It is one of the world's most infamous football fixtures, packed to the brim with a history of thrilling matches and controversy. Not for nothing is Argentina's Superclásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate routinely included on lists of football 'bucket lists' as a match you simply have to experience for yourself in the flesh.
While in modern times Boca and River represent the impoverished former port areas of south Buenos Aires and the affluent north respectively, it was not always thus. Both clubs came to life in the colourful, tough streets of La Boca at the turn of the 20th century, their early teams dominated by the Italian immigrants that flocked into the area to work in the meat packing and tanning industries.
River may have left the neighbourhood in 1923, but the early enmity that fostered in those first clashes was preserved and enhanced as the two teams became the most successful by far in Argentina. The Millonarios (River’s nickname due to their early outlay on expensive signings) lead the way with 36 Primera División titles while Boca occupy second place in the historical table with 33 triumphs. On a continental level, however, the tables are turned: the Xeneize (as Boca were christened after the Genoese immigrants who founded the team), boast six Copas Libertadores to their rivals' four, and have also been crowned world champions in the Intercontinental Cup on three occasions while River have prevailed just once.
In the head-to-head, too, Boca hold the advantage, with 88 wins and 82 defeats in official Superclasicos. As befits Argentina's most prestigious football match, many of the nation's idols have participated on one side or another of this ever-heated derby: River can boast the likes of legends Alfredo Di Stefano, Angel Labruna and Omar Sivori, while stars such as 1966 World Cup captain Antonio Rattín, Hugo Gatti and, of course, the ever-controversial Diego Maradona. In more recent times Ariel Ortega, Hernán Crespo, Juan Roman Riquelme, Carlos Tevez and many others all cut their teeth on the daunting Superclasico stage before taking the leap to Europe, cementing the reputation of the Buenos Aires giants as two of football's greatest producers of talent.
While the players on the pitch are one aspect of this rivalry, it is the events in the stands which really mark out the Superclasico as a special match. The Boca and River support are renowned for their fanaticism, and the days leading up to derby clashes are often a frenzy of hype and passion across the city. Come match-day itself and it is common to see fireworks, flares and masses of ticker-tape greet the entrance of the home team onto the field, accompanied by the obligatory disparaging chants and insults towards the visitors.
Such fervour, though, can often have negative effects. From almost the very beginning of the rivalry Boca-River clashes have been marked by occasional violent outpourings from fans, on occasion with tragic consequences. The worst disaster in the history of Argentine football occurred in 1968 during a Superclasico at River's Monumental home, when 71 Boca fans were crushed to death in a stampede during the middle of the second half close to the stadium's Gate 12 exit. In 2015 a Copa Libertadores game between the pair in Boca's Bombonera ground was abandoned when River players were gassed from the stands by pepper spray, with several needing hospital treatment. And in November 2018 the first-ever Copa Libertadores final involving both teams was controversially moved to Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium in Spain when Boca's team bus was ambushed by River fans outside the Monumental hours before the second leg, and pelted with stones, bottles and other missiles.
Clearly, this is not a match for the faint-hearted. But few fixtures in world football are capable of arousing the fury and excitement that accompanies every Superclasico from beginning to end, making it a must-see game for any fan, no matter which team they follow.