Fittingly for a country that is a cradle of drama and the birthplace of the great tragedians, Greece is also home to one of world football’s most theatrical of rivalries.

Meeting at least twice a season, Olympiacos of Piraeus and Panathinaikos of Athens are the two best-supported teams in the land. Over the years they have staged numerous highly-charged encounters, played out by a cast of heroes, villains and god-like figures and serving up intrigue and tension aplenty. The next act in this long-running tale of enmity takes place this Sunday, with Olympiacos’s Karaiskaki Stadium providing a suitably dramatic setting.

Appropriately dubbed the Derby of the Eternal Enemies or the Mother of all Battles by Greece’s footballing fraternity, the contest brings together the country’s most successful sides in an enduring battle for supremacy that has been waged for nearly 80 years now.

The origins
Founded in 1908, Panathinaikos was the favoured club of the Greek capital’s high society. In contrast, Olympiacos, which came into being 16 years later, has its roots in the docklands of the neighbouring port of Piraeus and naturally attracts its fans from the surrounding working-class areas. It is this class difference and both clubs’ burning desire for silverware that explains the depth of the animosity between them.

While the social chasm that once separated the sides has closed over the years, with both clubs now boasting fanbases that represent the entire social spectrum, their sporting rivalry shows no signs of abating. Olympiacos, also known as the Kokkini (The Reds) have amassed 37 leagues titles and 24 Greek Cup trophies in total, which compares favourably to Pana’s haul of 19 championships and 16 cup triumphs. The Prassini (The Greens) have the satisfaction, however, of being the only Greek side ever to reach the final of the UEFA European Champion Clubs’ Cup (the forerunner of the Champions League), that achievement coming in 1971.

And just to make matters even more complex, the ill feeling between the two Greek giants is exacerbated by the fact they are multi-sports clubs and are often scrapping over the silverware in the nation’s water polo, basketball and women’s volleyball competitions.

Facts and figures
Since their first meeting in June 1930, the two teams have faced each other on 169 occasions in all competitions. It was Panathinaikos who took the honours in that inaugural meeting, though Olympiacos have gained the upper hand over the years, notching up 69 wins to PAO’s 44, with 56 of the derby showdowns ending in draws.

Such was the desire to win on both sides that between 1930 and 1947 they played out only one draw. The first 0-0 stalemate between the two came in their 20th meeting, in March 1947, though goalless draws have become the order of the day in recent times, with three of the last four matches producing blank scorelines.

Tales of derbies past
Despite coming off second best in terms of derby wins and league titles, Panathinaikos fans always take consolation in that maiden win, an emphatic 8-2 victory that remains to this day the record score in the fixture.

One of the most cherished memories for Olympiakos supporters is altogether more recent. Inspired by two superb Rivaldo strikes, the Thrylos (Greek for 'legend') beat their old foes 3-2 in an unforgettable 2005/06 clash. Those were not the only vital goals the Brazilian scored that season. In the final match of the campaign, he struck the winner in a 1-0 defeat of Iraklis, a result that allowed Olympiacos to snatch the title from the men in green by a single point.

That season was a memorable one for the Reds, who won every one of their derby meetings with both Panathinaikos and the Greek capital’s other big club, AEK Athens. Since then, however, the Greens have not suffered a single defeat to their rivals from down the road.

The rivalry today
Aside from the usual incentives of national prestige and honour, this weekend’s derby, the first of the season, could also have a major bearing on the outcome of the championship race. Led by local legends Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis and bolstered by the arrival of France international Djibril Cisse in the close season, Pana are currently out in front, two points clear of their near-neighbours, who are the reigning champions.

Olympiacos have strung together five consecutive championship wins and will be looking to their South American trio of Luciano Galetti, Dudu and Diogo to help them secure the points and return to what they believe is their rightful place at the top of the standings.