This article looks at the the Iberian derby, a football match between Spain and Portugal, and how the rivalry and cooperation between the two countries has moved into improved relations in recent years.
World cup 2018 in Russia
In a couple of days the 2018 World Cup will kick off in Moscow where Russia will play Saudi Arabia in the first match at the Luzhniki stadium, the home of the Russian national football team.
One day later will see the meeting of two neighbouring nations whose rivalry can be traced back many hundreds of years.
Some Iberian history
Spain and Portugal are the two nations that make up the part of the world known as the Iberian Peninsula.
In the year 1143 Portugal was formed as a nation and over the next few centuries made moves toward becoming a seafaring super-power. Spain was formed by the “House of Habsburg” who, in 1516 consolidated the lands east of Portugal previously organised by the “Crown of Castille”
Spain may have been comparatively late to form as a country, but quickly became a competitor at sea. During its early years Spain claimed much of South America, Central America, and a large area of North America. Portugal also took control of many nations including Brazil.
Rivalry wasn’t just military. In 1581 the king of Portugal died without a successor and the Spanish king successfully claimed the throne of Portugal and kept it for 60 years.
The two countries generally seemed to compete with each other through all of this time, often jostling for control of territory. In 1777 there was a conflict between them relating to their interests in South America.
Football, the common interest
Since 1921 both nations have been meeting on the football field. Games have been held regularly, even during the dark years of World War 2.
But it was difficult for Portugal in the early years. It took them five years to force a draw and a further 21 years to beat Spain in 1947. Like Spain on the seas, Portugal very quickly caught up to speed.
These days games are much more evenly matched and often end in draws.
Like ping-pong diplomacy, football I tend to think can act as a great source of bonding. By providing away to interact honestly with the other side, football enables us to be at one with them in some respect.
It may be just one of many factors which has delivered us to the current diplomatic state of nations. Maybe a small factor, but a positive one.
There’s a lots of cooperation between Spain and Portugal in recent years. They work closely together to combat drug trafficking and the considerable threat of forest fires on the peninsula.
One resounding action of friendship is the Albufeira Convention where both states committed to address water scarcity by taking a more holistic view of how each state builds dams and extracts the water from the rivers that flow through both countries.
Over the next couple of weeks we’ll have fun shouting instructions at our favourite players to get us ahead of our rivals on the day. It’s quite nice to think that by confronting our rivals on the field, we may be diffusing behind the scenes resentments that cause real conflict.
Iberian derby inforgraphic
For a super-quick look at the topics covered in this post see our infographic below. Do feel free to copy and circulate it to your friends.