El Clasico to usher in early Christmas

Soccer fans will be treated to an early Christmas this holiday season in the form of the 237th edition of the world’s favourite grudge-match — El Clasico. The Clasico, one of the most anticipated football matches between archrivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, is scheduled to kick off at 5.30 (IST) on December 23, Saturday, much to the delight of Indian viewers.

The second most widely watched football tie after the Champions League final will be crucial for Real, as Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. will look to impress home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu by narrowing the 11-point gap that separates them from Barcelona, currently sitting pretty at the top of the Spanish League table. The last time the two sides met was in August in the Spanish Super Cup when Real beat their Catalan rivals 2-0.

When it comes to rivalry — in terms of quality of play, tactical supremacy, star value and global fan base — it really can’t get bigger than the Clasico. Ever since their first match in 1902, the level of competition between Real and Barcelona has always been fierce. This will be the 237th competitive meeting between the two European powerhouses, with Real ahead on head-to-head record with 96 wins against Barcelona’s 91.

To quote Madrid-based British journalist and columnist Sid Lowe from his acclaimed work, Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid: “It all began at the Madrid Hippodrome on May 13, 1902, just a few hundred yards south of the Santiago Bernabeu. Around 2,000 people attended that first game between Real and Barcelona, sitting on rented chairs. In the autumn of 2012, 98,000 spectators attended the Clasico at the Camp Nou.”

Another little known bit to this rivalry is the tradition of The Pasillo. Traditionally, if either Real or Barcelona have virtually won the league before the Clasico takes place, then the other team gives the former a guard of honour called The Pasillo. This has happened only thrice, the most recent being on May 7, 2008 when Real received the guard of honour at the Santiago Bernabeu.

— Aritra Mukhopadhyay