BARCELONA // The biggest, most glamorous game on the planet just got grander and more alluring. There is not a match in world football which attracts as many fans as Barcelona v Real Madrid.
The 98,600 lucky enough to have tickets from the game in Camp Nou (who will hold up cards which will form a spectacular Barca mosaic) will not be alone in watching the most eagerly anticipated match in Spanish football.
A global television audience of more than 400 million will tune in to see a Barca side packed with Spain's World Cup winners take on the league leaders Real, led by Jose Mourinho.
The former Barca assistant manager describes himself as public enemy No 1 in Barcelona, but the Catalans considered signing him as coach before appointing Josep Guardiola in 2008. Mourinho will be jeered, but he is unlikely to get the same vicious reception afforded to Luis Figo, the winger who swapped Barca for Real.
"Figo betrayed Barcelona, he was a traitor," Joan Gaspart, the former Barca president, said. "Mourinho didn't, so the Camp Nou will treat him normally."
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's best two players and leading scorers in Spain, will also go head-to-head. Both have been in outstanding form, but Messi has never scored or managed an assist in his seven appearances against teams managed by Mourinho.
The game will be played on a Monday for the first time because of Catalan elections on Sunday and the demands of the television companies who lavish more revenue on the two Spanish leviathans than any other clubs in world football.
The shift from the usual Saturday night prime-time slot has proved unpopular with fans, but they will still turn up. And, of the 1,000 fans who had booked weekend trips with one official Barca travel agency, just 10 people cancelled.
The cheapest black market tickets are going for €450 (Dh2,250), five times face value.
Nobody wants to miss out on a game which will go a long way to deciding the Primera Liga title.
Barca are slight favourites. They are the reigning champions and have won the last four clashes between the two clubs. Defeat is not an option for the Catalans who trail Real by a point - indeed they have only won the Spanish title once after losing the clasico at home. But Real are confident.
"Both teams are in great form and good moods," said Sergio Ramos, Real's Spain defender. "It will be a difficult game but I think we will win this year. This Madrid is a team with new players, with ambition and, above all, wanting to leave an impact."
Not surprisingly, Ramos - who, along with Xabi Alonso, has been charged by Uefa with getting himself deliberately sent off in Tuesday's Champions League match against Ajax match so that he could wipe clean his disciplinary record and play in the last 16 -knows who the danger man is.
"Barcelona are a team full of good players, like Iniesta or Xavi," Ramos said. "But if I could remove anyone, it would be Leo Messi."
Barca will change their attacking 4-3-3 formation for nobody. They have completed an astonishing 1,059 more passes than any other team across the top five European leagues so far this season and, as Sergio Busquets, the midfielder, said, "We have to press high, but keep possession and do our passing game with triangles and one-twos."
The Barcelona-born Spanish international knows that Real offer a stiffer challenge: "With Mourinho, Real Madrid have become more of a team, but if we play our game we should be able to win."
midnight Monday, Aljazeera +2
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Barcelona v Real Madrid midnight