A trophy will be lifted in Honduras and champions could also be crowned in Argentina, India and Morocco this weekend. With the domestic league kicking off in Brazil, the second legs of play-off quarter-finals taking place in Mexico, and part one of the decider unfolding in Costa Rica, as well as important games in the USA, China PR, Korea Republic and Nigeria, FIFA.com previews the best of the forthcoming action outside Europe.
Argentinian Clausura: Penultimate hurdle in two-team race
Estudiantes head Argentinos Juniors by a point heading into the penultimate round of what is, effectively, a two-horse sprint for the line. Los Pincharratas, who reached the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals despite fielding a reserve side against San Luis on Wednesday, will charge Juan Sebastian Veron and Mauro Boselli with downing relegation-threatened Rosario Central, while Los Bichos Colorados, for whom Ismael Sosa has been firing on all cylinders, will welcome Independiente, five points off the pace in fourth, to the Estadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Godoy Cruz, in third, will host Colon on Monday.
High stakes: Racing Club, who need just a point to avoid a relegation play-off at the expense of Rosario, are at home to a River Plate team seeking their first away win in over three months in what is Argentina’s oldest fixture.
Players to watch: Tigre’s Carlos Luna and Ramon Ramirez of Banfield are respectively one and two goals shy off the competition’s joint-leading marksmen, Boselli and Boca Juniors icon Martin Palermo. Can they improve their tallies when El Matador entertain El Taladro?
Brasileirao: Wide-open marathon under starter’s orders
Santos may have avoided relegation into the second tier by only four points last term, but they will begin this season as the team to beat. The newly-crowned Paulista kings, who boast an exhilarating attacking trident of Paulo Henrique Ganso, Robinho and Neymar, visit their Carioca counterparts Botafogo on Saturday.
Reigning champions Flamengo, spearheaded by an Adriano-Vagner Love tandem, will host a Sao Paulo team from whom they wrestled the crown, while in-form Gaucho kings Gremio will visit promoted Atletico Goianiense.
High stakes: Internacional will entertain Cruzeiro in a duel between sides with genuine title aspirations.
Players to watch: Atletico Mineiro will entrust Ricardinho and Diego Tardelli with getting them off to a winning start, while flair-conscious playmakers Philippe Coutinho and Carlos Alberto will attempt to help Vasco make a successful return to the top flight.
Mexican Bicentenario: Semi spots at stake
Monarcas beat Guadalajara 4-2 in their quarter-final, first leg as Santos Laguna defeated Pumas 2-0, but the two losers will count on home advantage as they look to overturn two-goal deficits.
Reigning Apertura champions Monterrey, who cruised into the play-offs with the best record from the regular season, will look to reverse a 1-0 defeat at home to a Pachuca outfit that recently won their third CONCACAF Champions League in four editions.
High stakes: Toluca and America, two of Mexico’s biggest clubs, drew 2-2 in their first leg in the latter’s Estadio Azteca, leaving their tie very much in the balance.
Players to watch: Pachuca playmaker Damian Alvarez, his Monterrey counterpart Neri Cardozo, Guadalajara sharpshooter Omar Bravo and veteran striker Jared Borgetti of Monarcas could have a big say in the outcome of their employers’ ties.
American Major League Soccer: Away tests for conference leaders
Nineteen points from a possible 21 is what has established Los Angeles Galaxy as the early favourites for gold. Next up for Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and Co is a journey to Seattle Sounders, who rest fifth in the Western Conference, ten points beneath Bruce Arena’s team, and boast the invention of Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero.
Chivas USA and Houston Dynamo, third and second respectively in the same section, will square off, while Eastern Conference pacesetters New York Red Bulls visit San Jose Earthquakes.
High stakes: FC Dallas and DC United both pocketed their first victories of the campaign on Wednesday and will now collide in a duel between the two conference tailenders.
Players to watch: Dwayne De Rosario has scored six of Toronto FC’s seven goals this campaign, while Patrick Nyarko has pulled the strings for Chicago Fire. Their performances could be crucial to the outcome of this face-off between sixth and third in the East.
Korean K-League: Tight at the top
Three teams are level on points at the summit and, with Gyeongnam inactive, FC Seoul and Ulsan Horangi will hit the road with the regular season approaching its midway point. Kim Ho-Gon’s troops are at rock-bottom fallen giants Suwon Bluewings, while the capital outfit, top on goal difference and with a game in hand on their two closest rivals, visit an Incheon United side just five points beneath them following two impressive away victories.
Seongnam Chunma, in fifth, could also finish the weekend in pole position if they beat ninth-placed Chunnam Dragons and other results go their way.
High stakes: Fourth-placed Jeju United, spearheaded by the in-form Lee Sang-Hyup, visit a Pohang Steelers team that finished third at December’s FIFA Club World Cup but are looking for their first win in eight attempts.
Players to watch: Yoo Byung-Soo, who is nicknamed ‘The Incheon Ronaldo’ after the Portuguese mega-star, has hit nine goals in his last four games, while Seoul’s Dejan Damjanovic finished as the K-League’s second-top scorer in each of the past three campaigns.
A commanding performance from Johnny Palacios and two goals from Roger Rojas inspired Olimpia to a 3-1 reverse of Motagua in part one of the Honduran Clausura decider. However, Las Águilas Azules, who boast the genius of Georgie Welcome and Marcelo Cabrita, are a formidable side on their own turf and remain confident they can emerge triumphant on Sunday, when the first leg of the Costa Rican Verano will pit underdogs San Carlos against giants Saprissa.
Chinese Super League leaders Shandong Luneng will host Beijing Guo'an, one point back in fourth, on Friday, before second-placed Shanghai Shenhua entertain sixth-placed Liaoning Hunyong the following day. Shenzhen Ruby, in third largely thanks to the form of Vyacheslav Hleb, will visit an Aleksander Rodic-spearheaded Qingdao Jonoon team that has drawn its opening six games on Sunday.
Defending champions Churchill Brothers, 15 points off the pace with five games left to play, need to beat fifth-placed Mohun Bagan on Friday to keep the Indian I-League title race alive. However, even if they do manage victory, Dempo will need just a point at relegation-haunted Shillong Lajong on Sunday to secure the trophy their Goa rivals wrested from them last year.
The top two in the Nigerian Premier League both face home games against tough opposition in Round 31 of 38: Kano Pillars take on fourth-placed Enugu Rangers, while Enyimba, one point back but with two games in hand, face sixth-placed Warri Wolves.
Three teams remain in the hunt for the Moroccan Botola crown, and two will collide when El Jadida host a table-topping WAC Casablanca two points to their north in the penultimate round. Raja Casablanca, who are sandwiched between the two aforementioned, will try for a first win in three matches at home to a resurgent OC Safi, who would likely escape the relegation zone with victory.