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What is the biggest rivalry in international football?

The limited number of teams in the European Championships (for now) not only guarantees some quality but it also means that teams with a lot of history, and ergo rivalry, meet up quite often.

In just the first week of the tournament, we’ve had many nations with an intertwined football and political history clash with England and France, Poland and Russia, Germany and the Netherlands and Spain and Italy.

Meanwhile, some 4000 miles away from UEFA’s flagship event in New York, Argentina beat Brazil (thanks to a magical goal from Leo Messi) in another one of the big international rivalries.

This got me thinking, just what is the biggest rivalry in international football?

Probably some important criteria would be a natural historical rivalry between the two opponents blended with a series of controversial encounters on the football field which have weaved a narrative that also links the two nations.

Europe would be the logical place to start when thinking about this what with the nations of Europe going at it hammer and tongs (the last 60 years aside) for much of the last 10 centuries creating historical rivalry to mix with onfield competition.

England-Germany is a good a place as any to start, fulfilling the requirements of lots of historical animosity and frequent important meetings on the field in big tournaments that England’s other rivalries (Scotland, France etc.) lack. It is often the destiny of these two to be paired in big tournaments, creating more narrative for their intertwined histories.

Elsewhere in Europe that can lay claim to the combination of armed combat and frequent meetings on the pitch in massive games would include the Netherlands vs Germany (brilliantly explored in Simon Kuper’s Football Against The Enemy), France vs Germany and, to an extent, France vs Italy.

Big rivalries in Europe could also extend to countries with present day diplomatic issues such as Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland and Turkey vs Greece but the relative paucity of footballing encounters between these nations (particularly the former) doesn’t create the perfect combination of animosity and footballing narrative that marks out the great rivalries.

On a similar theme, there is, of course, England vs Argentina which combines historical animosity, ongoing diplomatic problems and a wealth of controversial clashes between the two nations in World Cups down the years.

Increasingly we have seen the rivalries between Russia and ex-Soviet Union states develop as their national teams have improved and thus met more and more in big tournaments as the game between Poland and Russia demonstrated earlier this week, further heated by the fan cultures of violence remaining strong in these countries.

Further afield, we have the match-up mentioned earlier between Argentina and Brazil, la batalla de los sudamericanos, which has a very extensive list of controversial encounters on the pitch as well as a rivalry between the two states who have often competed (albeit not fought) to be the continent’s political and cultural (as well as footballing )hegemon.

Perhaps a dark horse for the claim to be the biggest rivalry in world football would be Egypt vs Algeria who’s encounters on the field have become increasingly fraught, mirrored by crowd trouble too.

Whilst fixtures like Iran vs Iraq and the two Koreas going at it are probably quite heated and matches between the West Coast of Africa’s powerhouses likewise, the developing football culture in these countries doesn’t give them the same impact of their European and South American counterparts.

That’s a quick look at some contenders for an entirely subjective title of biggest rivalry international football but what’s your opinion and have I missed out any big ones?

For illustrative purposes, here is a clip of an entire nation letting out a lot of frustration.
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