November 29, 2010 11:00 AM ET
It's a bit premature to call Lionel Messi the Michael Jordan of soccer, but at least he's got the tongue thing down.
While Monday Night Football features two rivals duking it out for a shot at NFC supremacy, ESPN's coverage of the Real Madrid/FC Barcelona derby puts control of Spain's La Liga -- and for many, the title of world's best soccer team -- on the line. It's the most-watched regular season game on the planet, and today's contest has all the makings of a real doozy. Real leads Barca by a mere point in the standings. And better yet, each team seems to be in top form. Barcelona hung an 8-0 shellacking on Almeria last week only to see Real answer with a 5-1 whupping over Athletic Bilbao the next day. It's definitely a game to schedule your lunch hour around. Here's why:
The history: Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain, but the reason for the clubs' rivalry goes deeper than that. Politically and culturally, the two teams are seen as representatives of Spanish nationalism versus Catalan independence. We won't delve too much into the details, but the bad vibes here are based on real bloodshed.
The setting: Barcelona's stadium, the Camp Nou, seats more than 99,000 screaming, singing fans, making it the biggest home field advantage in Europe. It's where U2 decided to kick off its 2009 tour. "This is where we wanted to build a space station, designed by Gaudi in the capital of surrealism," said lead singer Bono.
The stars: Lionel Messi, FIFA's 2009 Player of the Year, and Cristiano Ronaldo, FIFA's 2008 Player of the Year, are on a tear. Both scored hat tricks in their previous games. Ronaldo has 14 goals to Messi's 13 so far on the season. They're scoring from so many angles commentators have thrown up their hands and declared the pair a bunch of videogame characters. If there's one man to win the Golden Ball, it's probably going to be one of these two. The rest of the cast is no slouch either, with World Cup All-Stars Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa working their short-passing game against Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil. In other words, just about everyone in this commercial other than Wayne Rooney.
The fireworks begin at 3 p.m. (ET), making it a great way to pass the time until the Alex Smith / Derek Anderson battle later in the day.