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“You can change your wife, your politics, your religion. But never, never can you change your favorite football team.” – Eric Cantona.
While it’s hard to explain such a statement to a non-soccer fan, it is a huge joy for millions of fans around the world to invest money and time competing with rival teams in how they celebrate and support their crest. From hierarchy and political views to geo location and ethnicity, all rivalries eventually developed into a fight for soccer glory. In almost every league, one game on the calendar is prioritized over all else and considered a championship on its own, the derby. A clash between two rival sides that both fans and players see as a must-win. I present to you in this article the most heated rivalries all over the world.
Top Soccer Rivalries
Here are some of the top soccer rivalries from around the world. Some of these are well known, but I’ve included some that you may not be aware of.
CSKA Sofia vs Levski Sofia (Bulgaria)
We kick it off in Sofia, Bulgaria. A rivalry that dates back to 1948. Over the year the confrontations between the clubs and their fans became commonplace and often resulted in tense encounters on the pitch and hooligan clashes between the fans off the pitch. Levski is named after Bulgarian national hero and revolutionary Vasil Levski. CSKA was founded as the Central Sport Klub of the Bulgarian Army while Levski was ruled by the Ministries of Information and Industry. Many see this match as the biggest derby in the whole Balkan region. The Sofia Derby was always a well-displayed furious face-off.
Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern (Germany)
Bayern Munich with a 2 million Euros loan helped Dortmund keep afloat during those desperate times in 2004 when they could not even afford to pay their players’ salaries. Nevertheless, on the green rectangle, no mercy is how this game defines itself. BVB Dortmund supporters are famous for illustrative tifos and non-stop chanting. Meanwhile, Bayern Munich’s supporters are not shy when it comes to boasting about the club’s dominance in German soccer. This derby is not the smokiest or the most chaotic in terms of violence and such, but it’s definitely fueled by thrilling chants and continuous support for 90 minutes.
Red Star Belgrade vs Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)
Widely viewed as “one of European soccer’s most bitter rivalries”. Both Partizan Belgrade and Red Star Belgrade were formed after the second world war in post-war Communist Yugoslavia. The rivalry between two of Serbia’s biggest clubs literally began from the very first meeting between the two in January 1947. Red Star won the game 4-3 and the seeds of a deep-rooted rivalry were ingrained that divide a city right to its foundation to date. ‘It is the derby that brings a country to a standstill and always creates headlines – sometimes for the wrong reasons’ – BBC Sport. What adds more spice to the derby is the geographical location of the two clubs’ stadiums. Located only 400 meters from each other, in the heart of Belgrade.
If you’re interested in Servian football, you should read our article on the top Serbian soccer players.
Wydad AC– Raja Casablanca (Morocco)
The heated rivalry between Raja Casablanca and Wydad AC has everything you can name. Tifos, firecrackers, brawls, and most importantly, stunning goals are all part of the Casablanca derby experience. Since African leagues don’t get the same share of stars found in European soccer or even Chinese soccer, the average soccer fan doesn’t know much about Moroccan local league. But if you are a fan of ultras world and how they express themselves in tribunes, it will be virtually impossible to miss this derby. I, personally, think the two teams have the best supporters in Africa and among the best in the world. A lot of dedication and enthusiasm is clearly seen in preparations and throughout the game. A quick search for videos of this tense derby and you are a fan forever.
Real Madrid – Barcelona (Spain)
El Clasico is an event millions of soccer fans look forward to every season. The two teams vowed to thrill us every time they lined up and seldom disappointed. As early as the 1930s, Barcelona had developed a reputation as a symbol of Catalan identity, as opposed to the centralizing tendencies of Madrid. Real Madrid is the world’s most successful club statistically, but Catalan pride obliges modesty on the capital’s team when it’s time for a derby. The caliber in this match is different than any other derby on the plant. Names like Di Stefano, Maradona, Ronaldo (both R9 and CR7), Puskas, Messi, Zidane, Ronaldinho, Cruyff, Romario, and many more had the honor of featuring in El Clasico.
Zamalek SC vs Al Ahly SC (Egypt)
Africa’s biggest duo and one of the oldest derbies in the world. The two teams are stably on Africa’s throne with 15 CAF African Champions League combined. Zamalek SC was founded 1911 by a foreigner residing in Egypt back when the country was under British ruling. And Al Ahly SC was founded 1907, while Al Ahly started as a club representing lower class society (the name means ‘national’ in Arabic). Before renovation of Cairo International Stadium, attendance of 120,000 fans was the routine whenever Cairo giants clashed (capacity is now limited to 69,000). Unfortunately, Egyptian authorities have forced games behind closed doors for several years now and denied fans such joy from venue.
Mohun Bagan vs East Bangal (India)
The Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal rivalry, popularly called the Kolkata Derby, started 100 years back but is still raging on stronger than ever. Mohun Bagan, representing Ghotis who were more financially affluent than the Bangals, shot to fame after beating East Yorkshire Regiment in the 1911 IFA Shield final. They were the first all-Indian club to beat a British team for a major trophy in India’s pre-independence era. On the other hand, East Bangal, as the name suggests, was to represent the immigrant population in Kolkata coming from East Bengal (across the river Padma, now in Bangladesh). The two clubs are situated less than 500 meters from each other in Kolkata.
Boca Juniors vs River Plate (Argentina)
Ever seen the legend Maradona in tribunes chanting for Boca with every cell of his body? Well, this is the type of emotion Superclasico brings. To many, it’s not just another derby. It’s a symbolic battle between the rich and poor. The hierarchy and the lower class. Both came from the docks. Club Atletico River Plate was formed in the working-class Buenos Aires dockland neighborhood of La Boca. Boca Juniors popped up nearby four years later, formed by Italian immigrants. Martin Mazur describes the world’s baddest derby as “A hundred years ago it was about working-class vs aristocracy. Today it’s just about hate. The on-pitch atmosphere reflects the 2,000 policemen that patrol the stadium: bust-ups, red cards, and controversy are part of the derby. Attending a Boca-River game, especially at La Bombonera, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Olympiakos Piraeus vs Panathinaikos (Greece)
Traditionally it started as a clash between the middle class of central Athens vs the working class in the port of Piraeus, and evolved over the years into the two biggest and most supported clubs in the country duking it out for the league title every season. This contrast is reflected in the ethos of both clubs as well. Olympiakos always aspiring for sporting excellence with the biggest and best players, whereas Panathinaikos have always focused more on youth and development producing some of the best players Greece has ever seen. Just like everything Greek, this derby is eternal, and the saga will always continue.
Inter Milan vs AC Milan (Italy)
Il Derby Della Madonnina has been around for many generations. It is thought of as one of the most passionate derbies in the world. In fact, it’s the only city derby that has two European champions in it. The derby gets its name from the main sight in the famous Italian city, the Virgin Mary statue which is called the ‘Madonnina’ (in English means Little Madonna). The first Derby Della Madonnina was played in January of 1909. The two teams have since officially met over two hundred times. Giuseppe Meazza, Ronaldo (R9), Clarence Seedorf, Roberto Baggio, Andrea Pirlo, Patrick Vieira, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are some of the names who added an extra dimension to this fierce derby by representing both sides over the years. The Ukrainian icon Andriy Shevchenko holds the record for most goals in this fixture with 14 for the Rossoneri.
Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray (Turkey)
The Intercontinental Derby is a cultural divide ingrained into each member of Istanbul city from the day they’re born. You’re Galatasaray or Fenerbahce. If you are wondering why it’s called ‘continental’, you should take a closer look at Istanbul’s map, it sits literally over two continents. Galatasaray represents Europe while Fenerbahce SK represents Asia, not because of the registered geographical locations of the sides but for years the identity of the lions (Galatasaray) was associated with the high-class society fluent in western education while the yellow canaries (Fenerbahce), represented the working-class people of a thriving and hard-working Asian part of Istanbul. This rivalry is known for being violent at times. Incident of killing and stabbing made worldwide headlines in May 2013 when a young 19-year-old Fenerbahce fan was stabbed to death by a 20-year-old Galatasaray supporter. Although the rivalry can be mouthwatering, one always hopes that the supporters give peace a chance. Between the two, the fact that neither has entirely outshone the other in domestic competitions adds to the allure of each match-up.
Manchester United vs Liverpool (England)
England’s biggest fixture and richest two cabinets. The two teams are tied in terms of total trophies won, with 66 each. United, with a 20-19 lead in the league titles, argue their neighbors can’t hold a candle to their greatness, while the Merseysiders’ six European cups to their rivals’ three is a major point of pride. The two clubs might not share a city, but they share the color red, long-running success, and die-hard mentality fans. Unlike previous rivalries I mentioned, this one is not on the basis of class as both clubs have grown from working-class foundations. It’s fair to say that it was in the 1960s that the Liverpool – Manchester United rivalry became what it is today. Things went back and forth in the 130 years this derby was played, a good example of how tables turn is shown between 1972 and 1990 when Liverpool won 11 league titles to United’s zero. Between 1991 and the 2019, that score sat at 13-0 in the other direction. This rivalry is so tense there has not been a single piece of direct business between the two clubs, a player transfer from one to the other since 1964. And in the Premier League era since 1992, only two players have played for both clubs.