Brazil saw a clutch of local kings crowned in the pulsating state championships, including Neymar’s high-flying Santos, while national championships were also celebrated in Honduras and Costa Rica. Pumas UNAM and Morelia are into the Clausura final in Mexico as River Plate stumbled in the Buenos Aires superclásico and LA Galaxy flexed their star-power muscle in Major League Soccer.
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Major League Soccer: Stars align on both coasts
Los Angeles Galaxy’s stars justified their billing at the weekend, with David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel both getting on the scoresheet and Landon Donovan grabbing two goals in three minutes in a 4-1 rout of Sporting Kansas City to move top of the scoring charts. That comprehensive victory puts the Southern California glamour boys three points clear of FC Dallas at the top of the Western Conference and one step closer to a first MLS title since 2005. “I was due one,” said Beckham, 36, of the trademark free-kick which revived nostalgic echoes of his glory days in Manchester and Madrid. “I've had a few chances this year,” added the former England captain as he hunts a first title in his fifth - and likely final - season in a stop-start turn on American soil.
New York Red Bulls – the big-name side on the opposite coast – remain top of the East despite losing 3-2 to Chivas USA, the other side from LA. Former France and Arsenal ace Thierry Henry, sporting a new beard, scored the Bulls’ first, becoming third-top scorer in the league. The last five MLS titles have been claimed by teams conspicuously devoid of high-profile stars and long on collective depth and grit (Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake, Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo). Could 2011 bring a sea change? Only time and consistent form will tell.
Brazilian state championships: Familiarity breeds excitement
Simmering local rivalries came to a boil all over Brazil as a number of State Championships culminated in final second-legs. Santos, who are busy in the pan-South American Copa Libertadores, managed to keep their focus on being crowned Paulista kings as they bested Corinthians 2-1 for their second straight state title, with rising starlet Neymar leading the way. In Minas Gerais, Atletico Mineiro failed to capitalise on their 1-0 lead from the first leg and their bitter rivals Cruzeiro made them pay, drawing level through Wallysson after 75 minutes and sealing Raposa joy four minutes from time when 35-year-old veteran Gilberto had his say.
Despite all the heated local derbies, no supporters came away as bewildered or thrilled by Sunday’s action as those of Gremio and Internacional after a genuine thriller at the Estadio Olimpico. Inter were on the verge of celebrating the title with a 3-1 comeback win when Borges pounced on a howler by goalkeeper Renan to score Gremio’s second with nine minutes left, forcing penalties. The goalkeeper made up for his error in style with three saves in the shootout that secured the sweetest of victories for Internacional at their arch-rivals' home ground.
Mexican Clausura: Pumas, Morelia remain
Pumas UNAM and Morelia will meet to decide the Mexican championship after both sides came through their semi-final play-off series unscathed. Mexico City-based Pumas, who have been the team to beat all season long with their stylish brand of play, had Javier Cortes and Dante Lopez to thank for their 2-0 win over Chivas at home (3-1 on aggregate). The contest was full of incident and a number of cards were produced, but in the end Pumas’ class won out. They will meet Morelia in the final series after Los Monarcas beat Cruz Azul 3-0 (3-2 on aggregate). Down 2-0 from the first leg, Rafael Marquez Lugo proved the hero for freewheeling Morelia, scoring twice in a dramatic turnaround.
Argentinian Apertura: A Superclasico with consequences
Boca Juniors savoured a 2-0 win over their arch-rivals River Plate on Sunday at a lively Bombonera. The result might leave River – the so-called Millionarios – heading for the breadline, only just out of the overall relegation picture with five rounds to go. Boca hero Martin Palermo, who will retire next month, scored the second goal of this feisty contest, sealing his status as an eternal Boca icon in his last clash with the old enemy.
The result also leaves Boca Juniors just six points behind league leaders Velez Sarsfield, who were beaten 3-2 by Lanus. The result was a shock to the in-form pace setters, who saw their 11-game unbeaten streak come to an end despite leading twice in the game. Their failure to kill off the contest means they are now just one point ahead of Godoy Cruz and four better off than Lanus, with a total of seven teams within six points of knocking them off their perch.
Penarol dropped points for the second match on the trot, losing out to a Jonathan Ramirez-inspired River Plate 4-1 on Sunday in Uruguay. The loss sees their Montevideo arch-rivals Nacional – the team that beat them last week – keep hold of first place with 25 points from 11 games, one better than Defensor Sporting who have played a game less.
Nacional are still on top in Paraguay despite losing 2-1 to Libertad. Olimpia’s dour 0-0 draw with fourth-place Tacuary sees them close the gap on the leaders to two points with the season entering the crucial final stretch.
Alajuelense picked up the title in Costa Rica with a 1-0 win over San Carlos in the second-leg of their final series. Leading 1-0 from the first leg, Los Rojinegros’ passionate fans were finally able to celebrate their 26th Tico title when Kevin Sancho slammed home in the 80th minute at the Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto
Motagua were crowned champions of Honduras after their 3-1 win over rivals Olimpia saw them win out in the two-legged championship decider 5-2. It is the 12th national title for the so-called Blue Cylcone from Tegucigalpa.