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Top 10 world derbies: Part Two

GRUDGE MATCH: Carlos Tevez in action for Boca Juniors against their Argentine arch rivals River Plate

GRUDGE MATCH: Carlos Tevez in action for Boca Juniors against their Argentine arch rivals River Plate

With the Manchester derby just days away, we take a look at some of the fiercest rivalries in world football. Here, in part two, we travel to Argentina, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain and the Welsh border.

Boca Juniors v River Plate (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Frequently cited as the biggest grudge match in world football, clashes between Boca and River are unlike no other.

Buenos Aires’ two giant clubs boast a ferocious rivalry named the ‘Superclasico,’ which dates back more than a century and their rivalry is distinct from anything else in football.

As with many intense derby rivalries, the divide can be put down to class, identity and geography.

Boca, formed in 1905, hail from Buenos Aires’ working-class dockside barrio of that name and their iconic La Bombanera ground – nicknamed the Chocolate Box thanks to its vertigo-inducing steepling stands – is widely hailed as one of football’s greatest cathedrals.

Founded in 1901 River originally hailed from the same area but subsequently moved out to the more affluent Nunez neighbourhood. Soon they became the wealthiest club in Argentina, acquiring the nickname of the The Millionaires, helping further feed the antagonism between the two clubs.

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Their atmospheric, bowl-shaped Monumental ground is also a fabulous football arena.

It’s estimated that up to 70 per cent of Argentina’s population of 44 million follow either River or Boca and those fans have had plenty to celebrate over the years.

River boast 36 national championships to Boca's 33. But Boca have won six Copa Libertadores - South America’s equivalent of Europe’s Champions League - titles to River's three.

Nowadays just about the only things the two do share is the city they hail from and an intense animosity almost without equal.

The fact that Boca and River Plate have progressed through to the two-legged final of Copa Libertadores has only served to ratchet up the tension between the two clubs.

When they last met in the Copa Libertadores – in a 2015 last 16 tie – Boca ended up disqualified after their fans drilled a hole into the players’ tunnel and pepper-sprayed members of the River squad, putting four of them in hospital.

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Not surprisingly, no away fans will be allowed to attend either leg of the final.

It has already been dubbed ‘The Final of the Century’ by Spanish-speaking media, and, with the Copa being staged as a one-off final at a neutral venue in the future, the 2018 Copa, the first leg of which takes place on Saturday, the games promise to go down in football folklore. 

Al Ahly v Zamalek (Cairo, Egypt)

When the two biggest teams in the Egyptian capital Cairo collide, it is a fixture that not only brings Egypt to a standstill but much of the continent of Africa and the Middle East too, with estimates of the TV audience for the game in Egypt alone put in excess of 50 million.

For almost a century now, clashes between Al Ahly and Zamalek have spilled over off the pitch, causing death, destruction and in at least one case in the early 1970s, the entire Egyptian league to be cancelled.

The violence became so serious it forced the Egyptian government to ban derby games from being staged at each club's home ground.

Now all fixtures between Al Ahly and Zamalek take place at a neutral venue with Cairo coming to a virtual standstill on derby day.

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It is a derby rooted in nationalism, class and a sense of belonging.

Al-Ahly literally translate as The National and wearing the traditional red colours of the pre-colonial flag, they have traditionally been seen as the club of the Egyptian nation. In contrast, Zamalek, who wear white, were classed as the club of the foreigners/outsiders.

Originally, the Cairo derby was pitched as a battle between Cairo’s poor, devout working class and the more educated, liberal middle class and even today those divisions remain.

Such are the passions engendered by the fixture, non-Egyptian referees are often flown in to officiate the derby in order to ensure impartiality.

In trying to sum up the incendiary nature of the fixture, Scottish World Cup referee Hugh Dallas, who officiated the Cairo derby twice, reflected: “I’ve done 14 or 15 Old Firm games and even they don’t come close to this!”

Nacional v Penarol (Montevideo, Uruguay)

Overshadowed by the success and glamour of Argentina and Brazil’s national teams, Uruguay’s football heritage tends to be largely overlooked in Europe. 

However, the country’s capital Montevideo is a hotbed of football passion – and also happens to be home to the oldest derby in the world outside the British Isles… the Superclasico.

Penarol were founded in 1891 by British immigrants working on the railways and opted for the yellow and black colours which were the cautionary signals for railway workers at the time.

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Nacional’s formation came nine years later and, as their name illustrates, the club were formed for home-grown players as opposed to ‘foreigners.’

A by-word for domestic success – Nacional have won 46 titles to Penarol’s 49 – the pair have also won eight Copa Libertadores between them (Penarol 5, Nacional 3) and it is estimated that more than 80-per cent of the entire Uruguayan population follow one or the other of the teams.

Of late, the duo’s influence in South American’s blue-ribbon event has waned - Colombia, Paraguay, Chile and now Ecuador all boast Copa Libertadores winners since Nacional become the last Uruguayan side to reach the final 30 years ago.

But as the duo’s success on the continent has waned, it has only served to ratchet up the domestic rivalry to new heights.

One combustible clash in 1990 featured a full-scale dust-up between the two teams, ending with the referee sending off all 11 Penarol players and nine from Nacional, invoking the ‘seven player’ rule to end the match at 0-0.

Ten years later, the sides marked a 1-1 draw with an on-field brawl that led to several players and a coach spending a month in jail!

Proof, if any were needed, that this fixture is so much more than just a game…

Real Madrid v Barcelona (Spain)

Not a derby in the traditional sense of the word – Madrid and Barcelona are separated by more than 300 miles – but any list of true grudge matches simply has to include this fixture. 

It’s as much about politics and identity as it is sport and is wrapped up in the complex history of Spain over the course of more than a century.

Real are seen as the symbol of the Spanish state with Barca viewed as the source of Catalan identity and nationalism.

Madrid FC were founded in 1902 and 11 years later received royal patronage becoming Real Madrid.

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Barcelona, meanwhile were formed in 1899, and by the 1930s had become a vehicle of Catalan pride and identity and the schism between the two clubs was heightened during the reign of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco who ruled the country for almost 40 years following the Spanish Civil War.

The rivalry intensified in the 1950s when the clubs disputed the signing of Argentine superstar Alfredo di Stefano. After a protracted legal affair, di Stefano moved to Madrid and was instrumental in Real’s first five European Cup triumphs.

More recently Portugal’s Luis Figo ignited the wrath of Barca’s fans after controversially swapping Catalonia for the capital and, infamously, on his third return to the Nou Camp in 2002, he was taunted throughout with a pig’s head being thrown onto the pitch at him.

Over the past decade, the rivalry was encapsulated by the presence of world titans Lionel Messi and Cristano Ronaldo on opposing sides with Barca winning three Champions League titles between 2009 and 2015 and Real claiming a European hat-trick in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Chester v Wrexham (England/Wales)

The pairing of these two relative minnows may seem incongruous amidst the phalanx of global names elsewhere on our derby list but make no mistake, whenever Chester and Wrexham meet it really does matter.

Though separated by just 12 miles, match-ups between the two clubs are a matter of not just local bragging rights but fierce cross-border national pride as well.

When Chester take on Wrexham, England is pitted against Wales with tribalism, passion and hierarchy all thrown into a heady mix. 

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Ironically Chester’s Deva Stadium lies right on the Welsh border with part of the ground’s West Stand and pitch actually crossing into Wales, but identity, pride and passion are inextricably linked into the DNA of both sets of supporters.

Although they have a long history of league clashes, the two clubs now ply their trade in non-league football with Chester currently occupying the National League North and Wrexham operating out of the National League.

Such is the intense feeling surrounding the game, for four seasons it remained the UK’s only fixture that was categorised by police as a ‘bubble’ fixture, which meant that freedom of movement between rival sets of fans was severely restricted.

Though those restrictions were lifted last year, the rivalry and competition between the two clubs remains undiminished.

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