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All About El Clasico! Why a Soccer Game in Spain Is Today's Biggest Event

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/David Ramos/Getty Images

The year's biggest, most glamorous football game is today, featuring the two most popular athletes on Earth.

And no, it has nothing to do with Tim Tebow.

Rather, the two titans of Spanish soccer, Barcelona and Real Madrid, will meet, led by their respective mega-stars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to renew a rivalry so rich in history and glamor that it is known globally simply as El Clasico.

If you aren't aware of El Clasico, here's four reasons why you soon will be:

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1. These Guys Are Huge—Huge! Messi and Renaldo, widely seen as the two best players on Earth, are the most famous athletes almost everywhere but in the U.S. But they are fast becoming major stars here, too. A recent ESPN survey found them to be the 16th and 24th most popular athletes in America, ahead of Dwayne Wade among others, despite that neither plays or spends time in the U.S., receive any serious coverage on American TV or even speak fluent English.

2. It's Like Manning vs. Brady: American viewers looking to choose a side might do well to view the Messi-Renaldo rivalry along the lines of the NFL's long-standing Peyton Manning-Tom Brady feud.

Messi mirrors Manning in his clean-cut image, laser-like passing and numerous product endorsements. Last week EA Sports launched its FIFA 13 video game with Messi on the cover (Snoop Dogg is in the TV campaign). In its first five days, the game sold 4.5 million copies globally, 50 percent more than last year's version and three times as many as Madden 13, EA's NFL franchise.

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Renaldo, on the other hand, cuts a Brady-like swath as soccer's best known fashion plate and paparazzi magnet. The Portuguese star never appears on- or off-field without copious hair gel, claims to spend $12,000 a month on clothes and is regularly photographed on beaches and yachts in the Maldives and St. Tropez with his girlfriend, Russian Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Irina Shayk.

Even his 2-year-old son Cristiano Jr., is an international celebrity. Renaldo paid his still-anonymous mother close to $15 million to sign over full custody and stay out of the public eye.

3. Your Kids Are Watching: According to that ESPN poll, professional soccer–both MLS and the overseas leagues of "world football"–ranks second in popularity among Americans age 12-24, ahead of the NBA, baseball and even college football.

4. A Super-Super Bowl: In the soccer universe, El Clasico is the Big Bang. Last February's Super Bowl, with two of the NFL's most popular teams, the New York Giants and Brady's New England Patriots, was the single most-watched television show in American history with 111.3 million viewers.

Two months later, Messi's Barcelona met Renaldo's Real Madrid to determine the championship of Spain's soccer league, La Liga, with an audience estimated at 400 million across the globe. 

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