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What is the world’s best soccer rivalry?

We discussed our favorite rivalries from best ever to most underreated.

Photo via Getty Images / Illustrated by Karyim Carreia

While rivalries are a staple of literally every sport, a solid argument can be made that no group of fans has embraced them quite like soccer. There are, of course, plenty of local “derbies” around the globe, but what differentiates soccer is how many of the rivalries are international.

In honor of Rivalry Week, we recently assembled some of the greatest soccer minds from around SB Nation to discuss their favorites.

Here is who participated:
Donald Wine II, Stars and Stripes FC
Gill Clark, Barca Blaugranes
Kudzi Musarurwa, Dirty South Soccer
Rob Usry, Dirty South Soccer
Mark Kastner, Sounder at Heart and Liverpool Offside
Eugene Rupinski, FMF State of Mind
Aaron Lerner, The Short Fuse
Tito Kohout, (Viola Nation)
Brent Maximin (The Busby Babe)

El Clásico might be the best rivalry overall but does it ever live up to the hype?

Donald Wine II: The history between Real Madrid and Barcelona is off the charts, and it, to me, is the biggest and best in the world. Each match is epic, features some of the world’s greatest players, and is never short of drama. What other match have people scrambling to find out how to obtain beIN Sports for one day?!

Gill Clark: The thing is it very, very rarely fails to deliver. There are almost always goals (this season’s 0-0 was the first since 2002 — almost 20 years) and usually a red card or two and sometimes even a pig’s head chucked from the stands.

Donald Wine II: When you think about some of the world’s greatest players of all time, many of them have played in this rivalry: Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Figo, Samuel Eto’o. I remember a few weeks ago we were doing that game of name a starting XI with greats that didn’t play for the same club, and Real and Barca blew everyone’s starting XIs up, lol.

Eugene Rupinski: For people who swear sports aren’t political, they should look into the history of Barça-Real Madrid. It’s part of what makes it such a big deal.

Aaron Lerner: Yeah — there are big time politics wrapped up in El Clásico, and that gets pretty ugly. Catalan separatism versus Francoist-influenced Spanish nationalism is still very much alive and kicking.

Donald Wine II: Hell, the 0-0 draw that was mentioned was postponed from its original date because of Catalan protests that threatened the security of the stadium. It ended up being played in December instead of October. They’re also two of the richest clubs in the world, and they consistently earn the most revenue.

On an internal SB Nation survey Boca-River showed up a lot, even though it’s probably a rivalry that a lot of general sports fans don’t know about. Anyone want to explain what makes it special?

Kudzi Musarurwa: The passion from the fans and the players is something that’s barely replicated anywhere else in the world. When people say football can be life or death, I always think of this rivalry and agree.

Rob Usry: There’s no doubt that Boca-River is a fantastic rivalry, but at what point can a rivalry be too intense? I feel like if there’s a legitimate threat of someone dying anytime the two teams play then it might be too out of control.

Aaron Lerner: The level of hatred between Boca-River and their fans is off the charts. Not to glorify supporter clashes in any way, but that derby led to wide-scale riots and a match being moved literally out of the country.

Boca Juniors v Deportivo Independiente MedellÌn - Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2020 Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Mark Kastner: Didn’t they have to move the final between them to Madrid last year?

Aaron Lerner: Yes. They moved it across a literal ocean.

Donald Wine II: Boca-River is INTENSE as hell. You can feel the passion in any stadium. It may be too intense. It’s because of these matches that Argentina banned fans at away matches nationwide. But, that passion can be felt in your soul through your TV set or computer.

Eugene Rupinski: CABJ vs. River is probably the biggest rivalry on this side of the planet. It’s gotten very ugly at times, but it is an unfortunate reflection of the passion and intensity of the fans. Everyone knows the weight of those games; the players, fans, hinchas, fans across the globe and casual observers. You know how much that game means when it comes around.

Aaron Lerner: River Plate-Boca Juniors is intertwined with soccer identity in Argentina. You may have your own team, but you’re for one or the other. It touches politics, economics; that derby has tendrils wrapped up in everything in the country.

Donald Wine II: Also, I think sometimes the stadiums and atmosphere can help make a rivalry. When someone asks for a list of stadiums they most want to see a match in, La Bombonera is on just about everyone’s list. When someone asks for a list of stadiums they most want to die in, is at the top of everyone’s list.

Brent Maximin: Boca vs. River is the derby that is on most football fan’s bucket list. The history of the fixture, the relative quality of both teams over the years, and of course the fan experience.

What are the best rivalries on the women’s side either on the international or club level?

Donald Wine II: The USWNT’s biggest rivalry is Canada, then Mexico. But lately they haven’t been great rivals because they get smoked all the time. I will say, budding rivalries are forming with England and France, though.

Eugene Rupinski: The thing with international women’s soccer is that the US has almost always been the top dog and there’s been a rotating cast trying to knock them off but no one has been able to sustain it.

I think one to watch will be the US vs. Mexico. The US is unquestionably the best in the world and it’s not really close. Mexico though has put a lot of money and time and effort into growing and professionalizing the women’s game and it’s starting to pay off. Players are going to Europe to play and Mexico has also utilized the US collegiate system and dual nationals to bolster the program.

Aaron Lerner: It’s more of a past rivalry now, but on the women’s side, I’d shoutout Norway-U.S.A. Norway handed the USWNT their first big defeat on the international stage (and went on to win that ‘95 Women’s World Cup). For a few years, they were a bonafide rival to our women, and that rivalry served as my introduction to women’s international soccer.

Kudzi Musarurwa: During the Pia days, the USWNT’s rivals were Sweden. That rivalry lasted until last year to be honest.

Rob Usry: France/USWNT is my personal favorite. Feel like every game between them is top quality. But I can’t justify it as the best since it’s still fledgling.

Or USWNT vs. US Soccer.

Donald Wine II: LOL, he’s right though.

Tito Kohout: To piggyback on Rob, really any women’s team against the absurd levels of incompetent sexism rampant throughout the sport.

For the women in Serie A, I’ll submit Fiorentina-Juventus. The men’s side carried over, plus there’s the fact that Fiorentina had the first pro(-ish because Italy) women’s team attached to a men’s club and won a bunch of trophies before Juve added one of their own, outspent them, and have become the best team on the peninsula.

Donald Wine II: Real Madrid just picked up a women’s team last year, and it was officially renamed Real Madrid last week. When I last spoke with club president Florentino Perez last summer, he said the club’s intent was to put €20 million into salaries for the women’s team in an effort to be on the level of Barca and Atletico Madrid immediately. So, look for those rivalries to grow in intensity.

Eugene Rupinski: I think Tigres vs. Monterrey is probably the best though. They average a crazy amount of fans, and have won more stars than other team in Liga MX Femenil.

Monterrey v Tigres UANL - Final Torneo Apertura 2019 Liga MX Femenil Photo by Andrea Jimenez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Mark Kastner: Liverpool Women vs. Fenway Sports Group (the club’s owner).

Aaron Lerner: Michelle Akers vs. anybody who tried to come through the center of the U.S. formation.

What are your favorite international rivalries?

Mark Kastner: Messi-era Argentina vs. trying to win a big tournament has been very enjoyable. It always starts with promise but ends up in crushing defeat

Tito Kohout: Most of the South American ones feel really intense to me, especially the ones involving Argentina and Brazil.

Brent Maximin: Argentina-Brazil. Even if it very often failed to live up the hype, those two nations live and breathe football and for decades each has claimed to have THE best player of all time. THE number 10.

Donald Wine II: US-Mexico is my favorite, but other great ones are Argentina-Brazil and England-Germany, though with England-Germany, we don’t get it as often.

Gill Clark: I go with Netherlands vs. Germany because they really can’t stand each other.

Rob Usry: I tried to think of one that isn’t obviously biased. But couldn’t come up with one. Mexico-USA is always high stakes and intense (unless it’s a cash-grab friendly). The bragging rights for each set of fan bases is precious. Surely there are better quality rivalries in Europe and Brazil-Argentina is great. But Mexico-USA is just a step below the World Cup as far as importance goes.

Tito Kohout: I think that all of the ones that involve crazy non-sports relationships (USA-Mexico, Ireland-Northern Ireland, DPRK-South Korea, Greece-Turkey, etc.) are probably the craziest to me just because of all the off-field stuff that gets packed in too.

Feel like any UEFA matches involving England could get really weird after Brexit, too.

Gill Clark: England vs. Argentina is probably worth a shout. There’s the Maradona handball, the Beckham sending off, Michael Owen’s goal (22 years ago today!) and obviously the history between with two countries.

Tito Kohout: I think part of it is that internationals are less common and that the quality of play is frequently lower because they don’t have as much time to train together, too. Seems like it leads to a lot of really tense, ugly games. Not sure if those result in more fan badness than really “good” games, but that’d be sort of interesting to look at.

Kudzi Musarurwa: Ooo, I just remembered a major international one-two: Egypt vs. Algeria or Egypt vs. Tunisia. I remember the AFCON held in Egypt (iirc) and it was the fiercest international rivalry I’d seen in a long time. Those countries hate each other

Donald Wine II: The North African ones are great. Throw in the Nigeria-Ghana-Ivory Coast-Cameroon battles that have been around forever. Ghana, FWIW, might be America’s second rival if you poll fans.

Australia-New Zealand back in the day when they both ruled Oceania.

What are some other rivalries we love?

Liverpool vs. Manchester United

Mark Kastner: Liverpool vs. Manchester United is a derby that transcends just football. It’s two cities that have a lot in common but have some very distinct differences in their approaches to life and football. Both teams have dominated English football during different decades, defining what we think about the game. The matches themselves are always really tense and full of passion. It’s wild that we’ve only ever had one title race between the two teams.

Liga MX’s América vs. Chivas

Eugene Rupinski: For me, it’s Liga MX’s América vs. Chivas. The two clubs who have more stars on their shirt than anyone else. The two most watched clubs in North America. It’s the cultural rivalry between Mexico City and Guadalajara and the rivalry of a diverse lineup against one made entirely of Mexican players with the pageantry of the American Super Bowl (at least) twice a year. Is it the fiercest in the world? No. Is it the most hyped? No. But it is the one that to me is the best because of what it means to so many in both the US and Mexico.

What about some underrated rivalries?

Donald Wine II: For an underrated rivalry, gimme the Soweto Derby (South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs vs. Orlando Pirates). Kaizer Chiefs is a team with American roots (the founder named it after the Atlanta Chiefs, who he left Orlando Pirates to play for before returning to South Africa to start the Chiefs) and each match is fierce on the field and in the stands.

Mark Kastner: Notable shout for Portland vs. Seattle in MLS. Any time you have a player rip up a referee’s notebook IN A GAME, the rivalry must be intense.

Tell us about your favorite rivalries in the comments below!