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It Could Get Messy

The chance of a Champions League matchup between Barcelona and Real Madrid has a nation on edge

The greatest rivalry in world club soccer, Barcelona versus Real Madrid, has never played out on the ultimate stage of the UEFA Champions League final. But there's a possibility it could happen in 2013 after both teams were drawn in different semifinals last Friday. If Real Madrid can beat Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona can eliminate Bayern Munich in their two-leg matches—hardly guaranteed—the resulting all-Spanish final at London's Wembley Stadium on May 25 would be like seeing the Red Sox meet the Yankees in the World Series.

Not everyone involved would relish the matchup. A Barcelona--Real Madrid final was a possibility last year, too, when both teams reached the semis. Upsets prevented it from happening, but not before Bar√ßa defender (and Barcelona native) Gerard Piqué told SI that he wasn't enthused about the prospect of facing Real on the biggest stage. "For the fans it would be incredible," he said. "But for the players I think it would be too much pressure. There would be a lot of fights." Such is life at the center of a rivalry in which the enmity dates back to the Spanish Civil War—Barcelona serving as a symbol for Republicanism and Catalan identity, Real Madrid for Castillian Spain.

Of all the Spanish national team's recent achievements—winning the 2010 World Cup and back-to-back European titles (in '08 and '12)—perhaps the most impressive has been succeeding while drawing about half of its players from such bitter club rivals. Yet the nastiness in several recent Barcelona--Real Madrid games (see the bench-clearing brawl that broke out at the end of the second leg of the 2011 Spanish Super Cup) has threatened the national side's chemistry. With three weeks of hype before the Champions League final, a Bar√ßa--Real matchup might just cause Spain, the team and the nation, to come apart. It may be up to the German clubs to save the country from itself.



SEEING ROJO The November 2010 Clasico devolved into mayhem after Barça put up five unanswered goals.