With an action-packed 2008 drawing to a close, excitement is building across the Americas with a host of national championships nearing their conclusion. In a slight change to our format this week, FIFA.com provides a more comprehensive look at the imminent drama on there, while still casting our eye across the rest of planet football to preview the pick of the action there.
South America: Time to deliver
We start our tour in Chile, where Palestino are aiming to end a 30-year title drought at the expense of Colo Colo in the second leg of Clausura final. If they are to upset the odds at the Estadio Monumental this Saturday and claim what would only be the third league crown of their history, the Tetracolores will have to do it the hard way, having drawn the home leg 1-1. To make matters worse, the visitors will be without both keeper Felipe Nunez and defender Roberto Bishara following their red cards in the first leg.
After their 1-0 win in the first leg of the championship final, America de Cali are favourites to seize their 13th league title this Sunday in Colombia. A Victor Cortes goal was enough to settle the first leg away to Independiente de Medellin, who now need a big performance at Cali's Estadio Pascual Guerrero to have a shot at overturning the deficit.
The penultimate matchday in Uruguay's Apertura promises nothing if not drama, with four clubs still in the title race. Leaders Nacional showed they were not immune to the pressure on Wednesday with an untimely 2-0 reverse by River Plate, although second-placed Danubio failed to take full advantage, only managing a 2-2 draw with Central Espanol. The leading pair, with 29 points apiece, remain favourites to lift the trophy ahead of their games this Sunday against Central Espanol and Penarol respectively. Also in the mix are Racing and Defensor. Just two points behind the leaders, the pair will be holding nothing back against Montevideo Wanderers and Juventud respectively.
San Lorenzo drew first blood in the three-way play-off for Apertura gold in Argentina on Wednesday, with a 2-1 win over Tigre in the opening game. The last time three teams had to play off for the title there was in 1968, when Velez Sarsfield came through against River Plate and Racing Club.
The big game: Boca Juniors-San Lorenzo. The Argentinian showdown has all the hall marks of a final. With a win on Saturday at the Estadio de Racing Club, El Ciclón can claim their 11th league title, while any other result would mean waiting for the outcome of the Boca-Tigre fixture next Wednesday. Los Xeneizes will not be lacking in confidence ahead of tomorrow's tie, however, having beaten their opponents 1-0 on Matchday 13.
Player to watch: Striker Lucas Barrios will be hoping to claim his first Chilean league title with Colo Colo this weekend and set a new club record for good measure. The Argentinian is only two goals short of equalling the record for most goals scored by an Albo player in one year: 37, netted by Luis Hernan Alvarez in 1963.
Central America: Laurels at the ready
In Guatemala, Comunicaciones hold the advantage over Municipal going into the second leg of their league championship final this Sunday. Goals from Rolando Fonseca and Iverton Paez gave Los Cremas a 2-1 win to set up a fascinating return leg at the Estadio Mateo Flores.
Meanwhile, in El Salvador, Isidro Metapan and Chalatenango face off this Sunday at the Estadio Cuscatlan in the final of the country's Apertura. The decider sees the Clausura 2007 champions from Metapan go in search of only their second league title against a Chalatenango side whose best league finish to date was last year's run to the semi-finals.
The big game: Alajuelense ended a 20-match winless streak against arch-rivals Deportivo Saprissa last Wednesday, with a 2-0 win in the first leg of Costa Rica's league final. In the away leg on Saturday, they will be hoping to maintain that advantage and prevent El Monstruo Morado from making it four league titles in a row.
Player to watch: The Costa Rican Rolando Fonseca is enjoying a rich vein of form after netting four times in the semi-final against Xelaju and again in the first leg of the Guatemalan league final. Can the striker find the target again tomorrow and end a four-year title drought for Comunicaciones?
New Zealand: Back to the grindstone
Three clubs, Auckland, Waikato and Manawatu, share top spot with nine points after five fixtures. However, just two behind are Waitakere United with two games in hand due to their FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 involvement. The Oceania champions take on Manawatu this Sunday.
The big game: Auckland face a tough assignment this weekend when they make the long trip to Canterbury. Complicating matters for the capital side is the absence of three key players - namely Sam Campbell, Milos Nikolic and Jonathan Raj - who have been on international duty for New Zealand's U-20s at the OFC Championship in Tahiti.
Player to watch: To compensate, Auckland will be able to hand a league debut to defender Xavi Mateo. An injury picked up on Oceania Champions League duty has hitherto prevented the former Espanyol player from gracing the domestic scene.
At the halfway stage in the South African Premiership, there is still very little separating the sides at the top end of the table. Leaders Supersport United remain just two points clear of their closest pursuers, Ajax Cape Town, and three ahead of third-placed Golden Arrows. The defending champions will be keen to protect their lead when they take on Santos this weekend, while Ajax and Golden Arrows go up against Mamelodi Sundowns and Bay United respectively.