River Plate vs. Boca Juniors: The Best Rivalry You May Not Know About


When we think about great soccer rivalries, several come quickly to mind:

Barcelona vs Real Madrid

Manchester United vs Liverpool

Roma vs. Lazio

Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur

And so the list goes on and on…

But there is one rivalry that may often get overlooked and may just be the greatest and most intense rivalry of all:

El Superclasico” which is River Plate vs. Boca Juniors – the two most popular and famous teams in the great country of Argentina.  This rivalry is just as much about hate as it is about soccer.  River hates Boca and Boca hates River.  And this is not just one of those rivalries that exist between the fans; the tension between these two clubs is just as thick on the pitch as it is in the stands.

To truly understand El Superclasico, you must first understand the Argentine fan.

I lived in Argentina.  I never knew what a true sports fan was until I met Argentine soccer fans.  It is not just a love for their team, it is an all-encompassing worship of their team’s colors and logo.  Songs are sung in praise of their team just as prayers are raised towards the heavens to praise God.  Soccer is a religion.  For many, it is their only religion.

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San Lorenzo, one of the teams in Buenos Aires recently mixed sports and religion together.  They announced that they are naming their new stadium after life-long supporter Pope Francis.

On the Sunday’s of the Superclasico, churches are empty.  On these days the only gods being worshiped are the 22 players on the pitch.

The history of this rivalry dates all the way back to 1908.  They have played each other a total of 349 times in all competitions. Boca has won 127 matches, River has won 112 and they have drawn 110.  They are far and away to two most successful clubs in Argentina.  Boca has won a total of 30 Primera Division titles, while River has been crowned champions of Argentina 36 times.

To put that into prospective, the two most successful teams in England have won a combined total of 38 titles (Manchester United (20) and Liverpool (18)).

Boca and River have dominated football in Argentina for over 100 years.

The history of the rivalry goes back to when they both teams played on fields located close to one another.  Early on River moved up to a nicer part of Buenos Aires and earned themselves the nickname “Los Millionarios” (The Millionaires).  Boca has remained in the same blue-collar neighborhood and has historically drawn the support of the working class Argentines.

Unlike in most countries where people support their local team, in Argentina, you are either a fan of River or Boca.  Even if you don’t live in Buenos Aires, you must pick a side.  Yes people do cheer for their local teams as well, but the majority would name either River or Boca as their favorite.

I lived in Cordoba, located about 12 hours west of the capital.  Before I could speak Castellano (Argentine Spanish) I was already being asking “De que hincas sos?” (What team do you support?)  I was forced to pick a side.  There is no middle ground, you either support Boca or you support River.

To watch a Superclasico is to witness something unlike anything else on earth.  The Observer, a British newspaper, ranked El Superclasico as the #1 “Sporting thing you must do before you die.”  The stadiums are packed with devoted fans that wave thousands of banners, stand, dance and cheer from the time the ball is first kicked to the final whistle and several hours before and after.

Several well-known players started their careers with Boca or River before making a move to Europe for greater money.  Some of those players include Carlos Tevez, Fernando Gago, Hernan Crespo, Esteban Cambiasso, and the great one himself, Diego Maradona, and many more.

The closest thing we have in the United States to a rivalry of these proportions would have to be SEC football.  But imagine an SEC football rivalry spread amongst and entire country, nearly every person having a horse in the race.

This past weekend, El Superclasico was renewed.  Not even a flood sent by Poseidon himself could stop the match from moving forward.  Amongst a downpour of rain which covered the pitch in puddles, the two teams carried on.  The match more closely resembled kids playing on a slip-n-slide than it did a soccer game, but even though the play was not superb, the entertainment level was at an all-time high.

An ill-advised red card for a hand-ball in the box led to a heated debate between Boca players and the referee.  In the end, River missed the penalty and all was made right.  The match would end in a 1-1 draw when River was able to salvage a point on goal scored in the 78th minute.

Last season River and Boca finished first and second in the Primera Division, respectively, but 10 matches into this season, River sits atop the table while Boca is down at 9th.  But no matter where the two teams sit in the table, even if one of the teams has been relegated to the lower division (which happened to River in 2011), the rivalry will always remain one of the biggest in the soccer world.