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Page last updated at 01:08 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Legends relive El Clasico memories

Barcelona v Real Madrid, La Liga
Venue: Camp Nou, Spain Date: Sunday 29 November Kick-off: 1800 GMT
Coverage: Live on Sky Sports One, live text commentary on BBC Sport website with Chris Bevan and follow Jonathan Stevenson in Barcelona on Twitter

By Jonathan Stevenson

When Barcelona and Real Madrid meet on Sunday, they do so set against a backdrop of 107 years of classic contests.

But what makes this match-up between Spain's two biggest clubs so compelling it will attract a worldwide audience of one billion people?

BBC Sport asked several former Barca and Real players, including Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, to explain why El Clasico is so special to them and football fans in general.

GARY LINEKER (Barcelona, 1986-89)
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Nothing compares to Barca v Real - Lineker

"I've got a few good memories of playing against Real Madrid. The first time I ever played them at the Camp Nou I somehow managed to get a hat-trick (putting us 2-0 up in the first five minutes) and I also scored the winner in my other two home games against them.

"The atmosphere in these games is incredible. There used to be 120,000 fans - mostly home supporters - in the Barca home games and I got goose bumps, it really was something else. If you scored in the Bernabeu, you could hear a pin drop.

Gary Lineker
Lineker signed for Barca from Everton for 2.2m after the 1986 World Cup

"I don't think there is anything that quite compares to Barcelona v Real Madrid, it is more than just a football match. It goes back to the oppression of the Catalans under General Franco when the only place they felt they could speak their language was in the stadium.

"The worldwide appeal comes from the fact that it is such an enormous fixture, plus they are two of the greatest clubs in world football. And the biggest stars in the game still always tend to end up at one of these clubs."

GUNTER NETZER (Real Madrid, 1973-76)

"There is one game I remember very well indeed playing for Real against Barcelona.

When talking El Clasico, you are speaking about the greatest football match on Earth

Gheorghe Hagi

"Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens were in the Barca team and we lost 5-0, in our own stadium. You can imagine what that meant, losing 5-0 at home to Barca. People have still not forgotten it to this day.

"On that day we played terribly and nothing worked. Barca were a wonderful team under the control of Cruyff - he was the leader of the side, the master and he made them champions that time.

"Everyone knows what it means to play for Real or Barca against the other. The people demand that you win and as players you do feel under more pressure. It's the ultimate game."

RAFAEL MARTIN VAZQUEZ (Real Madrid, 1983-90 & 92-95)

"I don't have a favourite memory simply because every single one of these games is so special.

"There is one I remember, however, where I played particularly well and we won 3-0, though our manager Luis Molowny was sent off.

"I played a few times against [Barca coach] Pep Guardiola in these games and he has developed a custom of winning already. He understands what Barcelona means and has got them playing in the perfect fashion.

"The matches are huge for the people and in particular for the media. I hope this will be evenly-matched and my heart wants Real to win always, but my head tells me 1-0 to Barcelona."

GHEORGHE HAGI (Real Madrid 1990-92 & Barcelona 1994-96)

"It was a great honour for me to live those derbies and play for these two great football clubs of the world. When speaking about El Clasico, you are talking about the greatest football match on Earth.

Gheorghe Hagi
Hagi's nickname during his career was 'The Maradona of the Carpathians'

"The first time I played in one, it was for the Spanish Super Cup and I came on for Michel in the final minutes - it was an awesome debut for me! These moments are unforgettable and last a lifetime.

"I spent two years with each club and played with some of the best in the world. I also got to learn from the most important coach I played under: Johan Cruyff.

"This is the game that everyone awaits. In this kind of derby, each player knows he has a unique chance to prove his value. These are the real finals, no matter the rankings or the players' form."

PHILLIP COCU (Barcelona, 1998-2004)

"A game with nearly 100,000 fans is always special and you cannot play enough of those if you love football. They are the best games to play in as a professional.

"The games we won were amazing because the city was filled with pleasure for a month, fans even came to the airport to celebrate.

"A few weeks before the game, the media begins to build up the pressure. The atmosphere in the stadium on matchday is fantastic and the history of Catalonia against Spain also plays a role in Barcelona.

"I always watch if I can and of course I watch as a Cule [Barca fan]! I played for this fantastic club for six years and I still enjoy watching them, especially for the way they play football."

GAIZKA MENDIETA (Barcelona, 2002-03)

"I have played in a Roma-Lazio derby and Barca-Real game and they are the greatest games you can play in football, they have given me some incredible memories.

"Barca and Real are two of the biggest clubs in the world and the expectation that surrounds the game is massive, it's worldwide.

"As a player, you are desperate to show your best and that makes it more appealing for the fans.

"Apart from a Champions League final or World Cup final, it doesn't get any bigger than this."

GIO VAN BRONCKHORST (Barcelona, 2003-07)

"I have had the pleasure to play in many big matches between fierce rivals, including Feyenoord v Ajax, Rangers v Celtic and lots with Arsenal too.

"But there is not a fixture anywhere that has the global impact of El Clasico, a match that is watched all around the world.

There is not a fixture anywhere that has the global impact of El Clasico

Gio van Bronckhorst

"I was lucky with the results too. We beat them 3-0 and 2-1 at the Bernabeu, which must have hurt and we also won 3-0 at Camp Nou, when I scored. Fond memories, great to look back on when I retire.

"It will be interesting this time to see the clash between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if they are both fit - the two best players in the world. But Barca are favourites as they are a great team; Real are in the process of constructing theirs."

SYLVINHO (Barcelona, 2004-09)

"You cannot compare this game to anything and the week of build-up is different to every other week in the season. For me, the games that stand out are the two times we won in the Bernabeu.

Sylvinho and Raul
Sylvinho in action against Real legend Raul at the Bernabeu in 2006

"The first one was truly amazing because of a fantastic individual performance from Ronaldinho in a 3-0 win. At the end, the Real supporters stood up and clapped him off - he was incredible.

"You have to respect Real Madrid because their history is incredible, but that's the point of being at Barca; if you want to be the best, you have to beat Real.

"This is one of the biggest occasions in sport. You are talking about two different peoples, two languages, two cities, two cultures."

WESLEY SNEIJDER (Real Madrid, 2007-09)

"My best memory of El Clasico is from the 2007-08 season. We became champions the game before and when we took to the field, the Barca players were applauding and honouring us, as tradition dictates in Spain.

Gonzalo Higuain (left) and Wesley Sneijder
Sneijder (right) celebrates Real's 4-1 win over Barcelona in May 2008

"It meant so much to play in this game, you cannot explain it to others. It starts way before kick-off in the media, the people on the streets... it's one of the most special occasions for a footballer.

"It is the biggest worldwide [regular] event in football for me. It is the event of the year and everybody is looking forward to it.

"I'm able to watch, I definitely will do so. Of course my feelings are still for Real, though I don't believe they will win this time."


Additional reporting by Pranav Soneji



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see also
Superb Barca destroy rivals Real
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Schuster leads the defectors
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