If rivalries between clubs are passionate, the ones that involve countries are bigger than that. History has seen how nations haven’t had the best relationships with others at some point and those hard feelings have been translated into football and nowadays we got to see historic clashes with a deeper background than just being a soccer match.
Besides, the closeness of certain estates serves to increase the bad blood between them, sharing more than borders in some cases. Today, we’re going to be listing these types of rivalries, those ones that make a whole country put their attention into a single football game trying to get a W that tastes sweeter than a victory against any other rival.
Honorable Mention: Iran vs. Saudi Arabia
10. Mexico vs. United States
There is a lot of history between these two countries, not only in political matters but football, as well. The first encounter of Mexico and the U.S. took place in 1934, when they played for a spot in the next FIFA World Cup, starting a few days later. The United States won 4–2 and went on to the World Cup where they lost 7–1 to the eventual champions, Italy.
It took over 40 years for the Stars and Stripes to claim another win over the Mexicans and ever since that, the rivalry became closer as they two always had hard-fought matches and tend to clash in important stages of competitions like the Gold Cup and even the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when the USA upset Mexico in a great fashion.
9. Honduras vs. El Salvador
Sometimes wars create huge rivalries in football but in this case, it was football that served as the catalyst of war. Back in 1969 a series of three World Cup qualifying matches between Honduras and El Salvador lit the flame to a brutal war, called the “Soccer War” or the 100-hour war, claiming the life of 6000 people.
During that time, games within these neighbor nations were lived with big tensions and newspaper took advantage of that to incite a nationalist feeling in both countries. After El Salvador lost the first game, a lady killed herself by a shot through the heart. The second-leg was expected to be played in El Salvador and they replaced the Honduras flag with a tattered cloth for the national anthems.
That sparked the anger and horror of Honduras fans and team, who were trying to get out of the venue alive, more than victorious. El Salvador won the game and a decider had to be played; this time the game was taken to neutral Mexico City. Before that clash, both teams had ended diplomatic relationships and soon after the war began. Luckily for everybody, now that’s in the past, but there is no doubt these game were the most important in the history of the two countries.
8. Nigeria vs. Cameroon
Although this rivalry it’s not what it used to be, there are still plenty of people this is the biggest showdown between two African national teams. Nigeria and Cameroon are arguably the most famous squads when you think about African football and that doesn’t seem to change any time soon. These two share a big history that has turned these matches into one of the best rivalries in football.
The Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions are the most successful teams in World Cups from his continent, having outstanding performances over the years and being frequent animators of the tournament. Also, they have a huge history in the African Cup of Nations, when they have clashed more than once, including in the 2000 final of the tournament, where a game decided by a controversial penalty gave the title to Cameroon.
Perhaps now Ghana is seen as the biggest rival of Nigeria, but Cameroon earned that honor a couple of years ago and that doesn’t seem to change.
7. Portugal vs. Spain
This is one of the oldest rivalries in football, starting in 1921. Spain has shown its dominance over Portugal for most of the showdowns and has defeated its neighbors during their quest to win the FIFA World Cup and their second consecutive UEFA Euro in 2010 and 2012, respectively. The enmity amid these two dates back centuries to 1581 when Philip II of Spain was made the ruler of Portugal.
Ever since that, every time there has been a war near them, they have taken different sides, including in South America, where both had territories. The last time we got to see the Iberian Derby was during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, when they put on a show, giving fans one of the best games in the tournament.
6. Japan vs. South Korea
This is the biggest example of bad blood in Asian football, despite the fact that South Korea has a very passionate rivalry with North Korea; this one is also full of politics and today the competition between these two national sides goes beyond that, as football makes its appearance.
To understand this, we have to go to the early years of the 20th century, when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. That went from 1910 until the Japanese were defeated at WWII. Both groups of supporters have shown their hate towards each other, with the Japanese often waving the imperialistic flag and the Koreans doing the same with banners reading anti-Japanese sentiments.
5. Uruguay vs. Argentina
The Uruguay-Argentina rivalry is one that awakens a lot of passion for both teams and fans, as the “Clásico del Río de la Plata” is very popular; it is not seen only as a national team rivalry, but a clubs’ matter, as well. Even when these two squads collide in friendly matches, things tend to go wrong along the way, with controversies taking place in each game.
Everything started when football was established in both countries, with Argentina hosting the first game in 1867 and Uruguay doing the same three years later. The proximity of both countries has made the rivalry to become bigger through the years, with the two nations creating tournaments to face the champions of their respective first ties in tournaments like Tie Cup (1900) or Copa de Honor Cousenier (1905).
This derby has the honor of being the most played in soccer history, with 192 official matches to this day. Argentina has won 89, Uruguay 59, and 45 draws.
4. Croatia vs. Serbia
Politics again making its appearance in this top and what a good, and sometimes dangerous rivalry he has given us. Croatia and Serbia were part of Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1991. In that same year, 1991, the Croatian War of Independence was formed and four years later, in 1995, Croatia was formed.
There has been plenty of polemic episodes between these two sides and sometimes, things happened in other sports. The beginning of the rivalry started with two clubs, one from each country. Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb were two of the best teams in the continent and during a game between they two in 1990, a riot broke out; this was considered by many as the first step of the subsequent war.
Albeit this is not as dangerous as watching a Serbia-Albania game, this remains as one of the biggest derbies in Europe. This is not a match you want to go to the stadium to see.
3. Argentina vs. Germany
There is not much left to discover about this derby; Argentina and Germany simply don’t like each other and they showed all of that every time they showdown. This is the most played final in the history of World Cups, being played three times (1986, 1990 and 2014). Argentinians and Germans are very aware of how successful they both are and every time they go head to head, you can feel the tension in the air.
Before the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Argentina was eliminated by Germany in the last three editions of the tournaments; they got relegated via penalty shoot-out in 2006, then Germany thrashed them 4-0 in 2010 before Mario Gotze gave the Teutons their fourth World Cup championship in 2014 in front of the same rival.
Even friendly matches are loaded with plenty of emotion from both sides; there is a lot of bad blood and hard feelings within these two and that won’t change in the near future.
2. Germany vs. Netherlands
As we saw in our prior spot, Germany has several rivalries, including Brazil, aforementioned Argentina, and even Italy, but the team which reunites us on this spot is none other than the Netherlands. First, Nazi-ruled Germany occupied the Netherlands during WWII and ruined most of the country. That created an anti-German feeling for Dutch people and even the national soccer team got to feel that.
It was a very hurtful defeat the one they got in front of the Teutons during the 1974 FIFA World Cup final, where they were huge favorites. This was known as “The Mother of All Defeats” and was seen as a national tragedy in the Netherlands. Luckily, they got revenge 14 years later when the Dutch beat Germany in the 1988 European Championship semi-final before winning the championship.
Following that, the rivalry has been purely about football and nothing else. Every time these two get face to face an incredible match is set to happen. Lately, they had to play for the UEFA Nations Cup and the 2020 UEFA Euro qualifiers, providing incredible performances in each one of those encounters.
1. Brazil vs. Argentina
Now is the time; it doesn’t get any better than this. We have seen plenty of rivalries that make us see how important has been football in the life of people, players and even nations, but the final destination of our trip is this one: the Superclasico between Brazil and Argentina. Unlike the vast majority of rivalries in this list, this is solely based on football and nothing else.
It’s not a secret that both these countries see football as a religion more than just a sport, therefore is not a coincidence to see how fans from both sides live the preview, the development and the aftermath of these matches. Questionable refereeing, hostilities from fans and even a scandal involving a bottle of water laced with tranquilizers have only served to increase the hate these two profess with one another.
Argentina and Brazil are the most successful national sides in South American football and this match is always expected not only by their fans but the entire continent and sometimes the entire world. Not only the national squads are part of this since a match between an Argentinean and a Brazilian club is seen as a derby.