others in the EPL in the next three years as each team drives for titles. The intensity currently is incredible, and it is very clear that the fans of each side are not fond of each other.
If more clever advertising like the “Welcome to Manchester” Tevez sign continues to stoke the flames, the sky is the limit for the heights this derby rivalry can reach.
United States – Mexico
This rivalry is so much more than the beautiful game, but encompasses national pride and socioeconomic status coupled with an emerging world super power to make the best new international rivalry in the world.
US – Mexico has the atmosphere of a World Cup final regardless if it is a World Cup qualifier, a friendly, or a bunch of dudes wearing shirts from each team. The recent supremacy of the US has shocked the Mexican faithful and players, who have failed to recognize the blinding speed of US improvement and still think they are a leg up against their northern rivals. This fervor that is seen through the players like Donovan saying that games against Mexico are something completely different and the fans putting so much of their country’s value into this game, as a majority of Mexicans said that if they lost at Azteca this past qualifying round that it would reflect negatively on their nation makes this more than just a regional rivalry, but the best new rivalry in the world. With each country producing stellar young generations, the race to becoming a world power will be driven by beating their neighbor to the top.
LA Galaxy – Chivas USA
We turn to MLS where this past Thursday we saw everything that makes the LA derby so good. The fact they share a stadium. A locker room. Training pitches. The incredible passion and intensity.
The handbags on the field, the cheekiness, every single loose ball being contested at a cup final level. The LA fans are some of the most passionate in MLS, but the level of play and the intensity really makes this rivalry stand out, with its unique setup as the only derby match in the MLS. After last year’s incredible playoff battle, Galaxy Chivas was solidified as the best MLS rivalry.
If you don’t know about this one, you might want to check out this clip here:
Riding The Pine
England – Germany
This rivalry has lost some luster based on two primary factors: The inconsistency of each of these squads and the fact they rarely face each other. With England missing Euro 2008 and Germany looking consistently mediocre of late, at no point recently have both teams had that luster that makes fans drool about an impending tie.
The other factor is that there are no impending ties, past or present. In fact their last game was a 2007 friendly. No matches of importance for years, and with European qualification for the World Cup being so scattered it is likely we might not see another stellar game any time in the near future. However 2010 does hold some interesting possibilities in the knockout round where this rivalry could be renewed…
Some thoughts: First, the number of incredible rivalries in the soccer world go above and beyond anything I could ever write. Each country has a number of rivalries domestically, and with the Champions League/Europa League/Copa Libertadores/World Club Cup/CONCACAF Champions League among others we are seeing more rivalries emerge across leagues like Chelsea – Barcelona among many others. That is what makes this game so beautiful and interesting, the constantly evolving relationships between different teams.
International rivalries are a whole new ballgame, as I look at just one team like the US and the rivalries they have developed in the past four years: Italy, Spain, Brazil, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico all come to mind immediately. That is just an incredible number of teams where suddenly each game is more than just another international match when the two sides square off.
This year’s World Cup will certainly birth new rivalries that the world hasn’t even considered yet and reinvigorate old ones as well. I wish I could have touched on all of them, but there are so many good ones that you could spend your entire life just watching them all. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea…mind you I’m sitting here waiting for a game to kick off at 4:45 am SF time after not going out tonight so I would be sharp for it this morning, so I might not be the best source for rational thoughts on this topic currently. I will leave you with the three that are at the top of my list to see sooner rather than later: US vs Mexico at Azteca, Real Madrid at Barcelona and River Plate at Boca Juniors. Regardless of the rivalry, I don’t think you can go wrong making it out to any rivalry game, because small or large, if the passion is there, you should be as well.
Matt “Biggy” Biggerstaff generally pretends to write for ConstantlyOffside.com when TSG doesn’t call him up to the first team.