Following the conclusion of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, football fans across the globe are turning their attention back to domestic action. Providing plenty of interest this weekend are the major leagues outside Europe, with no fewer than four derbies taking place in the Brasileirao, the leaders in China PR facing a tricky away day, and Thierry Henry taking his MLS bow.
Brasileirao: Sparks set to fly
Matchday 12 in Brazil is derby day. Paulista rivals Palmeiras and Corinthians, who currently head the table, meet in what will be Adilson Baptista’s first game in charge of O Timão following the departure of Mano Menezes, newly installed as Brazil coach. Over at the Maracana, Rio de Janeiro foes Flamengo and Vasco da Gama will be locking horns in the Clássico dos Milhões, while Atletico Mineiro take on fierce enemies Cruzeiro in Minas Gerais.
Big game: There is no love lost between Porto Alegre adversaries Internacional and Gremio. Fresh from winning the first leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final against Sao Paulo in midweek, fourth-placed Inter will be out to extend their run of four consecutive wins against city rivals Gremio, who are in desperate need of points having dropped to 18th.
Player to watch: Following an inconsistent season with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, Botafogo idol Maicosuel has been warmly welcomed back by the Fogão faithful, who are expecting great things of the midfielder, starting with this weekend’s visit to Vitoria.
Major League Soccer: All eyes on Thierry
Following Manchester United’s 5-2 defeat of the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday evening, league action returns with eight games that will be important to the outcome of the regular season. Toronto FC’s battle to wrest second place in the Eastern Conference from New York Red Bulls continues with a visit to Kansas City Wizards, while Real Salt Lake will attempt to put more distance between themselves and third-placed FC Dallas in the West when they entertain DC United.
Big game: The spotlight will be on Houston this weekend, where the visiting Red Bulls will be looking for victory over the struggling Dynamo to cut the eight-point gap that separates them from Eastern Conference leaders Columbus Crew.
Player to watch: Aside from the Red Bulls’ push for points, the showdown in Houston will also be notable for the official league debut of their French star Thierry Henry. The FIFA World Cup winner has moved to the Big Apple from Barcelona and is keen to live up to the lofty expectations his signing has generated. “I can assure you I have come here to try to win, that is the most important thing. I am a competitive person,” said an appropriately bullish Henry on his unveiling in New York.
Chinese Super League: Another big test for Shandong
After losing 2-1 in Wednesday’s top-of-the-table meeting with Shandong Luneng, Shanghai Shenhua will be hoping to get back on track at home Changsha Ginde, who are in urgent need of a win themselves to escape the relegation zone. Bottom club Nanchang Bayi, the only side below Changsha in the table, are at home to Beijing Guo’an.
Big game: Three-time Super League champions Shandong took to the summit following their victory in Shanghai. Now two points clear, the new pacesetters will have the championship credentials put to the test at Hanghzou Greentown, just one of the sides in hot pursuit of the top two.
Player to watch: With nine goals in 14 games, including a vital midweek strike, Han Peng is aiming to fire Shandong to another three points in Hangzhou.
In Mexico last season’s champions Toluca will be looking to bounce back after going down to Pumas on the opening day of the season. Los Diablos Rojos face a stiff task, however, taking on a Pachuca side in buoyant mood after putting three goals past America without reply.