Passion can grip and even paralyze. No sport echoes that sentiment better than association football. The feeling of scoring a goal is what drives both the game and its fans.
At the same time, however, there is nothing sweeter than earning an important victory over your most hated rival, especially if it happens at an important moment of either club’s history.
In this slideshow, I describe and review what I think are the 10 greatest rivalries in the world’s most popular sport.
Honorable mentions: América vs. Chivas (Mexico) , Flamengo vs. Fluminense (Brazil) and Corinthians vs. Palmeiras (Brazil).
The “Clásico de Avellaneda” is disputed between Argentine football teams Club Atlético Independiente and Racing Club.
It is named so because both squads hail from the Greater Buenos Aires suburb of Avellaneda. The Avellaneda derby is the second biggest rivalry in Argentina and the second most important one.
Despite its playing second fiddle to the Boca-River rivalry, which will be reviewed further on, the Avellaneda derby is still a hotly contested and fierce rivalry, especially due to the geographic proximity between both teams. Both teams are considered among the five great teams of Argentine football and are among its most popular.
Both teams were the first Argentine teams to become South American champions, with Independiente winning the Copa Libertadores for the first of seven total times in 1964 and Racing winning its only one in 1967. Racing was also the first Argentine team to be crowned World Champion by raising the Intercontinental Cup on the same year.
In terms of local tournaments, both clubs post similar numbers, with Independiente having won 14 professional titles and Racing seven. Both teams have faced each other a total of 204 times, with Independiente boasting a sizable lead in the head-to-head, having won 83 to Racing’s 64 to go along with 67 draws. This has led the Independiente supporters to claim a paternity over Racing.
The Derby d’Italia, contested between F.C. Internazionale de Milano and Juventus F.C., is one of the most famous and recognized in the world.
The term was first coined in 1967 by a famous Italian sports journalist, given that it pitted the—at that time—most successful Italian team at the international level (Inter) and the current, most successful team at the local level (Juventus).
This rivalry has picked up a lot of steam recently, given the recent happenings in the Italian Serie A, starting with the match fixing scandal that broke out in 2006. It led to Juventus being relegated to Serie B after having won the 2005-06 championship, which was then awarded to second place Inter. Inter then proceeded to win the next four championships until the 2009-10 season.
In terms of titles won, Juventus holds a large lead. Inter has a total 39 titles—30 local ones, which include league and cups, as well as nine international trophies. Juventus, on the other hand, boasts a total of 53 titles, of which 42 are local and 11 are international.
When it comes to head-to-head matchups, Juventus once again holds a sizeable lead, having won 98 matches to Inter’s 68, which go along with 53 draws.
The Intercontinental Derby, which is played between Fenerbahçe SK and Galatasaray SK, is arguably the most important one in the Eastern part of Europe.
The unique aspect of this rivalry is that it is one between two teams from different continents yet the same city. That in itself represents the essence of Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey as well as the heart of its civilization.
The derby was first contested in 1909, yet the rivalry did not really heat up until 1934, when several riots began in what was supposed to be a simple, friendly match between both teams. The riots even got to the players themselves, who fought amongst each other, forcing the referees to stop the match.
Despite not having enjoyed much international success, both Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray are the two most successful clubs in the history of Turkish football.
Fenerbahçe boasts a total of 31 local titles, while Galatasaray holds 36. The difference between the two, however, is that while Fenerbahçe has never won an international trophy, Galatasaray holds two, a UEFA Europa League as well as an UEFA Super Cup.
When it comes to the head-to-head between the two teams, Fenerbahçe has a strong hold on the derby, having won 141 of 372 matches played, with Galatasaray having taken 118 to go along with 113 draws.
An aspect of the rivalry that makes it known all around the globe, though, is the passion and enthusiasm both teams’ supporters bring to the game, and the color it provides to the rivalry.
Brazil has a good number of great rivalries and derbies, yet the one played between Flamengo and Vasco da Gama is widely considered the biggest one, especially given the number of supporters each team has.
When it comes to total numbers, Flamengo is the most popular football team in the world with an estimated 34 million fans. Vasco is not too far behind with 25 million, and the two combine for about 30 percent of the country’s population.
The derby was first contested in football in 1923 when Vasco da Gama first rose to the top division, but the rivalry between the two has existed since many years before that in the sport of rowing.
In terms of total titles, Vasco da Gama holds a total of 74, while Flamengo has 85. It is important to understand, however, that Brazil counts state and regional titles within the different regions of the country as well as national titles. That is the main reason for which both teams boast as many titles as they do.
When it comes to the head-to-head, Flamengo boasts a narrow lead having won 130 matches, as opposed to Vasco’s 119, which go along with 87 draws.
Old Firm is the name given to the Scottish derby between Celtic F.C. and Rangers F.C.
The two are by far the most successful and important clubs in Scottish football history. An example to illustrate this is the fact that since the 1985-86 season, either Celtic or Rangers has won the Scottish title and since 2005-06 the two have finished in the top two spots.
Both clubs are also the most popular in the country. The derby was first contested in 1888, making it one of the oldest on the planet.
The unique aspect of this rivalry is some of the driving forces behind it: religion, politics and social ideology. Celtic represents the Irish Catholic immigrants while Rangers has traditionally been made up of the Protestant faction that opposes them.
When it comes to championship trophies, Rangers leads the way with 54 league titles, 33 Scottish Cups, and 27 Scottish League Cups. It has also won a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Celtic, on the other hand, does not fall too far behind with 43 league titles, 35 Scottish Cups and 14 Scottish League Cups. Unlike Rangers, however, Celtic does boast a UEFA Champions League, won in 1967.
In terms of head-to-head, Old Firm has taken place a total of 399 times. Rangers dominates the series with 159 total wins to Celtic’s 144, coupled with 96 draws.
The bad news for Celtic fans and football fans in general is that it might be a while before Old Firm takes place again in an official capacity. Rangers went bankrupt in June 2012 and were later voted into the Scottish third division, so it will be a few years before they meet again, unless it takes place in the Scottish Cup.
The local rivalry between Inter Milan and A.C. Milan is arguably the fiercest and most important one in Italy.
It also poses an uncommon factor when compared to the other rivalries in this list: the two share the same stadium for all matches. The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, located in Milan’s San Siro district, has the distinct honor of being the home to two of Italy’s greatest football clubs.
The derby was first contested in 1908, but the most unique aspect of the rivalry is its origin.
Originally Inter and A.C. Milan were one and the same. Eventually, disagreement within the club, which was originally named the Milan Cricket and Football Club, led to the foundation of Inter in 1908. Historically, Inter has represented Milan’s upper class, while A.C. Milan has been connected more with the city’s working class.
In terms of accolades, A.C. Milan surpasses Inter’s 39. While Inter may hold the advantage in local titles, as it has 30 to A.C. Milan’s 29, both teams hold the same amount of league titles with 18. The aspect in which A.C. Milan establishes its superiority, though, is in international trophies. A.C. Milan boasts 18 international titles, tied for most in the world, while Inter has nine.
In terms of head-to-head, A.C. Milan owns a marginal lead, with 111 victories to Inter’s 105, which go along with 77 draws.
The Uruguayan derby pits the two most successful clubs in Uruguayan football history and two of the most important ones in South America and the world: Club Nacional de Football and Club Atlético Peñarol. The two teams account for 90 of the 108 editions of the Uruguayan Football Championship as well as several international titles.
The derby was first contested in 1900, making it the oldest football rivalry outside of the British isles.
From its beginnings, Nacional was linked more to a native Uruguayan crowd, therefore representing a nationalistic crew. Peñarol, on the other hand, represented foreign immigrants, as it was originally called the “Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club” and was founded by British immigrants.
When it comes to championship trophies, Peñarol leads the way with 57 titles, accounting for 48 national championships, both in the amateur and the professional era, and nine international trophies. Nacional, on the other hand, possesses 53 titles, which account for 44 league titles, both amateur and professional, and nine international championships of its own.
In terms of head-to-head, the Uruguayan derby is one of the most played in the globe, as both teams have faced each other a total 509 times. Peñarol also holds the lead in this category, having won 180 matches to Nacional’s 166 in addition to 106 draws.
Uruguay’s total population is a composed by a little over three million people, yet most support either team, making it necessary to utilize Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario for derby matches, even though both clubs have their own stadiums.
The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is one of the fiercest and arguably the most important one in British football. It pits, after all, the two most successful clubs in the history of English football against each other. In between the two of them, Manchester United and Liverpool account for a total of 119 titles.
The first match in the rivalry was contested in 1894, making it one of the oldest rivalries on the planet. The animosity between the two clubs also has its origins in the preexisting rivalry between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool, which was born during the period of the industrial revolution.
Another factor of the rivalry is the competition amongst both clubs for recognition as the greatest English club, given that both have won over 50 trophies. Liverpool dominated English football in the 1970s and 1980s, while Manchester United has been dominating it from the early 1990s through the present day.
In terms of championship trophies, Manchester United has a minimal lead over Liverpool, holding 60 titles to Liverpool’s 59. In terms of local titles, Manchester United holds the advantage with 53, which combine league titles and local cups, while Liverpool holds 48. Liverpool, on the other hand, boasts an advantage in international titles with 11, while Manchester United has seven.
When it comes to head-to-head, Manchester United once again leads the way, having 73 total matches to Liverpool’s 62 which go along with 51 draws.
There is no doubt that this is one of the fiercest rivalries, as it is not only shown by each team’s supporters, but it trickles down to the players as well. There have been several incidents in the past in which players of both teams have been involved.
The rivalry between F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F. is one of the most hotly contested—and arguably the most well known—in the world. It is often watched by fans all over the world, as in recent years both teams have become brands representing the sport.
The first match between the two was in 1902, and ever since, the derby has represented a rivalry in both football and ideologies. This is mainly because F.C. Barcelona has long been the flagship institution and football team representing Catalanism and the Catalan people, while Real has long been linked with Spanish nationalism and the royal family of Spain.
In terms of championship trophies, Barça has a marginal lead with 79 titles, while Real does not fall too far behind with 76. When it comes to local trophies, the lead is even smaller. F.C. Barcelona has won a total of 62 official national titles, which include league championships and other cups, while Real has won 61.
Barcelona also possesses a lead in international trophies, with 17, while Real boasts 15 of its own. At the same time, it must be said that Real Madrid owns both the most total league titles and UEFA Champions League trophies among the two.
The most interesting and disputed aspect of this rivalry, however, is when it comes to the head-to-head matchup. Overall, F.C. Barcelona holds a comfortable advantage with 105 wins to Real Madrid’s 92, which go along 56 draws. If only official matches are counted, however, Real holds a slight lead with 88 victories to its name, while Barcelona has 86 and there are 47 official draws. Therefore, this makes “El Clásico” one of the most dynamic rivalries in football.
The greatest rivalry in association football at the club level is—arguably—that between Club Atlético Boca Juniors and Club Atlético River Plate.
The Superclásico is known all over the world for its fierceness, competitiveness and the passion it awakens among supporters and the players alike. In 2004, English newspaper The Observer put the Superclásico in Boca’s La Bombonera atop a list titled “50 Sporting Things You Must Do Before You Die.”
Boca and River are the two most popular teams in Argentina by a wide margin. Boca owns the hearts of 41 percent of the population of Argentina, while River is followed by 32 percent of Argentines. In terms of percentage of a country’s population, Boca is the most popular club football team in the world.
A peculiar aspect of this rivalry is the origin of both teams.
River and Boca were both born in the neighborhood of La Boca, which is one of the most picturesque in Buenos Aires. While River eventually moved to the more affluent neighborhood of Belgrano in the northern part of the city, Boca remained true to its birthplace and to this day still resides in La Boca.
When it comes to championships, Boca leads River in overall trophies with a total of 50 to River’s 39. In national competitions, River holds a marginal lead with 34 titles to Boca’s 32, counting both amateur and professional titles, as well as the Copa Argentina, for which Boca has obtained both editions. It is in international titles where Boca creates its lead, as it has won 18, tied for most in the world with A.C. Milan, while River has won five.
In terms of head-to-head, Boca once again holds a commanding lead. Both teams have met a total of 338 times with Boca winning in 126 occasions. River has taken 107 matches and there have been 106 draws. Due to this, Boca Juniors supporters claim a paternity over River Plate.