There are few sporting contests that carry quite the same passion as a Real Madrid-Barcelona clash. Their meetings regularly captivate millions of fans, not only in their homeland but across the footballing world.
As the big day approaches, countless Spaniards, including many who would ordinarily be immune from the charms of the beautiful game, get swept along by the fervour of the big event and don the colours of their favourites.
On Sunday, 80,000 lucky fans packed the Santiago Bernabeu to witness a spectacle that contained many of the finest players on the planet. Collectively, the clubs can boast no fewer than eight world champions among their numbers, namely: Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Fabio Cannavaro for the home side, and Lilian Thuram, Ronaldinho, and Gianluca Zambrotta for the Catalans.
That said, this latest meeting of the age-old rivals took place without two of its star attractions. Samuel Eto'o, Barcelona's most potent attacker, had to watch from the stands after tearing the meniscus in his right knee in late September, while Fabio Capello had to do without Ronaldo, the Brazilian having picked up a red card in last weekend's outing against Sevilla.
However, it is not just in recent times that the teams have had such a glittering array of stars at their disposal. Down the years some of the greatest players ever to grace the sport have taken the field for the big two, including Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Santillana, Hugo Sanchez, Emilio Butragueno, Michel and Zidane for Madrid, and among others Ladislao Kubala, Luis Suarez, Johann Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman, Rivaldo and Romario for the Blaugrana (Claret and Blues).
And there is another even more exclusive list of players worth mentioning, those who took the brave decision to take the Puente Aereo (the route connecting Barcelona and Madrid) and swap clubs. Di Stefano, Bernd Schuster, Michael Laudrup, Luis Enrique, Luis Figo and Ronaldo are just some of the stars who broke the hearts and invoked the wrath of their former supporters, for whom changing allegiances is an act of unforgivable treason.
The Spanish powerhouses have been battling each other for more than a century, not only to secure the services of the game's finest players but also to outdo each other in the silverware stakes - something Madrid currently have the edge in. Despite a barren spell in recent seasons, the Merengues have accumulated 29 League Championships, 17 Spanish Cups (Copa del Rey), 9 UEFA European Cups/Champions Leagues, 3 Toyota/Intercontinental Cups and 2 UEFA Cups.
Barca, meanwhile, have a superior record in just one competition, the Spanish Cup, which they have lifted 24 times. With respect to the other tournaments, the Catalan side have won 18 League Championships, 2 European Cups/Champions Leagues, but are yet to win an Intercontinental title. Barcelona do, however, have 4 UEFA Cup Winners' Cups to their name, a tournament their rivals never won, though they have yet to win the UEFA Cup.
Real Madrid-Barcelona games have produced more than their share of anecdotes, amazing results, legendary performances and enmity ever since the pair first crossed swords in 1902, a match the Catalan side won 3-1.
The first league meeting came in 1928, when the Merengues inflicted a painful defeat on the Blaugrana in their own back yard. Since then, they have locked horns 152 times in the La Liga, with Madrid holding a clear advantage with 65 wins to their rivals' 58.
Six years after their 1928 encounter, Real Madrid trounced the Cules 8-2 in a 1935 league match in the capital, although Barcelona, led by Hungarian Ladislau Kubala, would exact a measure of revenge by walloping their foes 7-2 in front of their home fans in 1950.
The Di Stefano derby
In 1953 the two sides were in confrontation again, this time in a battle to secure the services of Alfredo Di Stefano. One month after the dispute was settled in favour of the capital side, the legendary Argentine they called the Blonde Arrow began a love affair with the fans of the Bernabeu by scoring twice in a 5-0 thrashing of the old enemy.
Twenty years on in 1974, with Dutchman Rinus Michels at the helm and his compatriot Johann Cruyff at his mercurial best, it was the turn of the Blaugrana to post a 5-0 scoreline, and at the Bernabeu for good measure. Two decades later Cruyff, by then Barca coach, presided over another 5-0 drubbing, as his Dream Team lorded it over their rivals at the Camp Nou, with Romario running Francisco Buyo ragged and scoring an exquisite hat-trick.
Barely 12 months later at the Bernabeu and the shoe would be on the other foot. This time it was the visiting keeper Busquet who had his goal breached five times, with a hat-trick form Chile's Ivan Zamorano doing most the damage. The game was also notable for the presence in the victorious Madrid side of Michael Laudrup, a player who just a year earlier had played for Barca in their famous 5-0 at the Camp Nou.
Now, 11 years down the road, fans of the Merengues come into the tie desperate to find some consolation for the woes of the previous season. Not only did they have to watch as their sworn enemies claimed both the Spanish and Champions League titles, but they felt honour bound to stand and applaud an inspired Ronaldinho after his two wonder-goals helped Barca to a 3-0 win at their stadium.
On Sunday, however, it was their own heroes they were cheering as Real - facing a Barcelona side evidently blunted by the absence of Eto'o - clinched a vital 2-0 win thanks to goals from their captain, Raul, and El Derbi debutant Ruud van Nistelrooij.
Barcelona remain top, level on points with Valencia, while the result not only boosted morale in the capital, but hoisted Real into fourth place, two points behind their eternal rivals.