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.
Over the last decade, with the Galactico era in Madrid and the dominance of European club football by Barça, a number of world champions have faced off. These star names include Roberto Carlos, Fabio Cannavaro and Zinedine Zidane for Los Blancos as well as Ronaldinho and some of the stars of Spain’s FIFA World Cup-winning side of 2010: Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique.
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 and Michel for Madrid, and among others Ladislao Kubala, Luis Suarez, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman, Rivaldo and Romario for the Blaugrana.
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.
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.
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 Johan 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 Barça 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 Carles Busquets (father of Sergio) 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 Barça in their famous 5-0 at the Camp Nou.
A decade down the road, fans of the Merengues were certainly made to suffer at the hands of their greatest rivals. Not only did they have to watch as their sworn enemies claimed both the Spanish and UEFA Champions League titles, but they felt honour bound to stand and applaud an inspired Ronaldinho after his two wonder-goals helped Barça to a 3-0 win at their stadium.
After the Brazilian’s departure, it was the turn of Lionel Messi to take the famous Barça No10 shirt. The little Argentinian scored his first Clasico goals in March 2007, grabbing a Camp Nou hat-trick in a pulsating 3-3 draw. Cristiano Ronaldo, his Madrid-based rival, has had his own say in this fixture in the past, scoring an extra-time headed winner in the 2011 Copa Del Rey final.
El Clasico has developed into world football’s most hotly-anticipated derby match. Whenever the two meet, the world grinds to a halt to watch the stars collide.