The 8 biggest rivalries in international football
England vs Scotland
It may not quite hold the lustre of old, but the history of this fixture more than makes up for that. These sides first met on November 30, 1872, drawing 0-0 in Glasgow; 111 clashes later, the ‘Auld Enemy’ were still going strong in the same city, in front of rather more than the 4,000 fans who'd witnessed proceedings almost a century-and-a-half before.
Famous encounters have included Scotland’s 3-2 win at Wembley in 1967, making them the self-appointed ‘unofficial world champions’, and their 2-1 victory a decade later, upon which visiting supporters pulled down the goalposts.
England have held the more recent bragging rights in a match that was played annually until the mid-1980s, salvaging a late draw in their most recent encounter at Hampden Park in June 2017, after winning the home clash 3-0, prevailing in a Euro 2000 play-off and triumphing 2-0 at Euro '96. They have 48 wins to Scotland’s 41 and at the current glacial rate of progress – the two have only met twice this century – it will take some time for that margin to be turned around.
Brazil vs Argentina
They don't get any bigger than this. These powerhouses have met over 100 times and the only shame is that there has – somehow – yet to be a World Cup final between the pair. But they meet regularly enough on other stages and the temperature is rarely far below boiling.
When they played in the second round of Italia '90, in a match eventually won by a Claudio Caniggia goal, it was alleged that the Brazil left-back Branco had drunk from a water bottle infused with a tranquiliser.
“I’m not saying it didn’t happen,” said Argentina’s coach that day, Carlos Bilardo, several years later. It did little to clear up the fallout from a game that had become known as the ‘Holy Water’ match.
Diego Maradona was in action that day, just as he had been in Spain 1982 when he was sent off for an outrageous studs-up foul on Joao Batista (below, 40 seconds in) during a stormy Group C fixture.
Football has broken out in these games too, and there are often plenty of goals – Argentina won a friendly (if there can be such a thing) 4-3 in 2012, and thrashed their neighbours 6-1 back in 1940. It is Brazil, though, who have the upper hand, winning 45 games to Argentina’s 39.
Serbia vs Albania
This fixture had never been played prior to October 14, 2014 – but what followed ushered it into the pantheon of incendiary clashes immediately. Serbia’s claim over Kosovo, most of whose population is ethnically Albanian, is a longstanding cause of antipathy between the two and the potential for flashpoints had been high.
But nobody would have predicted that Ismail Morina, an Albanian based in Italy, would succeed in piloting a remote controlled drone into Belgrade’s Partizan Stadium while hiding in a nearby churchyard – and that it would be trailing a flag depicting Kosovo as part of a ‘Greater Albania’.
All hell broke loose as violence erupted on the pitch and in the stands; when the dust settled, Albania were awarded a 3-0 win that contributed to their qualification for Euro 2016.
Fears of reprisals at the rematch in Elbasan a year later were unfounded thanks to a tight security operation. Serbia won that game 2-0, but it's difficult to see these two being paired again.
Japan vs South Korea
Regional tussles don't get much more politically loaded than this. Japan exerted colonial rule over Korea between 1910 and 1935, at which point North and South Korea were born.
There has been a sharp edge to their meetings on the football pitch since, particularly Japan’s 87 games against the South. Such was the degree of tension in 1954 that the Japanese weren't allowed to enter South Korea for a World Cup qualifying play-off between the two, meaning that both legs were contested in Tokyo. The Koreans still won overwhelmingly.
Even more famous is the ‘Miracle of Doha’ (or ‘Agony of Doha’, if you are Japanese), when a late Iraq goal against Japan meant they lost out to South Korea in the race for a spot at USA '94.
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