Portugal v Spain & the 10 most intense international football rivalries

As Europe's top four countries prepare for a showdown in Poland and Ukraine, Goal.com picks out the most famously heated international fixtures from around the globe
The semi-finals of Euro 2012 will pit four of the finest teams in international football against each other in two of the most high-profile rivalries in the game today.

The first of the final-four encounters on Wednesday will see a derby of sorts take place as defending champions Spain take on their Iberian neighbours Portugal in a knockout-round rematch from the 2010 World Cup.

The second semi-final could have matched old foes England and Germany, but with the Three Lions eliminated by Italy - on penalties - it will be the Azzurri who will face off against Joachim Low's favourites.

The clash may not have the back story or the controversies of a classic high-octane rivalry, but as the two most successful European countries in football - boasting seven World Cup titles and four Euro crowns combined - there can be no bigger fixture.

Below, in no particular order, Goal.com looks at the 10 of the fiercest rivalries in international football.


The rivalry between South America's two most successful national teams has been tempered somewhat by the fact that Brazil rarely play non-competitive matches on their home continent any more.

Indeed, the last three friendly encounters have been staged in London, Doha and recently New Jersey, which the Albiceleste won 4-3 thanks to an inspirational Lionel Messi hat-trick, albeit against an under-strength Brazil Olympic team. There remains, of course, bad blood between the nations which means there is always a degree of expectation around the fixture.

Italia '90, and Argentina's alleged water-bottle tampering, lingers in the Brazilian memory. Also, at the 1978 World Cup, Argentina defeated South American rivals Peru 6-0 in order to progress to the final, the exact scoreline required to eliminate Brazil.

The Brazilians have traditionally held their own in competitive fixtures though, winning convincingly in the 1982 World Cup in a fixture in which Diego Maradona was sent off. Brazil just shade things in Copa America final triumphs (eight) while Argentina came out on top in the 2008 Olympics. Off the pitch, the verbal volleys between Pele and Maradona has intensified over the years, while on it, a new, direct confrontation is blossoming in the shape of Messi v Neymar.


Rivalries between international teams are usually confined to their own continents, but this is an exception to the rule. The first match between the two nations was a friendly in 1951, which England won 2-1, but it was in the 1966 World Cup when the fire was lit.

The two teams met in the quarter-finals and Geoff Hurst scored the only goal of the game, one that the Argentines claimed was offside. Antonio Rattin's controversial sending off and then-England manager Alf Ramsey refusing to allow his players to swap shirts with their counterparts after the game only exacerbated the tension.

Argentina would repay the favour at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico when a certain Maradona scored the two of the most talked about goals in international football: an outrageous solo effort and the iconic 'Hand of God'. Twelve years later at France '98, the two countries showed no signs of any love lost when Diego Simeone provoked David Beckham into the petulant kick that resulted in the English midfielder being sent for an early shower.

It would be Beckham, however, who had the last laugh at the 2002 World Cup when he scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in a group game, a result which contributed to Argentina's early exit.

South Korea

Competition between both teams, in any sport, is known in Korean simply as Haniljeon, which translates as 'the Korea - Japan Match'. The first competitive clash between the east Asian giants took place during qualification for the 1954 World Cup, nine years after the end of Japan's occupation of Korea. Korea's unwillingness to invite the Blue Samurai for one leg of the play-off meant that both legs were staged in Tokyo, with Korea coming out on top convincingly.

That was the way it stayed, for the most part, until the 1990s, with Korea in the ascendancy, aside from a seven-year gap without a win in the 60s, which preceded Japan's appearance at the 1968 Olympic Games where they finished third. Japan's last-minute failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, after conceding against Iraq, is known as the 'Miracle of Doha' in Korea and the 'Agony of Doha' in Japan, but the emergence of the J-League and a competitive Japanese team meant the series was no longer as one-sided.

Co-operation between the two countries has since increased on a sporting level, culminating in the successful co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup. The febrile atmosphere around the derby may have subsided in recent times, certainly from a Japanese point of view, but the rivalry is not something Koreans want to lose in an historical context.


The most infamous, and troubling, fixture on the African continent. Tensions are always extremely high in the run-up to this powder-keg of a match, with players, fans and officials all involved in the pre-game sparring. November 2009 saw the two north African sides meet in Group C of the CAF World Cup qualification section. A 2-0 win in Cairo for Egypt meant that the sides would have to play-off on neutral soil for a place in South Africa.

The build-up to the game in the Egyptian capital saw the Algeria team bus allegedly attacked and cyber warfare conducted between citizens of the two countries. The match led to diplomatic crises between the two Arab nations, as well as in France.

The play-off was set for Obdurman, Sudan; a game in which the unfancied Algerians triumphed 1-0, consigning Egypt to yet another year without World Cup football. The Pharoahs were to have their revenge though; they beat Algeria 4-0 in the Africa Cup of Nations semi-final en route to victory in Angola in January in a bad-tempered affair. Algeria had three players sent off.


A fine example of a football rivalry that has mellowed over time is that of the Mannschaft and Oranje. In the wake of World War II there was bitterness and hatred from the Dutch towards the Germans. It manifested itself on the football field, as well as elsewhere, and the Germans surprisingly won the 1974 World Cup on home soil against a heavily fancied Dutch outfit. Netherlands had their revenge in 1988, at the European Championship, defeating West Germany en route to the title. It also led to the infamous Ronald Koeman - West German flag - toilet paper incident.

The Germans were back on top in 1990, winning in Milan and knocking Oranje out of the World Cup. Both Rudi Voeller and Frank Rijkaard were sent off, the latter for aiming a wad of spit at his opponent's perm. Since then, meetings between the two nations have been characterised by less temper and more skill.

The 1-1 draw at Euro 2004, however, which eventually saw Germany tumble out at the group stages with Latvia, would by no means have annoyed the Dutch. The Mannschaft turned the tables on their rivals at Euro 2012, however, condemning the Netherlands to a 2-1 group stage defeat and sending Oranje out of the tournament without a single point to show for their efforts.


Apocryphal evidence suggests that the two countries went to war over a football match in July 1969 but the historical reasons for the 'Football War' run deeper than that. Immigration of Salvadorans to Honduras eventually led to mass expulsion, escalating tensions on the eve of a 1970 World Cup qualification match.

Eventually, after two legs and a play-off, El Salvador were the winners on the field, but violent clashes and tragedies, including the suicide of a Salvadoran teenager, provoked El Salvador to cut all ties with their neighbours and launch an assault on Honduran soil.

A ceasefire was called roughly 100 hours later but the incident left thousands dead or displaced. In the Central American region, Honduras hold sway over their Salvadoran rivals, regularly outpointing them in qualification matches.


Traditional rivals and neighbours like Argentina and Brazil, these two nations will line up against each other on Wednesday night for the semi-finals of Euro 2012. This will be the third meeting between the two countries in the space of almost exactly 24 months. Two years ago in Pretoria in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, Spain ground out a 1-0 win courtesy of a David Villa strike and went on to become world champions.

A mere five months later, La Roja were humiliated 4-0 in a friendly in what was their biggest defeat in almost five decades. But in competitive meetings, Spain have only lost once to their Lusophone cousins, albeit with painful consequences. Nuno Gomes scored the only goal in a 1-0 win in the group stage of Euro 2004 and the decisive strike eliminated Inaki Saez's side from the tournament.

Mostly, Portugal and Spain have met in friendly matches - a series in which La Roja hold the upper hand. The sides first met in qualification for the 1934 World Cup, with Spain winning 9-0 at Chamartin.

Saudi Arabia

Team Melli and the Green Falcons have long battled for west Asian supremacy. Saudi Arabia gained the most recent upper hand when they shocked the Iranians on home soil during the qualification process for the 2010 World Cup. Iran led at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran through a Masoud Shojaei strike only for two late Saudi goals to hand victory to the visitors and eliminate Iran from qualification proceedings.

The recent historical tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims has also lent this fixture a grudging spark of late; Sunnis form the majority of practicing Muslims in Saudi Arabia with Shi'ites largely inhabiting Iran.


Politically this international fixture is perhaps the fiercest in world football. The two countries were playing as one until the dissolution of SFR Yugoslavia in 1991, with ethnic tension destroying a nation. So when the two newly formed states of Croatia and Serbia (confusingly known then as FR Yugoslavia) were drawn in the same qualifying group for Euro 2000 there was plenty of scepticism and fear as to what might happen.

On August 18, 1999 the two nations met in Belgrade for the first time. Rioting and political protests in the crowd, combined with a power outage, overshadowed a dull 0-0 draw with the return fixture in Zagreb also marred by crowd trouble.

Hatred between the two nations is still strong today; the circumstances of Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia give this fixture a volatile back story and there has been trouble reported at tennis and basketball matches involving players of the two nationalities.

A match at the Maksimir Stadium in 1990, when Dinamo Zagreb hosted Red Star Belgrade, resulted in the-then Dinamo captain, Zvonimir Boban, aiming a kick at a policeman who was beating a home supporter following a pitch invasion.


Like Argentina and Brazil, these two regional behemoths are the big dogs in their confederation yards and vie against only each other for dominance. The rivalry had once been a one-sided affair, with the Mexicans coming out on top on most occasions since the first meeting in 1934. But the USA's emergence as a major player on the global football scene has led to them enjoying not too inconsiderable success of late - only not in Mexico.

The USMNT have never won south of the border, despite close to 80 years of trying. That has not prevented controversy at the home of El Tri though with Landon Donovan allegedly urinating on the Jalisco Stadium turf in 2004.

The hostile atmosphere and vitriolic fans all help make it an uncomfortable experience for the Stars and Stripes, not to mention the aggression in the Mexican ranks; Rafael Marquez has been dismissed twice in this fixture. The US side will have another crack at winning in their rivals' own backyard in a friendly on August 15 this year, and make amends for the 4-2 capitulation to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final.