Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona feature some of the best soccer players on earth, are the world's two richest clubs, embody drastically opposed philosophies of the game, have combined to win more than 140 trophies, and share a complex, antagonistic history that ties their rivalry inescapably to the Spanish Civil War. (Fascists kidnapped and executed Barcelona's club president in 1936; the Franco regime used Madrid as a symbol of Spanish nationalism.) Any game between these two clubs is a big deal. Four Clásicos in 18 days is, in the soccer universe, a quasar.
The clubs have now played three of these matches—the fourth, the second leg of their Champions League semi, comes on Tuesday—and so far they've been notable for two things: hysterical, operatic drama off the pitch, and brooding, bad-tempered, tedious soccer on it. On April 16, the teams drew 1-1 in a cagey game in La Liga; the goals were routine penalties plunked in by the last two world players of the year, Barcelona's Leo Messi and Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. On the April 20, Madrid beat Barcelona 1-0 in the final of the Copa del Rey—Madrid's first win over their Catalan rivals since 2008—on a header from Ronaldo during an extra-time period that, against the odds, managed to be kind of fun. A week later, in the first leg of the Champions League tie, Barcelona beat Madrid 2-0 behind two goals from Messi.
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