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9 Biggest Rivalries In Soccer History

One of the most incredible sights in soccer is two fierce rivals going head to head in a league game; the atmosphere always feels electric, the fans are louder, and the game always feels more meaningful. 

National rivalries are great, though there can be years between games, but a league rivalry against a team challenging for the same honors can be some of the season’s hardest-fought and fiercely contested games.

It’s usually the first game the fans look for when the fixtures are released, and it’s the very last game the fans want to lose. 

Bragging rights are important, but it’s more than that; the biggest rivalries aren’t just about location, though it helps.

A rival is often another team that is pushing for the same trophies as your team, so losing to them can be the difference between a league title or a season of failure. 

There’s nothing worse than seeing your biggest rivals lifting the cup that should have been yours, so today, we’re going to look at some of the biggest rivalries in world soccer.

With some of the biggest clubs around and some of the most passionate fans you’ll ever see, the games between these teams are the stuff of legend. 

Here are the 9 biggest rivalries in soccer history.

9. AC Milan vs Inter Milan 

  • League: Serie A (Italy)

The Derby della Madonnina, as the Milan derby is known, has been a neverending battle for bragging rights in Milan since 1909. Two of Italy’s greatest-ever teams sharing the same city, and the same stadium, it’s a recipe for hatred and division. 

With Inter Milan having historically been supported by the lower classes of Milan and AC having the historically more affluent fans, there’s a social divide between the two clubs that just fuels the fires.

Both teams have multiple Serie A titles and have had periods of absolute domination over their city rival and the league. 

Both Milan teams share the same stadium, but depending on who you ask, the stadium has two names. Inter Milan calls the stadium the Giuseppe Meazza in honor of one of Internazionale’s greatest-ever players.

For AC Milan fans, the stadium is called the San Siro; the thought of playing in a stadium named after their biggest rivals’ all-time heroes drives the fans wild. 

8. Lazio vs Roma

  • League: Serie A (Italy)

We remain in Italy for another inter-city rivalry fuelled by proximity, hostility, and downright dislike. Rome, Italy’s eternal city, is home to an eternal rivalry, as AS Roma and SS Lazio vie for supremacy of the city and its fans. 

Neither team are at its best and hasn’t been for some time, so while the Rome clubs aren’t challenging each other for titles or domestic cups, it’s the two games each season where Roma plays against Lazio that mean everything to the fans. 

Francesco Totti, Roma’s legendary striker, is the leading goalscorer in the Derby della Capitale, and to date, there have been over 179 official meetings between Roma and Lazio.

This rivalry is often marred by crowd violence, often spilling out into the streets of Rome. In one 2004 game, there were over 170 police injured when fan unrest caused riots throughout the city. 

7. Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund 

  • League: Bundesliga (Germany)

A rivalry that’s developed due to both teams dominating the Bundesliga, Der Klassiker, as Bayern Munich versus Borussia Dortmund is known, is one of the most colorful and passionate rivalries you’ll ever see.

Dortmund is often seen as the only club with a chance of slowing the Bayern Juggernaut down, which makes this fixture one of the best of the season. 

Der Klassiker is one of the youngest rivalries on our list, having only come into being in 1965; over the years, it has become one of the most fiercely contested games in the Bundesliga. Bayern is way ahead of Dortmund for wins in the rivalry, having won almost half of the meetings between these two great clubs. 

The biggest win in Der Klassiker also goes to Bayern, though you’d do well to remember not to bring the 11-1 thrashing up with Dortmund fans.

The emergence of Dortmund as the challenger to Bayern’s dominance came to the fore during the 1990s, with the yellow of Dortmund winning back-to-back leagues and looking like they would finally usurp Bayern. 

Bayern came back strong and won many of the subsequent Bundesliga, and now sit on 32 league titles, compared to Borussia Dortmund’s five titles. However, as far as fans are concerned, Dortmund is superior, they are known to have the best fanbase in the world.

It’s one of the season’s best games, often with some of the most breathtaking soccer you’ll see all year, making it well worth adding to your bucket list. 

6. Corinthians vs Palmeiras 

  • League: Brazilian Serie A (Brazil)

Brazilians are known for their insanely loyal support, but fans of two of Sao Paolo’s oldest clubs, Corinthians and Palmeiras, take things to a whole different level of insanity.

The Paulista Derby is known worldwide as one of the biggest games in the Brazilian calendar. One of the oldest derbies in Brazil, the two teams have met hundreds of times over multiple tournaments. 

With over 100 years of history behind these two Brazilian giants, it’s little wonder that the rivalry is so hotly contested. Two city rivals facing each other in multiple competitions every season; every victory feels better, and every defeat feels like the end of the world. 

Corinthians and Palmeiras have gone head to head almost 400 times since 1917, and with over 1,000 goals scored between the two clubs, it is one of the most exciting and goal-laden games in Brazilian history. 

5. Manchester United vs Liverpool 

  • League: Premier League (England)

The Northwest Derby is regarded as the biggest in English soccer. With the two clubs, Liverpool and Manchester United, having won more top-division titles than any other, it’s one of the most highly anticipated games on the Premier League calendar. 

Manchester and Liverpool are only 35 miles apart, and the rivalry between these two cities goes right back to the 19th century, with both competing for industrial supremacy.

Liverpool had absolute dominance on the soccer field in the 1970s and 1980s and became one of the most successful clubs in the world. 

When manchester United hired Alex Ferguson as the manager in 1986, in one of his first press conferences, the Scot declared that “Knocking Liverpool off their perch” was his primary goal.

Over the coming years, Ferguson would do just that, and by the time he retired in 2013, the club had overtaken Liverpool, having won more league titles than their Merseyside rivals. 

Today, the Northwest Derby is one of the most widely viewed games in world soccer, with hundreds of millions of fans watching these two English giants go head-to-head in the Premier League.

It might not be the fiercest rivalry in world soccer, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most eagerly anticipated. 

4. FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid 

  • League: La Liga (Spain)

As well as being one of the biggest rivalries in sports, matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid are some of the most-viewed games in the world.

El Clasico is one of the key fixtures in La Liga, watched by hundreds of millions of fans worldwide. And it’s no surprise; it’s two of the biggest clubs in the world, with the best players, battling it out for the biggest prizes in soccer. 

With both clubs battling it out for the league and domestic cups for over a century, it’s little wonder such a rivalry exists between the two clubs.

The rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona has as much to do with politics as it does competitive rivalries, with Barcelona being a fiercely Catalan club and Madrid leaning towards a more centralized Spanish identity. 

Mixing politics with soccer rarely goes well, and over time the fans of the clubs have grown to hate each other with incredible ferocity.

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona have Ultras, hardcore fan groups who have often used violence as a tool in the continued animosity between the clubs. 

The players clearly feel the rivalry on the pitch, and El Clasico games are often foul-laden games of kicking, diving, and red cards.

Some of the best players on the planet have put on incredible displays of skill in Clasico matches. Still, every game between Real Madrid and Barcelona has an undercurrent of malice that’s impossible to ignore. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t watch these two great clubs battle it out for league domination, but if you’re looking for elegant, free-flowing soccer, then El Clasico might come as a bit of a shock.

This fixture is a battle from beginning to end; losing is unthinkable to both clubs. 

3. Fenerbache vs Galatasaray 

  • League: Süper Lig (Turkey)

If you think fans in Brazil are passionate about their soccer, Argentine supporters are the loudest fans, and Spanish fans are the most loyal, then you’ve never seen a Turkish soccer match. And the loudest, craziest of them all is the Intercontinental Derby between Fenerbache and Galatasaray. 

The most hard-fought rivalry in Turkish soccer history, it’s known as the Eternal Rivalry, and with good reason, the clubs hate each other with a passion.

It wasn’t always the case, though, and there was even talk of the two Istanbul clubs merging in 1912, but thankfully negotiations fell apart. 

The two clubs would often play each other in friendly games, and before any animosity reared, the meetings between the clubs were called The Derby of Friendship.

By the end of 1934, the two clubs had a severe breakdown in communication and have grown further apart ever since. Notably, the Derby of Friendship was soon renamed the Derby of Hate. 

It’s a tale that’s all too familiar; two clubs, one city, and only one of these clubs can win the Turkish league title. Throw in millions of fans; at one point, 60% of Turkey’s population supported Fenerbache, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the greatest rivalries in soccer.

If you get the chance to go to this game, take it; just remember the earplugs. 

2. Boca Juniors vs River Plate

  • League: Argentine Primera Division (Argentina)

The Superclasico between Boca Juniors and River Plate is another local rivalry often described as the most intense rivalry in world soccer.

The two Buenos Aires clubs have massive followings, and it’s estimated that over 70% of Argentines support either Boca or River. 

This insanely contested rivalry goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, with the two clubs vying for supremacy ever since. Games between Boca Juniors and River Plate are often the loudest, most colorful, and at times the most violent anywhere in the world. 

Both clubs have passionate supporters who hate their rivals with an intensity that’s sometimes terrifying. Even the players become affected by the rivalry.

For a player to move from Boca Juniors to River Plate, or vice-versa is almost considered an act of treason, and those players that have played for both clubs often daren’t return to their former club for fear of reprisals. 

It is often said that for a true soccer fan, making the trip to watch the Superclasico is an absolute must; watching these two Argentine soccer giants at La Bombonera or the El Monumental stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The two sides have been evenly matched over the years, with Boca winning 91 times and River Plate winning 84. 

1. Glasgow Celtic vs Glasgow Rangers 

  • League: Scottish Premiership (Scotland)

The Old Firm Derby is one of the most heated and well-known soccer rivalries in world soccer, with Celtic and Rangers having battled it out for supremacy in Scottish soccer since 1888.

The two most significant and most successful clubs in Scottish history, the two Glasgow clubs have met on hundreds of occasions in both the league and domestic cups. 

The Old Firm Derby is one of the oldest in soccer and has roots in religious conflicts and national identity.

With Rangers historically being a Protestant club with solid leanings towards being a British club, it was inevitable that issues would arise with Celtic and their predominantly Catholic, Irish-leaning tendencies. 

Religious differences aside, the proximity of the two clubs and their fans to each other has always led to disagreements; both have a claim to being the biggest club in Scotland, and both have rich histories with incredible success stories. 

It’s unlikely the animosity between these two great clubs will ever wane, and even the 2012 relegation of Rangers to the lowest tier of Scottish soccer due to financial irregularities has dimmed the fire.

After working their way back to the top tier, Rangers and Celtic now battle it out yet again for domination of Scottish soccer.