While Europe’s major leagues are still at a relatively early stage, title races are already coming to a head in Brazil, Argentina, the USA, Japan, Korea Republic and Mexico. As ever, FIFA.com is on hand to preview the pick of the domestic action from across the globe, ahead of a crucial weekend for those in the hunt for silverware.
Brasileirao: Three teams still in the hunt
With just three matchdays to go there is still very little to separate the teams at the top of the Brazilian national championship. However, Corinthians will fancy their chances given their one-point lead over closest chasers Fluminense and the morale boost provided by last week’s 1-0 victory over fellow contenders Cruzeiro – now just two points behind Flu in third. Since the arrival of coach Tite, O Timão, celebrating their centenary year, are unbeaten in five games and a win this weekend away to relegation-threatened Vitoria would bring Brasileirao success a significant step closer.
High stakes: Held to a disappointing home draw by Goias last time out, coach Muricy Ramalho’s Flu need to bounce back away to a Sao Paulo side with little to play for this campaign. And though O Tricolor Paulista are Corinthians’ arch-rivals, they are unlikely to make life easy for former boss Ramalho.
Players to watch: Shouldering much of the burden for Gremio and Atletico-PR’s hopes of a 2011 Copa Libertadores spot are Jonas and Paulo Baier respectively. With the two sides set to clash in Porto Alegre on Saturday, the visitors hold a two-point advantage in the standings, but it is 21-goal divisional top scorer Jonas who has enjoyed by far the most prolific campaign.
Argentinian Apertura: Tight at the top
Beaten 2-1 at Tigre last weekend, joint leaders Estudiantes La Plata need to bounce back with victory over Huracan to keep-their title dreams on track. Velez Sarsfield, also on 30 points but ahead of El Pincha on goal difference, visit Estudiantes’ relegation-threatened neighbours Gimnasia La Plata. Five points further back in third are Arsenal, who visit a Boca Juniors side in turmoil after 16 November’s 1-0 superclásico defeat by River Plate and the subsequent resignation of coach Claudio Borghi.
High stakes: San Lorenzo versus River Plate has all the ingredients of a high-tension tussle, particularly given the latter’s battle against relegation – decided by teams’ points average over the last three years. Adding further spice is the fact that San Lorenzo boss Ramon Diaz, successful as both a player and coach at River, has been touted to retake the helm at Los Millonarios in 2011.
Player to watch: Banfield supremo Julio Falcioni, who is among the favourites to be appointed Boca’s new coach, will be keen to finish on a high by guiding El Taladro to a Libertadores berth. Victory this weekend away to sixth-placed Godoy Cruz, two points and three places ahead of Banfield, is a must.
Mexican Apertura: Favourites eyeing semi-final spot
While in Brazil and Argentina, glory will go to the team with most points, in Mexico the trophy is decided by the end-of-season play-offs. La Liguilla kicked off this week with Cruz Azul, who boasted the best regular-season record, beating Pumas UNAM 2-1 away from home in their first-leg meeting to take a giant stride towards the semi-finals. Club America drew 0-0 at San Luis and, given their superior regular-season record, another draw this weekend would see them through. Monterrey and Santos Laguna are also favourites to progress after 1-1 first-leg draws away to Pachuca and Jaguares respectively.
High stakes: Despite the goalless final scoreline, there was no shortage of excitement or scoring opportunities in the San Luis-America first leg. Fans can expect another entertaining encounter this weekend at Las Águilas’ Estadio Azteca, particularly given the visitors need to win to reach the last four.
Player to watch: Fresh from topping the regular-season scorers’ charts with 14 goals and firing a brace in his country’s 4-1 thrashing of Venezuela, Ecuadorian attacker Cristian Benitez would love to continue his purple patch when his club Santos Laguna entertain Jaguares this weekend.
Japanese J-League: One hand on the title
Eight points clear with just four matches remaining, Nagoya Grampus Eight are within touching distance of their first J-League crown. Moreover, their next encounter is away to already-relegated Shonan Bellmare, who are without a win in ten games. Second-placed Kashima Antlers will be rooting for the underdogs, while focusing on taking three points themselves at Vissel Kobe.
High stakes: Though Gamba Osaka still have a mathematical chance of finishing first, their ten-point gap from Nagoya means nothing short of a miracle will do. A more realistic aim is cementing third spot and AFC Champions League qualification, though this weekend they face tough opposition in Urawa Red Diamonds and their prolific Brazilian forward Edmilson, currently second in the division’s scorers’ charts. The two sides are also set to meet in the quarter-finals of the Emperor’s Cup on 25 December.
Player to watch: An integral figure in Nagoya’s title push and one clear of Edmilson in the J-League scorers’ standings, will rangy Australian target man Joshua Kennedy add to his 16-goal tally against the top flight’s bottom side?
In the USA, FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids are set to go head-to-head on Sunday in Toronto to decide the year’s MLS champions, which would be a first for both teams. Buoyed by their emphatic victory over Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference final, the Texan outfit will be looking for another outstanding display from Colombian midfield man David Ferreira - one of three candidates for the 2010 Major League Soccer MVP award. However, have opponents Colorado, who needed a late surge just to reach the play-offs, also peaked at the right time?
Over in Australia, A-League pace-setters Brisbane Roar have a good chance to extend their two-point lead at the top of the table when they take on bottom side North Queensland Fury. Closest chasers Adelaide United, for their part, won 2-0 at fifth-placed Melbourne Heart on Friday to keep up the pressure on the leaders.
Finally we turn to Korea Republic, where there are two matches in the first round of the K-League championship play-offs this weekend. Holders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors host Gyeongnam FC, while Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, fresh from winning the AFC Champions League, visit Ulsan Hyundai Horangi.