5 Most Intense Rivalries in International Football
The most famous rivalries in world football are undoubtedly between club teams. Closer distances, more regular clashes and a more direct competition ensure that the likes of Inter and Milan or Boca Juniors and River Plate create fireworks every time they play.
But certain international fixtures raise an eyebrow every time they are announced. The likes of England and Argentina or Denmark and Sweden can create an atmosphere and tension equal to almost any two sides playing domestically.
With the World Cup draw imminent, the prospect of rivals being set against each other in Brazil suddenly becomes possible. The following five are examples of some of the bitterest, most historic and keenly fought matches in international football.
Brazil vs. Argentina
This is a South American cracker that involves some of the world's greatest footballers.
England vs. Scotland
Often forgotten in recent years, it is the world's oldest international fixture, and during the time of annual clashes and the Home Internationals, it was beset with violence both on and off the pitch.
Honduras vs. El Salvador
Possibly, this matchup is the only time when rioting at an international game has, indirectly, led to full-scale war between the two opponents.
France vs. Italy
This has been a classic encounter throughout the ages in European football; Marco Materazzi's World Cup final goading of Zinedine Zidane and the legend's subsequent headbutt will not be forgotten for a long time.
5. England vs. Germany
Unfortunately, as with many historic rivalries, events off the field can often appear to overshadow what actually happens on the pitch when England and Germany face off. Thankfully, the "two World Wars and one World Cup" singing idiots appear to be thinning in number, but English tabloids can rarely avoid a look back to the early 20th century when a match is on the horizon.
It is a shame, as the clash has thrown up countless unforgettable moments. England's solitary World Cup win in 1966 occurred at Wembley against their rivals, which would take their revenge 34 years later when they prevailed via penalties in the semi-final.
Ineptitude from the spot soon became a running joke against Die Mannschaft, as six years later another shootout defeat at the same stage saw England crash out of Euro 96. No Three Lions fan, however, can forget the 5-1 World Cup qualifying drubbing which helped rescue a previously lost cause in making the tournament.
4. Denmark vs. Sweden
This all-Scandanavian matchup is one of the oldest derbies in international football, the first edition coming all the way back in 1913. In the 100 subsequent encounters, there have been few at the world's top levels, but there has been plenty of controversy and violence.
The most recent episode occurred in the 2008 European Championship qualifiers. After Denmark had clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to tie 3-3, all hell broke loose when Sweden were awarded an 89th-minute penalty.
Markus Rosenberg and Christian Poulsen, involved in the tussle that led to the decision, engaged in a fistfight on the field, before a Danish fan invaded the pitch and grabbed referee Herbert Fandel by the neck. The match was abandoned with Sweden awarded a 3-0 win, but bad blood remains between the neighbouring nations.
3. England vs. Argentina
For reasons best not delved into too strongly here, England and Argentina have no trouble creating rivalries. Both nations merit two mentions on this list, and each could have seen another entry included without much effort.
The tension between the European and the South American countries, however, makes this clash one of the most unpredictable and confrontational in international football; it's a long-standing enmity that was only escalated in 1983 with the Falklands/Malvinas conflict.
From Antonio Rattin's sending off in 1966 and Sir Alf Ramsey's subsequent "animal" comment, to David Beckham's own red in 1998, Argentina-England has always been full of incident. Not to mention the antics of one diminutive No. 10 in 1986, who in the same match managed to score one of the best goals, and one of the most controversial goals, of all time.
2. Brazil vs. Italy
This intercontinental rivalry brings together two of the strongest teams in the world, with plenty of trophies to prove it. Brazil with five World Cups are the most successful nation in the competition's history; while the Azzurri, with four, do not lag far behind.
The teams have played out some unforgettable matches over the years, but what makes the rivalry most special is that they tend to be on football's highest stage. Brazil's glorious 1970 World Cup triumph was sealed in the final with a 4-1 destruction of Italy, while in 1994 the Selecao also prevailed with a slightly more mundane penalty shootout.
The Italians, however, took their revenge in 1982, dumping the likes of Socrates and Zico out of the competition on their way to victory in Spain.
1. Argentina vs. Uruguay
Just a handful of kilometres separate the Argentine capital Buenos Aires from its Uruguayan counterpart Montevideo. The Rio de la Plata estuary serves as a natural border for one of the oldest and fiercest football rivalries on the planet.
The first game between the two nations occurred on May 16, 1901, and the teams have since gone to meet over 180 times. With a total of 40 major titles between them, meanwhile (Argentina's 21 pipping Uruguay in the leaderboard by two), there is no doubt that the Clasico del Rio de la Plata is the most silverware-laden rivalry of any two nations.
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