The 15 Biggest International Football Rivalries
The biggest rivalries in football generally involve clubs, but there are also plenty of bitter head-to-heads at international level.
Geography and politics are amongst the factors that play an integral role in the angst, thus creating a perfect backdrop for tension between the two sides.
With that in mind, we have scoured the globe to identify what we believe are the 15 biggest international football rivalries on the planet.
International Football Rivalries – Top 15
|England vs Scotland|
|England vs Germany|
|Brazil vs Argentina|
|England vs United States|
|Serbia vs Croatia|
|Egypt vs Algeria|
|United States vs Mexico|
|Chile vs Peru|
|Spain vs Portugal|
|Uruguay vs Brazil|
|Germany vs Netherlands|
|Japan vs South Korea|
|Honduras vs El Salvador|
|Iran vs Saudi Arabia|
|Hungary vs Romania|
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest international football rivalries, starting with one which dates back to the 1800s.
England vs Scotland
While they are geographical neighbours, social and political differences have driven a historical wedge between England and Scotland.
They met in the first-ever international match in the world in 1872 and have continued to be bitter rivals since then.
England’s perceived sense of footballing entitlement sparks resentment in Scotland, while the political set-up in the United Kingdom does not help matters.
England vs Germany
As the chief protagonists in two world wars, it is no surprise that England and Germany established a bitter football rivalry.
England’s victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final increased the ill feeling, and they have been made to pay for that success since then.
There have also been numerous instances of disorder involving both sets of fans, sparking massive police operations whenever the two teams meet.
Brazil vs Argentina
The rivalry between Brazil and Argentina is purely about football – both sides see themselves as the number one nation in South America.
There have inevitably been numerous bitter meetings between the two sides, most notably during the mid-1940s when the games were particularly brutal.
The argument over who was the greatest player of all time – Pele or Maradona – added further spice to the rivalry, although Lionel Messi may recently have settled that one.
England vs United States
The England vs United States rivalry is simmering rather than boiling, but it has the potential to blow up in the future.
The two teams have met at three World Cups and the US are yet to be on the losing side. Given England is the so-called ‘home of football’ that must sting.
There is also growing animosity between their respective women’s teams, which could become a full-fledged spat over the next few years.
Serbia vs Croatia
After the break-up of Yugoslavia, national divides between Serbia and Croatia soon became apparent across several sports.
The two sides’ first meeting in international football in 2013 saw Croatia fans greet their opponents with chants of ‘Kill the Serbs’.
Croatia’s Josip Simunic sparked mayhem in a second match later that year after being red-carded for a brutal foul on Miralem Sulejmani.
Egypt vs Algeria
The bad blood between Egypt and Algeria dates back to the 1950s, and there have been several bitter meetings between the two sides since then.
One of the most notorious matches was a World Cup qualifier in 1989 when Algerian star Lakhdar Belloumi allegedly attacked the Egyptian team doctor with a bottle after the game.
Belloumi was convicted despite protesting his innocence, and an Interpol arrest warrant hung over him for over 20 years before the charges were eventually dropped.
United States vs Mexico
The United States and Mexico have a complex political history that has inevitably spilt over into the international football arena.
Mexico have traditionally been the top football nation in the region, but the United States have steadily narrowed the gap during the 21st century.
Mexican fans are not particularly welcoming to the US players whenever they face each other, showering them with beer and bags of urine when they enter the pitch.
Chile vs Peru
The rivalry between Chile and Peru is often linked to the end of the War of the Pacific in 1883 but is actually more recent from a footballing perspective.
The animosity between the two sides grew during the 1970s before exploding during the following decade due to increased hooliganism.
The bitterness reached new heights in 2017 when Chile accused Peru of colluding with Colombia to ensure they were eliminated from the World Cup.
Spain vs Portugal
As near neighbours who have been on different sides of several conflicts, Spain and Portugal naturally have a pretty bitter football rivalry.
Given the status of their respective top-flight leagues, Spain is widely viewed as the dominant football force on the Iberian peninsula.
Spain have historically dominated the head-to-head meetings between the two sides, although Portugal have been far more competitive over the past few decades.
Uruguay vs Brazil
While Brazil fans would argue Argentina are their main rivals, there is also plenty of feistiness between themselves and Uruguay.
Many Uruguayan fans love to remind Brazil that they beat them in the final game of the 1950 World Cup, which gets under the skin of their rivals.
The result was a massive setback for Brazil, sparking early retirement for some players and leading a few fans to commit suicide.
Germany vs Netherlands
England are not alone in having Germany as a big rival at international level, with the Netherlands also viewing them as a footballing enemy.
Germans view the Dutch as arrogant – a view sparked by their over-confidence heading into the 1974 World Cup final in Munich.
The Netherlands went into that game aiming to ‘humiliate’ their opponents, but West Germany put them in their place to lift the prestigious trophy.
Japan vs South Korea
Japan’s occupation of Korea spawned a level of bitterness that remains in place today, although the two countries did manage to co-host the 2002 World Cup.
Korean President Rhee Syngman famously refused to allow a World Cup qualifier between the two sides to take place in Seoul during the 1950s, highlighting the feelings of hatred.
He told the players they should not return home if they lost in Japan, which miraculously inspired them to secure a 7-3 aggregate victory.
Honduras vs El Salvador
The rivalry between Honduras and El Salvador is unusual as it was football that sparked a war between the two countries rather than the other way around.
Three fiery World Cup qualifiers in 1969 sparked the 100-Hour War, which subsequently claimed the lives of around 6,000 people.
It took another 11 years before a peace treated was signed between the two nations, but the ill feeling remains whenever the two sides met on a football pitch.
Iran vs Saudi Arabia
A divide based on race is never a good thing in football, and that is undoubtedly the case where Iran and Saudi Arabia are concerned.
The two nations regularly engage in off-pitch bickering designed to gain the upper hand on their opponents before a ball has even been kicked.
This includes detaining teams for lengthy spells at an airport or insisting that matches are played at neutral stadiums for safety reasons.
Hungary vs Romania
Disputes between Hungary and Romania date back hundreds of centuries, and football has become a vehicle for people on both sides to vent their anger at each other.
The first official match between the two teams took place in 1936, and subsequent meetings are filled with tension, both on and off the pitch.
Hungary were initially the dominant force in this particular head-to-head, but Romania have been far more competitive over the past few decades.
Read more: Check out our article on the biggest club football rivalries in world football.
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