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Friend or Foe?

Today I'll be watching a lot of my favorite players from FC Barcelona competing in international "friendlies" (matches that don't have any formal consequences such as qualifying for the next round in a competition). What's weird about this, at least to an American like myself, is that they'll suddenly find themselves playing on the same side as some of their bitterest rivals.

You see, the top players in soccer compete for not one team but two. First there's their club team, which may recruit heavily from its own academy like FC Barcelona does but also can sign players from anywhere in the world. And then there's their national team, which calls up the top players permanently affiliated with that country (the exact criteria can vary from citizenship to 5-year residency).

Virtually all of the first string players from FC Barcelona play for their national teams: Dani Alves and Adriano for Brazil, Alexis Sanchez for Chile, Eric Abidal for France, Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano for Argentina... and Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and Thiago Alcantara for Spain. That's twice as many recruits for the Spain NT as the runner-up club team, Real Madrid, which is contributing four.

And this is where it gets interesting: During the season, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are bitter rivals, perhaps never so conspicuously as in the year and a half since Spain won the World Cup. How do they set aside their grievances - not just the simple fact of their competition for titles, but the injuries inflicted on themselves or their teammates by the very men with whom they find themselves playing? How hard must it be to play a one-off game as a national team, not only to coordinate movements with people with whom they have little opportunity to practice, but to cultivate a spirit of unity and camaraderie?

Judging from the conspicuous absence of tweets featuring friendly reunions between the Spain NT players from RM and FCB since they joined each other in Málaga on Monday for today's friendly match against Venezuela, I'm guessing the answer is, pretty hard :P.

RM defender Sergio Ramos pushing his National teammate Puyol after being ejected for a brutal tackle on Messi in November 2010.



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