What’s in a rivalry? Is it based on locality or a long-standing history? Is it just born of two teams tussling for the title over a prolonged stretch of time? With the flux that women’s football has been in around the world, whether it be the stream of American leagues that folded before the inception of the [still young] NWSL or constant rejigging of WSL in England, or even the landscape that changes with the professionalism injected into the game, few women’s teams can claim to have honest to goodness rivalries borne of their own history, rather than the men’s arm of the same club.
There are some, however, that always excite fans, no matter how underdeveloped their shared history is. With that in mind, here are 10 of our favourite rivalries in world women’s football – even if they haven’t risen to full derby status yet.
Reign FC vs Portland Thorns – The Cascadia Derby
A rivalry that can date itself all the way back to the 1970’s in men’s football, the advent of the NWSL and creation of both the Thorns and [then] Seattle Reign meant that women’s football in the USA got its own northwest derby. Despite being one of the more played matches in the league, it remains a fan and player favourite.
Athletic Bilbao vs Real Sociedad – Euskal Derbia
Although neither Bilbao or La Real are knocking at the door of the current champions, both sides are well established in Primera Iberdrola and boast squads that can give most a run for their money. And whilst the title has only visited Bilbao, not San Sebastián, both teams can claim fervent support to call upon when they arrange showpiece matches, the Basque Derby one that draws the largest crowds in Spain when it’s hosted at San Mames or the Anoeta.
A rivalry that has little to do with league standing, it’s established itself as one of the definitive derbies in women’s football.
Olympique Lyonnais vs VfL Wolfsburg
A rivalry all about European success, Lyon and Wolfsburg have established themselves as the powerhouses of women’s football on the continent. Having appeared in the UEFA Women’s Champions League for eight consecutive seasons, Lyon are Wolfsburg’s most played opposition. The pair have met in three finals with the French champions the side to knock the She Wolves out of the competition on two of the three occasions they’ve failed to reach the final. There is little question that Lyon have claimed dominance in the rivalry, yet when they do clash, it remains one of the most anticipated matches of the season.
Chelsea vs VfL Wolfsburg
Just as Lyon are the team to have claimed Wolfsburg’s number, the German champions are the team who’ve repeatedly delivered misery to Chelsea’s doorstep. One of the emerging powers in WSL, the Blues had their Champions League outings cut short by Wolfsburg for their first three seasons in the competition – the trend bucked last year when they met Lyon. Whether it be the round of 32 (2016-17), round of 16 (2015-16) or semi-final (2017-18), Wolfsburg have unwavering been the bullet with Chelsea’s name on it, and despite the one-sided history remains a clash to look forward to.
First versus second and second versus first, Atleti’s rivalry with Barcelona is a sole product of their shared stature in the Spanish league as the best two teams. A match that tends not to bring about many goals (the 6-1 from the start of this season the exception to the rule), the different styles and mentality of the two lends to a nervous 90 minutes for all watching, the results usually a marker for the battle for the top.
FFC Frankfurt vs Turbine Potsdam – Der Klassiker
A rivalry dating back to the sepia-tinged days of women’s football before professionalism, Frankfurt and Potsdam were the two prominent (and entirely independent) teams in the Frauen-Bundesliga. Not just dominating football in Germany but across all of Europe, the pair have six Champions League/UEFA Women’s Cup titles between them and at least one appeared in nine of the first 14 finals.
Although the rise of Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich have left the two reveling in their former glory, unable to challenge for the title – or a European berth – the Klassiker moniker persists, the match one to still excite fans.
It may be due to the size of the league (16 teams) that we’re mentioning a third domestic Spanish clash and due to the clustered nature of the teams, there are yet more with the derbi Sevillano, derbi Barceloní, and ones featuring the four Madrid teams. But it’s the Valencian derby that’s forging new ground in the women’s game, and just like the Basque derby has seen fans flock to watch at the Mestalla and Estadi Ciutat de València.
Although Levante’s rise to the top end of the table is more of a recent development over the last handful of years, Valencia have had a few years of being there or there about, making for more even matches. Whilst the two have contrasting fortunes this season, the two derby days remain special for women’s football in Valencia.
A rivalry that owes a lot of itself to Australia moving to the Asian Football Confederation from the Oceanic ensuring more meetings between the two as well as the general positive development that has come about being in a stronger confederation. With the various other goings on in AFC with China slipping from their perch and DPR Korea faced with FIFA sanctions, the two have opened up a battle for dominance. Although the two have only ever met once at a major tournament – when Japan snatched a knock-out win in the 87th minute in 2015 – their bouts at the Asian Cup are hotly anticipated.
Australia vs Brazil
The antithesis of their rivalry with Japan, the Matildas can’t avoid Brazil at major tournaments, no matter how hard they try. Drawn into the same group for three of the last four World Cups, and Australia’s first two Olympic outings, if the two nations doge each other in group stages, they’re destined to meet in the knockouts. As Canarinhas with the historic upper hand, both in the groups as well as the knockouts, their most recent tussle outside of the group when they sparred at the Olympics in 2016 with the hosts winning by way of a shootout. Two nations with different ways of playing and different histories in the game, they seemed fated to do battle at tournaments until the inevitable heat death of the universe, which is some good news for the fans at least.
Having taken over from Norway and their early rivalry with Germany, Sweden have forged a bitter conflict with the eight-time European champions. Frequently crossing paths, both at major and minor tournaments, the two have played a number of scintillating matches – both major tournament finals and friendlies. And after, 24 years of tournament misery, Sweden finally found the better of Germany at the World Cup in France, opening up a new chapter in their all-European rivalry.
What’s your favourite derby? Let us know in the comments!