Fighting tooth and nail!

India-Pakistan hockey action from the gold medal matchof the 2014 Asian Games. The rivalry between these teams dates back to the 1950s.-PICS:GETTY IMAGES

Most of the rivalries in sports are way bigger than just the actual games themselves. Geopolitics, economic warfare and even religion play a role and lend to much of the hysteria surrounding them. With the Ashes now round the corner, here is a look at five such rivalries from world over. By N. Sudarshan.

India vs. Pakistan (hockey)

Much before the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams gained traction, it was men’s hockey which was in the forefront. Those were the days when the two sub-continental nations ruled world hockey.

The two have a record of facing each other in the first six Asian Games hockey finals. In all they played in seven finals against each other with Pakistan winning six. From 1956 to 1964, they faced-off in three successive Olympic hockey finals. India won gold twice while Pakistan won once. In between all this, the two countries fought three wars too.

USA vs. USSR (Olympics)

From the arms race to the space race to nuclear interests, the Americans and the Russians competed everywhere. Sports was just an extension to it. In the 1972 Munich Olympics basketball final, the Russians won the gold under acrimonious circumstances which included two clock resets. The Americans appealed, but were rejected 3-2 by a five-member jury including Cuba, Poland and USSR! Then in 1980, came the ‘Miracle on Ice’ when the Russian hockey team, which had dominated the event in almost every Olympic tournament since 1954, was beaten by a set of amateur and college-level players from the U. S.

Springboks vs. All Blacks (rugby)

These are considered the two best rugby teams in history, dating back to 1921 when the All Blacks beat the Springboks in Dunedin 13-5. Such is the rivalry, it is said that when one plays rugby in South Africa, he always plays the All Blacks. It doesn’t matter where, but your opponent is always an All Black. Though the sides have had periods when they have dominated each other, the overall equation has been fairly balanced. Of the 89 played, New Zealand has 51 wins to South Africa’s 35. Like most, some of the battles were off the field too, like in 1981, when there were protests in New Zealand over the Springboks’ arrival due to the South African government’s policy of apartheid.

Argentina vs. Brazil (football)

It is perhaps the most sporting of rivalries. But like others, its genesis too lies in politics. It dates back to the territorial disputes the two nations inherited from their colonial powers (Spain and Portugal). Now, the South American giants compete fiercely to earn intra-continental bragging rights. In the 1990 World Cup, a Brazilian player accused Argentina’s trainers of giving him bottled water with a harmful substance in it which then came to be known as the “holy water” scandal. But now, with the European leagues in the forefront, the Argentina-Brazil rivalry is more associated with the perennial debate as to who is the greatest player ever? Diego Maradona or Pele?

The U.S. vs. Europe (Ryder Cup golf)

This rivalry is peculiar in the sense that the competition isn’t between two nations but between a nation (U. S.) and a continent (Europe). Named after the English businessman Samuel Ryder who donated the trophy, it first started in 1927 between the U. S. and Great Britain. Beginning 1979, European golfers were allowed to compete with the Brits, largely to shore up the team in light of American dominance. Golf is a sport involving multi-million contracts, corporate interests and huge TV deals. Yet, such is the pedestal at which the Ryder Cup is placed, that the winners don’t get a single penny as prize money.