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5 of the best international rivalries

Italian forward Roberto Baggio (L) is challenged b : News Photo
Roberto Baggio and Didier Deschamps vie for the ball, 1998 WC Quarters
Anhad Singh

Flares. Fights. Chants. Controversies.

The beautiful game has seen it all and more. At club level, El Clásico, the match between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona remains one of the most watched fixture in the world, but it pales in comparison to two national teams gnawing at each other's throats through the course of history.

Be it on geographical or historical grounds, these countries have hated each other for a variety of reasons and tensions have exploded on the football field in spectacular fashion.

Here we look at 5 of the most competitive and intense rivalries in contemporary international football, with a focus on the intensity of their clashes.


#5 France-Italy

Like most rivalries in football, the France-Italy rivalry has its roots in geographical proximity. The two countries hail as European powerhouses with near identical size and considerable success in the international level. However, these two have experienced a rollercoaster ride throughout their footballing history,

Italy had never lost a fixture against France before 1982 and had gone on to win 3 World Cups in that time span. Post 1982, Les Blues has held the upper hand, eventually triumphing over their neighbours in the 1998 WC Quarters on penalties and going on to win the tournament.

The immensity of this fixture culminated in two consecutive finals, the 2000 Euros and the 2006 WC Final, which saw one win for each team under controversial and heated settings. In the former, Italian hearts were broken by a David Trezeguet golden goal, while in the latter, an iconic moment from a certain Zinedine Zidane, stole the ‘head’lines. The Azzurri would go on to win the WC on penalty shootouts.

Their last competitive fixture came in Euros 2008. Italy would win the game 2-0, claiming their first win over France in regulation time in over 30 years, while also knocking out their rivals from the tournament.

#4 Germany-Italy

1970 World Cup Semi-Final, Mexico City, Mexico 17th June, 1970. Italy 4 v West Germany 3. West German player Gerd Muller jumps for the ball with an Italian defender as teammates Uwe Seeler (9) and Jurgen Grabowski (20) look on during the two teams' semi- : News Photo
Gerd Muller, the legendary German striker against Italy, 1970 WC Semi-Final, Mexico

Competition breeds success. The statement holds heavy weightage for the Azzurri and Die Mannschaft, arguably two of the most successful European teams in terms of World Cup wins (8 total, 4 each) as well as European Championships (4 for Germans, 1 for Italians). However, this might be the most relevant rivalry in terms of sportsmanship.

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(Video Courtesy: Zizou The Maestro YouTube Channel)

Most famously of all, these two fiercely contested the 1970 WC semi-final, a match of such epic proportions, that it came to be coined as the “Game of the Century”. The Italians went on to win the match 4-3, (with 5 of the goals coming in extra-time). The match reached such intensity that the Italians, allegedly, were battered in the finals (against Brazil) due to the sheer exhaustion of the semi-finals.

The two have met several times over the past decades, with the Italians heavily dominating over the most gifted German teams of the ages, including the 1982 WC final and semi-final match-ups in 2006 WC and 2012 Euros.

Such had been the ‘curse’ of Azzurri for the Germans that the latter had never won against their rivals in a competitive fixture till the 2016 Euro quarter-finals. A hard-fought and gritty match in itself, it served as a perfect testament to a rivalry which has only got better with age in pure footballing terms.

#3 Saudi Arabia-Iran

Iran's Mehdi Mahdavikia (R) competes wit : News Photo
The rivalry between the two clubs is much more than their geographical proximity

Though most football fanatics proudly claim that football is their one true religion, this rivalry holds the unique distinction of being juxtaposed alongside actual religious and political tensions. While Iran is the spiritual land of Shia Muslims, Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni, with the geopolitical strain also spreading over to the football field.

They have played 15 times since 1975, without ever contesting a friendly match. Team Melli holds a slender lead of five wins to SA’s four. Such is the ferocity of this rivalry that the animosity has also spread over to their club counterparts, with clubs from Saudi Arabia refusing to play in Iran for the 2016 AFC Champions League.

Though neither club have enjoyed success on the world stage, this remains one of the most heated hate-affairs in world football.

#2 Germany-Holland

Johan Cruyff : News Photo
The Dutch-German rivalry has been ongoing for decades

One of the poster rivalries of Europe, between Oranje and Die Mannschaft, stems from the oldest reason in the books: war. The Dutch have loathed the Germans for the occupation of their land during the second World War. With the anti-war sentiment as a heavy backdrop to 1974 WC Final, (then) West Germany triumphed over a heavily-favoured, Johan Cryuff-captained Dutch side, sparking off an aggressive and often ill-contested rivalry.

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(Video Courtesy: KINGofSOCCERhistory YouTube Channel)

The two would go on to be matched up in several high-profile international fixtures down the years. Oranje would finally find respite from their earlier WC humiliation by knocking Germany out of the tournament at the 1988 Euros semi-finals, which they would go on to win.

Always full of controversies and below-the-belt banter from both sides, the most famous incident of this matchup is probably during the 1990 WC. In their round of 16 matchup, Frank Rijkaard famously spat in Rudi Voller’s hair, resulting in both of them being sent off. Germany would have the last laugh, though, as they would go on to knock out the Dutch and eventually be crowned world champions.

Though the rivalry has taken on a more healthy outlook in the recent years, the ferocity and ‘spit’efulness between the two remains as fresh as ever. The two have met each other 40 times with the Germans leading with 15 wins to the Dutch’s 10. Their last competitive meeting saw Die Mannschaft defeat the Dutch at the Euros 2012 Group Stages, with the latter bowing out of the tournament

#1 Argentina-Brazil

Fussball : WM 1982 in Spanien , BRA - ARG  3:1 : News Photo
One of the oldest rivalries in football

This is, arguably, the mother of all international rivalries. Also called the Superclásico, it’s the perfect concoction of geographical ties, controversies, superstars and success, with a staggering 107 matches played between the two South American giants. Since 1914, their first ever meeting, the two have been at loggerheads. The eternal Pele vs. Maradona argument is proof of a rivalry which goes beyond just international success.

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(Video Courtesy: gElement YouTube Channel)

Argentina and Brazil have always been known for their scintillating display of football prowess and their matchups have always lived up to the expectations, with the fans and media joining in on the hype. And, as always, controversy has never been far behind.

From the 1937 Copa America Final, where the Brazilian team departed before the final whistle for fear of their own safety, to 1978 World Cup, “Battle of Rosario” and 1990 World Cup semi-final with the famous Holy Water incident, this matchup ticks all boxes of a passionate hate-affair. The 1991 Copa America Finals is remembered for being an exceedingly vicious fixture, resulting in the ejection of 5 players through the course of the game.

They also hold a head-to-head record, with Brazil edging over with 44 wins to Argentina’s 38. In their latest matchup in November 2016, the Canarinho hammered Messi’s Argentina, 3-0 in 2018 WC Qualifiers.

Brazil's Ronaldo (C) is tackled by Argen : News Photo
Brazil-Argentina matches are full of passion

The explosiveness of this century-old rivalry has never deteriorated in intensity. La Albiceleste now boasts of Lionel Messi, arguably one of the greatest player ever while Brazil’s poster-boy Neymar Jr. is a sensation in his own right.

Honourable mentions: Croatia-Serbia (Yugoslavia breakup), England-Scotland/Germany, Portugal-Spain, China-South Korea (Koreaphobia), Mexico-USA (CONCACAF rivalry)

Edited by Staff Editor

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