While Europe’s clubs take a break for the latest round of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, the action continues in the world’s other major leagues. And as FIFA.com reveals in its customary preview, there is an exciting weekend in prospect, with the top two in Brazil going head to head and the pressure cranking up on the leading sides in Argentina, Mexico and Korea Republic.
Brasileirao: Raposa on a roll
Cruzeiro were the big winners in the midweek games, leaving the outcome of the Brazilian championship race on a knife-edge. Moving into second place after victory at Goias on Thursday, A Raposa can claim the summit if they beat leaders Fluminense at home this Sunday. Though they still have a game in hand, Corinthians are now three points adrift of Fluzão after two draws and two defeats in their last four matches; the poor run of form makes a home win against relegation-threatened Atletico Goianense imperative.
High stakes: No side is in better form than Cruzeiro, who have closed the gap on the leaders in recent weeks and now have the summit in their sights following that win over Goias and Fluminense’s 3-0 defeat to Santos in the week. With games running out, Sunday’s meeting between the leading duo will have a big bearing on the final outcome, with fellow title candidates Corinthians hoping the two sides above them cancel each other out.
Player to watch: Ensconced in the relegation zone earlier in the season, fast-improving Gremio are now gunning for a Copa Libertadores place. Their revival is due in no small part to the league’s top scorer Jonas, who has hit 17 goals so far, putting him within striking distance of his current coach Renato Gaucho on the list of the club’s all-time leading marksmen.
Argentinian Apertura: Estudiantes out to steal a march
Estudiantes can open up an eight-point lead if they overcome Olimpo on Friday. Welcoming Juan Sebastian Veron back into the side, El Pincha will be confident of extending their three-match winning streak, achieved without conceding a single goal. Leading the chasing group are Arsenal and Velez Sarsfield, who take on Banfield and Colon respectively, while Newell’s Old Boys in fourth will be aiming to stay in touch when they host Quilmes.
High stakes: In the weekend’s big derby, Avellaneda rivals Independiente and Racing Club meet for the 176th time. Currently stuck in the bottom half of the table, Independiente will be unveiling their new coach Antonio Mohamed, while Racing will be out to maintain their upward curve following two wins and a draw.
Men to watch: The plights of Boca Juniors and River Plate have hardly been helped by the suspensions handed out to both their coaches. Claudio Borghi will be absent from the Boca dugout when they meet Tigre, and River supremo Angel Cappa will sit out the first game of a three-match ban when his charges entertain bottom club Gimnasia y Esgrima.
Mexican Apertura: Favourites face off
Fresh from ending their derby curse against America, Cruz Azul must now consolidate their lead in the overall standings away to Group 2 pacesetters Toluca. Lying just two points behind Los Cementeros are Monterrey - the only unbeaten team in the competition - who visit America, while Santos Laguna, just a point adrift of Los Rayados in Group 1, are at Monarcas Morelia.
High stakes: Winners of eight of their first ten games, Cruz Azul boast the most prolific attack in the land, along with Santos Laguna, and the second-tightest defence after Monarcas. Sunday’s opponents Toluca have recovered from a slow start to hit the front in Group 2, and though they lost at Santos last week, the reigning champions have been in solid form at home lately.
Player to watch: Cristian Benitez has been banging the goals in for Santos, hitting 11 in the opening ten games of the season. Breathing down the Ecuadorian striker’s neck in the national scoring charts is Chilean goal machine Humberto Suazo, who has nine to his name so far.
Korean K-League: Eight in a row for Jeju?
The finish line is nearing fast in the K-League, with Jeju United having taken a stranglehold on proceedings after seven straight wins. Inspired by the goals of strike pairing Kim Eun-Jung and Junior Santos, Jeju are four points clear of the pack with an away day at mid-table Gangwon to come on Saturday. Nine points off the pace with a game in hand, Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are eyeing a morale-boosting win at Busan ahead of the return leg of their AFC Champions League semi-final against Al Shabab.
High stakes: Second plays third as Seoul take on Gyeongnam. With so much riding on the outcome, defeat could prove terminal to the losers’ championship hopes, while a draw will further neither side’s cause.
Player to watch: Yoo Byung-Soo, aka the “Cristiano Ronaldo of Incheon”, has been in sparkling form this season, scoring 17 goals in 21 outings, nearly half his team’s tally of 36.
Los Angeles Galaxy moved closer to the American Major League Soccer Western Conference title after Edson Buddle fired them to a 1-0 win over Philadelphia Union on Thursday. In the battle for second place, current occupants Real Salt Lake visit Eastern leaders New York Red Bulls, and FC Dallas are at home to Colorado Rapids.
In Saturday’s big clásico in Uruguay Penarol defend their position at the summit at home to the in-form River Plate, who will have to make to do without top goalscorer Pablo Olivera following his dismissal at Danubio last week.