It is crunch time in a clutch of the world’s major leagues outside of European shores this weekend, with the identities of this year’s MLS finalists set to be revealed and crucial encounters in the Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican and Japanese championship races. There is also a look at USA, South Africa and Australia as FIFA.com brings you its customary look at the action ahead over the coming days.
Brasileirao: Tight margins at the top
With four matchdays remaining, leaders Fluminense have a golden opportunity to cement their place at the top of the table when welcoming second-bottom Goias to Rio de Janeiro. Flu will also be keeping one eye on the clash between Corinthians and Cruzeiro, given both teams are just a point off the summit. In the race for a place in the 2011 Copa Libertadores, fourth-placed Botafogo could only manage a 2-2 draw away to Caera on Wednesday despite a brace from Uruguay’s Sebastian Abreu. That result means sixth-placed Gremio, who visit already qualified Copa do Brasil winners Santos (7th), and fifth-placed Atletico-PR, who host Gremio Prudente, can both go level with Bota on 56 points with a win.
High stakes: In second and third respectively, there can be little doubt that the result of Corinthians-Cruzeiro could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the title race.
Players to watch: Back after a month on the sidelines through injury, can Fluminense’s big-name stars Deco and Fred slot back into the side without affecting the leaders’ recent good form?
Japanese J.League: Grampus holding all the aces
Boasting an eight-point lead with only 15 to play for, Nagoya Grampus Eight can take another giant stride towards a first J.League title with a home win over relegation-threatened Omiya Ardija. Gamba Osaka, ten points behind the leaders in third, take on eighth-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their bid to remain on course for a berth in the next edition of the AFC Champions League.
High stakes: Chasing the same goal are Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale, second and fourth respectively, who meet in Kawasaki on Sunday. The pressure is on the home side who, if the season finished today, would miss out on a Champions League spot.
Player to watch: In fifth and just two points behind city rivals Gamba, newly promoted Cerezo Osaka will be looking to eight-goal Brazilian forward Adriano to fire them to a place in next year’s Champions League.
Mexican Apertura: Seven into three won't go
The final matchday of the regular season has seven teams vying for just three remaining places in the title-deciding Liguilla. With their fate in their own hands are Tigres, Pachuca and Jaguares, who visit Atlas, Necaxa and Queretaro respectively. Keeping a close eye on these results will be Guadalajara, Monarcas Morelia, Pumas UNAM and reigning champions Toluca.
High stakes: Despite having already secured their involvement in the eight-team Liguilla, a win for Club America at home to Pumas UNAM would move them up the overall standings and dash the hopes of their long-standing rivals in the process. Indeed, only by taking all three points will Los Universitarios have any chance of reaching La Liguilla.
Players to watch: Thanks to his 14 goals so far, Cristian Benitez of Santos Laguna and Ecuador is four clear of closest rival Humberto ‘El Chupete’ Suazo in the race for the Apertura 2010 top scorers’ title. Will Monterrey’s Chilean hitman have closed that gap after the weekend’s games?
Argentinian Apertura: Superclásico drawing the focus
Six matchdays from the end of the season, the Apertura 2010 championship looks to be between leaders Estudiantes de La Plata and closest pursuers Velez Sarsfield, who are three points behind. Both teams face testing encounters this weekend with first-placed El Pincha visiting always dangerous Tigre and El Fortín hosting unpredictable Lanus, who themselves had appeared to be in the title running until three matchdays ago. Third-place Arsenal, for their part, are three points behind Velez and host Apertura surprise packages All Boys, 1-0 victors over River Plate last time out.
High stakes: Though both are marooned in mid-table, the eyes of football followers in Argentina and beyond will be drawn to the 187th edition of El Superclásico between Buenos Aires giants River Plate and Boca Juniors. Intriguingly, the match will be the first at the helm for Los Millonarios’ new coach Juan Jose Lopez, who defended the colours of both clubs during his playing days.
Player to watch: Scorer of a record 15 goals for Boca against River, can Martin ‘El Loco’ Palermo extend his tally for Los Xeneizes and deepen their bitter rivals’ relegation concerns?
This weekend’s games will supply the identity of the two finalists in the United States MLS, with the title decider to be played on 21 November. Set to take on FC Dallas in the Western Conference final, David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy are favourites to progress but the Eastern Conference showpiece looks altogether less predictable. San Jose Earthquakes cross swords with Colorado Rapids, in a meeting of the two sides with the lowest regular-season points tallies to have qualified for the play-offs.
In the South African ABSA Premiership it is the Soweto derby between Orlando Pirates (6th) and Kaizer Chiefs (2nd) that takes top billing, with the Pirates able to overtake their visitors in the standings with a win. Leaders Mamelodi Sundowns, who are four points clear after seven matchdays, travel to Bidvest Wits University (8th) while third-placed Ajax Cape Town travel to struggling Free State Stars (13th).
Finally we turn to Australia’s A-League, where pace-setters Brisbane Roar must travel to take on a solid Melbourne Heart side (5th). Adelaide United, currently a point shy of the leaders, face a theoretically easier trip to bottom side Newcastle Jets while third-placed Central Coast Mariners visit Wellington Phoenix (7th).