Print and Go Back ESPN.com: World Cup 2010 [Print without images]

Saturday, April 24, 2010
Updated: April 26, 10:40 AM ET
Which is the best rivalry?

ESPN.com

Rivals. Every nation has one; some have two. Which is the best rivalry in international soccer? Our contributors weigh in ... and let's be honest: It would be fun to see some of these games materialize during the World Cup.

France-Italy

Not surprisingly, the most heated rivalries are usually based on geography. Brazil and Argentina are neighbors in South America, U.S.A. and Mexico in North America, and England and Scotland in western Europe. Germany has a bunch of enemies on the pitch, given it borders so many nations.

But France-Italy has picked up steam in recent years, thanks to a certain head butt and the brash comments of current French boss Raymond Domenech. Zinedine Zidane's assault of a foul-mouthed Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final sparked an international incident, and when the teams were drawn in the same group in Euro 2008 qualifying, the tension remained. Domenech accused Italian officials of fixing a qualifier ahead of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. "I've rarely been so ripped off," Domenech was quoted as saying. "There are arrangements in Italian soccer." Mild-mannered Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero retorted, "These accusations, which are pretty much daily, do bother us." At Euro 2008, Italy had the last laugh, eliminating Les Bleus in the group stages courtesy of a 2-0 win.

Bring on another meeting in South Africa.

-- Ravi Ubha

Brazil-Argentina

In international soccer, and perhaps all of sport, it just doesn't get any better than Brazil versus Argentina. The two South American countries share a border and status as perennial soccer superpowers, counting seven World Cups and 22 continental titles between them.

All that success breeds great soccer, fierce competition and controversy. The federations can't even agree exactly how many times they've played since Brazil and Argentina first met in an official FIFA match -- a 1914 Argentine triumph in a friendly in Buenos Aires. At the same site seven days later Brazil won the second match between the two, and it's been pretty even ever since. FIFA records say the teams have met in 89 official "A" matches, with 33 wins each, and 23 draws, but those statistics are open to dispute depending on which side of the border you are on.

And the soccer-based disagreements between the neighbors don't end there -- not by a long shot. The eternal debate for the title of world's all-time greatest player will likely never be decided, though opinions of Pelé and Diego Maradona on either side of the Iguazu Falls are more firmly settled. At any rate, that's among the more mundane of the controversies that have enlivened the rivalry over the years. In one of the stranger incidents, Brazilian Branco claimed to have been drugged by Argentine medics with a laced water bottle during their clash at the 1990 World Cup. Even a scoreless tie between the two at the 1978 Cup led to controversy, when Argentina advanced to the final ahead of Brazil on goal differential by beating Peru by a suspiciously lopsided six-goal margin in the next match.

The teams have met 32 times in Copa America, with Argentina holding a significant edge, and four times in World Cups, with Brazil emerging victorious twice. Their last World Cup derby was that 1990 match, in which current Argentine coach Maradona's side eliminated current Brazil skipper Dunga's. If one thing is for certain, it's that both coaches, and nations, would revel in the chance to play the next chapter in South Africa.

-- Brent Latham

Netherlands-Germany

The rivalry between the Dutch and Germans in soccer is commonly traced back to World War II. False. This on-field animosity was really sparked by the 1974 World Cup final, in which the Dutch dominated and went ahead 1-0 before letting their desire to show off their revolutionary Total Football style get the better of them and allowing the West Germans back into the game. West Germany won 2-1 on home turf.

The Dutch got a chance to avenge the '74 loss in 1988, when the European Championship was held in, again, West Germany. The two protagonists met in the semifinals and this time the Dutch came from behind and won 2-1, before going on to win the European title, the only major international title the Netherlands has ever won. That it was achieved on German soil easily makes up for such. Following the semifinals, skirmishes erupted on the Dutch-German border. Studies showed that anti-Germany sentiments in '88 were higher among younger generations than those who had lived through the war, implying that soccer had revived hatreds long since buried.

The rivalry has festered ever since, most famously when Dutch midfielder Frank Rijkaard twice spat on his German counterpart Rudi Völler in a second-round game of the 1990 World Cup. Both men were sent off with red cards while the West Germans would win 2-1.

--Leander Schaerlaeckens

England-Germany

As Gary Lineker once said: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans win."

England's second-highest goal scorer should know, having been on the losing end in one of the most memorable encounters between two nations whose rivalry -- in a soccer sense -- dates back to 1930. Sixty years later, Lineker and the rest of Bobby Robson's men were foiled by "Die Mannschaft" at Italia '90, just as Ron Greenwood's side had been in 1982 and Sir Alf Ramsey's in 1970.

The 1970 West German win, achieved despite falling behind 2-0, was sweet revenge for a side which had lost the 1966 final to the English. While 1966 saw Bobby Moore hoist the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley for England, since then there has been only isolated success -- a 5-1 qualifying win in Munich in 2001 springs to mind -- interspersed with the pain, and never has any joy been felt by English fans at the expense of their German counterparts in a World Cup.

Perhaps this will be the year that glorious July day of 44 years ago is finally emulated.

-- Andrew Hush