La Liga title race comes to head in El Clasico

MADRID - Real Madrid's status as the club of choice for Spanish nationalists and Barcelona's role as a cultural and political symbol for Catalunya ensure "El Clasico" is one of the most intensely disputed fixtures in world sport. Spain is expected to grind to a halt when the country's two biggest and richest clubs clash again at Madrid's Bernabeu stadium on Saturday  with Real fans dreaming they can overhaul their bitter rivals. "The country is paralysed. Shops are shuttered, the streets are empty. For 90 minutes the country only thinks about football," said radio journalist Maria Bretones on Friday. Bretones, who has been covering Real Madrid for 16 years, said Real-Barca matches were what the sports media worked towards for the whole year. "You have the sense that millions of people are depending on you, on what you say and write," she told Reuters while waiting for Real coach Juande Ramos to arrive for his pre-match news conference at the club's training grounds outside Madrid. Real go into Saturday's edition of what the media often call "the match of the century" only four points behind Pep Guardiola's highly-praised Barca side in the Primera Liga. A win would put them within a point with four games left and in sight of a third consecutive title. NATIONAL SNAPSHOT Bretones, who has covered more than 30 Clasicos, said it was a unique event that provided a snapshot of the whole nation. "It's supreme joy or ultimate suffering," she said. "Everyone is into it, including people who don't necessarily like football. Even my grandmother asks me for the score." Real and Barca fed off their rivalry and neither could exist without the other, she added. "There are always extremists who want to spoil things but it's essentially a clean and honest historical rivalry with a lot of respect between the two clubs. "It's like bullfighting. The one with most respect for the bull is the fighter. But in this case the fight is more equal." Asked by Reuters what the clash meant to him when he was growing up, Ramos said: "The Clasicos are still the ones that get people's attention." Real Madrid's honorary president Alfredo di Stefano, widely considered one of the greatest players of all time and a veteran of many Clasicos in the 1950s and 60s, said last week Real's recent run of victories had been "an heroic act". "Madrid has to win this time but there is a big difference between saying it and doing it," the gruff Argentina-born 82-year-old told sports daily As. "In football, you can dominate and still lose so I prefer not to predict what will happen on Saturday." BARCELONA FANS! Check’s ever-expanding interviews section for more stuff to read: Q&A Samuel Eto'o, Cesc Fabregas Web Exclusives Cesc Fabregas, Gary Lineker One on One Mark Hughes, Thierry Henry, RonaldoPerfect XI Gheorghe Hagi, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman Plus! Rate Barca players (and others) on Talentspotter REAL MADRID FANS! Check’s ever-expanding interviews section for more stuff to read: Q&A Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Raul, Robinho, Fabio Cannavaro, Fabio Capello, Samuel Eto'o One on One Michael Owen, Ronaldo, Nicolas Anelka, David Beckham Web Exclusives Guus Hiddink And Another Thing Best league in the world? Sing When You’re Winning Rafael Nadal My Secret Vice Michel Salgado Perfect XI Gheorghe Hagi Plus! Rate Real players (and others) on Talentspotter