A funny thing happened in the mid-1990s: the Americans, who had long been pushovers in soccer, got good. Today, this is the hottest rivalry in North America (what, you thought it involved Canada?) and every encounter of late has been nasty, dirty and thrilling.
AFP/Getty ImagesYURI CORTEZ
Arsenal vs. Tottenham
The North London derby pits the upper-class Gunners against working-class Spurs and for generations this was a game with worldwide appeal. A rivalry that dates back nearly 125 years, the game was also for a long time a curiosity: Tottenham were rarely competing for the top of the table while Arsenal have been football royalty since the start of the First Division. That’s changed of late, and the derbies remain the most important dates on each club’s calendar.
Arsenal FC via Getty ImagesStuart MacFarlane
Benfica vs. Porto
The biggest rivalry in Portugal, O Clasico has become a heated affair since Porto’s ascendancy to the top of European football. Long dominated by Benfica, the tote is now pretty even between the two sides, and the game is usually surrounded by the gruff posturing of a good heavyweight title fight. It’s just as tense, too, with most of the country glued to their TV sets when this one is played.
AFP/Getty ImagesMIGUEL RIOPA
England vs. Scotland
It’s difficult to describe how important this game is in Great Britain, so let’s just say the Scots call the English the “Auld Enemy” and leave it at that. Sadly, the once-mighty Scots are no longer much of a factor on the European stage, but this game remains an historical touchstone as well as a grudge match of epic proportions.
AFP/Getty ImagesCARL COURT
Fenerbache vs. Galatasaray
The Istanbul derby may top ‘em all for over-the top mayhem. The Kitalar Arasi Derbi (Intercontinental Derby) attracts large crowds of wild fans and a singular air of menace. Turkish football fans take passion to the extreme — their milder activities might include trying to stone the opposition’s bus — and this one is a game where folks stay off the streets. The fact that it is also a great match is sometimes lost on outsiders.
AFP/Getty ImagesOZAN KOSE
Boca Juniors vs. River Plate
Perhaps the only match that eclipses the Old Firm derby in ferocity is Buenos Aires’ Superclasico. Overshadowed these days by the gangs that control Argentine soccer, the Boca-River clashes are epic riots of color, sound, and more often than not, off-field nastiness. That shouldn’t cause fans to overlook the quality on display: these clubs were home to Diego Maradona, Claudio Caniggia and Gabriel Batistuta, to name but a three. River Plate took an embarrassing tumble last year, but these two teams historically have been among the best on the planet.
LatinContent/Getty ImagesDaniel Jayo/STR
Manchester United vs. Liverpool
When Sir Alex Ferguson took over the reins at Old Trafford, job number #1 was simple: Beat Liverpool. These teams hate each other to an extent that seems almost laughable from the outside. Each game can be counted on for fireworks, finger-pointing and days of recriminations. The North West derby has only increased in importance as both clubs have become global brands, and this is inarguably the biggest fixture on the English soccer calendar.
Getty ImagesAlex Livesey
Rangers vs. Celtic
Scotland’s Old Firm derby is one of the fiercest and nastiest in the world. Contested between the Glasgow giants, the entire country takes a side, usually along religious lines. While some of the heat has evaporated from this derby as the league’s overall quality has declined, this still remains a blood-and-thunder match of the first order.
Getty ImagesIan Walton
AC Milan vs. Inter Milan
They share a stadium, but don’t be fooled: the crosstown classic at the San Siro has been hotly contested since 1908. The rivalry has almost always featured some of Italy’s top stars — both teams boast a who’s who of European greats — but today the game has an added political dimension: AC Milan is owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi while Inter is owned by the left-leaning Massimo Moratti.
Getty ImagesClaudio Villa
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona
Half of Spain supports Real; the other half supports Barcelona. Never the twain shall meet. As in Scotland, politics and language play a major role as Real Madrid are still popularly remembered as the team of the Franco regime; while Barcelona represent Catalonia. The fact that both teams are global powerhouses and both play superb, sublime soccer? Added spice. This is the highest quality major derby on the planet at the present.