La Ultima Rivalidad

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Ali vs. Frazier.

Michigan vs. Ohio State.

Red Sox vs. Yankees.

Duke vs. North Carolina.

Bears vs. Packers.

These are considered the top rivalries in the world of U.S. sports but I am here to tell you that they are small potatoes.

Do any of those involve the two largest cities in a country?

Were any of those rivalries on opposite sides of a civil war?

Here in Spain they have that rivalry.

In the Spanish Premier League this rivalry is known as “el gran classic”; the clash between world football powerhouses Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

The two clubs have played more than 200 games against each other in their long and storied history, with Madrid holding a slight 83-79 advantage with 44 ties.

But it is not the number of games or the prominence of the clubs that makes this rivalry so heated and intense.

It is its meaning to the people and to Spain as a country that puts the “classic” at the top.

What was originally purely a sports rivalry became much more under the regime of Fransisco Franco when he tried to suppress regional identity.

One of his first targets was “El Barcelona,” the football club.

At the same time Franco put all his support behind Real Madrid, which was considered the team of the regime while Barcelona was the opposition.

That sentiment is still felt by many catalonians (residents of the state in which the city of Barcelona lies) supporters today who believe FC Barcelona represents the separate independent state for which they are fighting.

Real Madrid represents the unified Spain that they are against.

So not only is this a rivalry between the two best clubs in one of the best leagues in the world as neither team has ever been demoted to the second division.

It is also between the two largest cities in the country that have been competing for supremacy since the beginning.

Come March 11 when the teams meet for the second and final time this season at Cap Nou Stadium in Barcelona, the game will mean as much as ever.

Both teams will be fighting for the crown as the Spanish League draws to a close.

Over the years there have been pig heads and bottles of whiskey thrown at players, threats made against opposing players and a whole lot of amazing football.

Why does it always seem like rivalry games are just that much better?

Maybe it is the passion.

Or maybe it is the anger.

Or maybe it is simply pure loathing.

Whatever it is, it is at its best in Spain between these legendary clubs.