No other derby on earth resonates quite as much as El Clasico. From Boca-River and Nacional-Penarol to Lazio-Roma and Celtic-Rangers, others can certainly compete in terms of history and passion, but none possess the level of quality that gives Barcelona-Real Madrid its mass appeal.
The globalisation of the game has seen the world’s top talent flock to the two Spanish giants over recent decades at a rate never previously seen, and a number of high-profile Brazilians have certainly played their part in the fixture’s great history.
This weekend three Selecao stars are expected to start, with Madrid’s Marcelo and Casemiro set to face-off against Barca’s Neymar, and all three would be more than happy to have anything like the impact Ronaldinho had in 2005, when the Barcelona superstar was received a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Ronaldinho arrived in the Spanish capital that November night at the peak of his powers, and In between two FIFA World Player of the Year awards. There were stepovers, no-look passes, backheels, chapeaus and two remarkable individual goals.
"It was a perfect game," Ronaldinho said. "I will never forget this because it is very rare for any footballer to be applauded in this way by the opposition fans."
Watching on that night, helpless, was another Brazilian who would leave his own special mark on el Clasico, the great Ronaldo. And he did so on both sides. Perhaps the greatest no.9 the game has ever seen, Ronaldo spent just once season at Barcelona, but it was one of the greatest anyone has managed in Catalonia.
He topped the scoring charts in la Liga by a clear 11 goals as Barca claimed the Spanish Super Cup, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the Copa del Rey, though they lost out on the league title to Madrid by two points.
Ronaldo also left quite an impression in the Clasico at Camp Nou, netting in a 3-2 win for Barca. But it was his dominant performance on the night that sticks in the memory, particularly a stunning nutmeg on the great Fernando Hierro.
Ronaldo joined Madrid in 2002, becoming the latest galactico after coming back from nearly two years out of the game to lead Brazil to a fifth World Cup. He returned to the Camp Nou to score a memorable winner in a 2-1 victory in the 2003/04 season.
Ronaldo has six Clasico goals, four for Barcelona and two for Real Madrid. He is, alongside Evaristo de Macedo, the highest-scoring Brazilian in the fixture’s history.
But even he couldn’t make a Clasico impact quite like Romario, the jewel in the crown of Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team. Romario’s Barcelona career was every bit as short as it was brilliant, but his remarkable, dragged turn on to leave Rafael Alkorta utterly bamboozled is one of the great Clasico moments.
‘Shorty’ followed up that opener two more to seal a sensational hat-trick as Barca romped to a ‘manita’ 5-0 victory over their great rivals in January 1993.
Another, less prestigious, Brazilian sealed a clasico 14 years later, as Julio Baptista outshone Ronaldinho and Robinho. The Beast was an unlikely hero, having returned to the club following an unsuccessful loan spell with Arsenal in England.
The Brazil international grabbed the only goal of the game at Camp Nou in December 2007, galloping away before volleying a sublime finish into the top corner to send Real Madrid into what proved an unassailable seven-point lead at the top of the table.
There is a fine tradition, then, of Selecao stars strutting their stuff in el Clasico, and one Neymar will be hoping to live up to once again – after all, he had quite an introduction to the world’s biggest derby.
In his first Clasico appearance, Ney upstaged another Clasico debutant – the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale. Receiving a pass from Andres Iniesta, Neymar cut inside from the left before squeezing an ingenious finish between Dani Carvajal’s legs.
And his form has not let up. Neymar has been involved directly in five goals in his six league games against Real Madrid (three goals and two assists).
A number of great Brazilian forwards have had decided Clasicos, but more recently it was a good old fashioned ‘volante’ who starred in the derby. Casemiro has emerged as one of the world’s leading defensive midfielders over the past 18 months and he turned in a fabulous performance last season at Camp Nou, neutralising Lionel Messi to inspire his side to a 2-1 win.
Since then, Casemiro has become a fundamental member of the Blancos’ side and, back after injury problems, is set to play a major role for los Blancos on Saturday.