Spotlight on South America

With plenty of national sides in midweek FIFA World Cup™ qualifying action, many of the world's leagues have elected to take a break this weekend. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to whet the appetite of football fans worldwide, with this year's intriguing Brasileirao reaching its climax, and the action hotting up in Argentina. There are important clashes in prospect in Peru, New Zealand and the USA as well. previews the pick of the action.

Brasileirao: Battle of the Tricolors
Things are still tight in a Brasileiro championship that has been rich in twists and turns. Sao Paulo still hold a slender two-point lead from Gremio, and will be confident of picking up three points at home to lowly Figueirense; at the same time, they will hope that the Tricolor Gaucho will find mid-table Coritiba a stumbling-block at home. Three other teams are still in with a chance of the title, but the Tricolor Paulista, facing opposition with little to play for in their final three games, must now be favourites.

Big game: Nothing but the full three points will be good enough for either Flamengo or Palmeiras to maintain their respective title challenges in the big one at the Maracana. Will Palmeiras' heads still be down after their crucial loss to Gremio, or will Vanderlei Luxemburgo's motivational skills do the trick for the Sao Paulo giants?
Player to watch: Sao Paulo striker Humberlito Borges is on fire at the moment, with three goals in his last two games for the leaders. Can he be the man to steer the paulistas to a third straight Brasileirao title?

Argentinian Apertura: Leaders to be tested
San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors remained neck-and-neck at the top with wins last weekend, but both face tricky tests this time around. Early leaders San Lorenzo are away to Newell's Old Boys, on the fringe of the leading group, while Boca are at home to similarly-placed Velez Sarsfield, who will be keen to strike back after a dispiriting home loss to Gimnasia La Plata.

Big game: All eyes will be on River Plate, in their first game under new coach Gabriel Rodriguez, as they take the short trip to Avellaneda to face Independiente. Los Millonarios showed impressive spirit in coming back from 3-0 down in Diego Simeone's last match in charge; will they be able to register their first win since August against their fellow strugglers?
Player to watch: Juan Roman Riquelme's international future may be up in the air after the dramatic arrival of Diego Maradona as coach, but he remains pivotal to the fortunes of his beloved Boca, having scored the only goal in each of Los Xeneizes' last two wins. Will he continue his run against Velez Sarsfield?

Peruvian Clausura: San Martin closing in
Universidad San Martin are within touching distance of the title, with six rounds to play. Having seen off fallen giants Alianza Lima in their last encounter, they travel south to lowly Coronel Bolognesi this weekend, knowing that a win will keep them at least six points clear of the chasing pack. To make matters even more pleasant for the leaders, second and third go head-to-head in Huaraz, as Sport Ancash play host to Sporting Cristal.

Big game: Both sides have plenty to play for when Atletico Minero host Universitario: the former are looking to stay in touch at the top, while the Apertura Champions must climb back into the top seven if they hope to contest the end-of-season final.
Player to watch: With six goals in his last four games, is Sport Ancash's Brazilian striker Ronaille Calheira the man to help them haul in San Martin and clinch an unlikely spot in next year's Copa Libertadores?

New Zealand Football Championship: While the cat's away
FIFA Club World Cup qualifiers Waitakere United made a clear statement of intent in the first round of the league, coming back from an early 2-0 deficit to see off one of their likely challengers, Team Wellington. With Waitakere's next game against Hawkes Bay United postponed due to the former's O-League commitments, the other contenders will look to steal an early march on the favourites: fellow O-League hopefuls Auckland City certainly hope to do so, but they will not have things all their own way against ambitious neighbours Waikato FC.

Big game: Buoyed by their first-up win over Canterbury, YoungHeart Manawatu will be full of confidence going into their home fixture against Team Wellington. But they will not have forgotten that the men from the capital have racked up 12 goals in their last two games against YoungHeart...
Player to watch: It was business as usual for Auckland City's inexhaustibly prolific veteran Keryn Jordan on the first weekend, as he notched his first goal of the season against Otago, to add to his O-League brace against Waitakere. Waikato FC, beware.

The wait is nearly over in the USA, as the identity of the second MLS Cup finalist will be determined on Saturday. Columbus Crew are already there, after a 2-1 win over Chicago Fire on Thursday. The New York Red Bulls, who finished a modest fifth in the Eastern Conference, caused a sensation by defeating Houston Dynamo 3-0 away from home to advance to the western playoff; Real Salt Lake will need to be at their best to counter the threat posed by Juan Pablo Angel et al.

With only 15 points separating top from bottom in Mexico after 16 rounds, no-one can deny how tightly-contested this year's Apertura has been. San Luis have maintained a two-point lead, but they face a tough test on the weekend, away to Toluca, who have now gone four games without conceding a goal. Second-placed Pumas UNAM are also on the road, but should feel more confident of netting three points against struggling Monterrey.