Entering the home stretch
© AFP

While the national leagues in Europe, Mexico and Australia have barely woken up, plenty of the world's leagues are on the downhill run by now. Gremio have given themselves a headstart in the race for home in Brazil, but in Japan and USA matters continue to be a little less clear. FIFA.com previews the pick of the action.

Brasileirao: Chasing the Tricolor
Despite their first loss in 12 games at Flamengo on Thursday, Gremio still sit five points clear on top of the Brasileirao, with closest rivals Cruzeiro also suffering defeat at the hands of Botafogo in midweek. The Tricolor will certainly be expecting to bounce back in their next game, at third-from-bottom Nautico, while Botafogo, who have now moved up to joint third, will fancy their chances of extending their extraordinary winning streak at Vasco da Gama.

Big game: Two teams at opposite ends of the table have plenty to play for when Cruzeiro make the long trip down to Sao Paulo to face Santos. A Raposa will be desperate to make some ground on the runaway leaders, while Santos badly need three points to stave off relegation worries.
Player to watch: The man in the news at the moment is Atletico Paranaense's young striker Pedro Oldoni. The tall 22-year-old followed up his hat-trick against Ipatinga with another goal in Atletico's midweek loss to Sao Paulo. What price another against Atletico Mineiro?

Japanese J-League: Kashima holding on
Last weekend saw the leading pack keep perfect pace with each other; despite their 4-1 romp against Tokyo Verdy, Kashima Antlers are still only one point ahead of second-placed Urawa, and two clear of Grampus Eight of Nagoya, their opponents this weekend. Antlers, however, will not have forgotten their stunning 4-0 away triumph against Nagoya in June - and nor will their opponents. The other two clubs in the leading pack, Urawa Reds and Oita Trinita, are both at home against mid-table opposition.

Big game: The season is far from over, but already it's crunch time at Consadole Sapporo. Following three losses on the trot, the Hokkaido side face a must-win away game at fellow relegation battlers Yokohama F Marinos.
Player to watch: Brazilian striker Marquinhos notched a brace in Kashima's 4-0 demolition of Nagoya earlier in the season, and he picked up another goal last week against Verdy. Will Nagoya's nemesis strike again?

Major League Soccer: Dynamic Dynamo
Houston Dynamo have taken the Western Conference by storm, with four successive wins - and eight goals in their last two games - giving them a five-point buffer at the top. On Sunday they face another side in red-hot form: the New York Red Bulls, whose brilliant Colombian import Juan Pablo Angel has inspired them to two wins on the trot. Dynamo's closest challengers in the west, Real Salt Lake, travel to Ohio to face a Columbus side who have an agenda of their own: sneaking ahead of Steve Nicol's New England Revolution in the eastern division of the competition.

Big game: New England Revolution bounced back well from their shock 4-0 loss to San Jose last weekend with a 2-1 win over eastern neighbours DC United on Wednesday. Now, they cross the border to face a Toronto FC side who badly need a win to stay in touch in the Eastern Conference.
Player to watch: Veteran striker Ante Razov scored the winner for Chivas USA the last time they took on San Jose in a California derby. Can Chivas's trusty frontman do the damage again, for a side short on confidence at the moment?

Australian A-League: Clash of the imports
Adelaide United, with their Brazilian foursome, were the only team to take maximum points from the opening round of fixtures. But they face a tricky second test, away to Queensland Roar, who are not short of quality imports themselves: their two major off-season acquisitions, Dutch striker Sergio van Dijk and Scotsman Charlie Miller, combined for Queensland's only goal last week. Champions Newcastle, meanwhile, make the long trek over to Perth to face their bogey team.

Big game: In their last meeting in Gosford, the Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC produced a nine-goal thriller. With all their Olympic stars back and coming off unimpressive first-up performances, neither side will be holding anything back.
Player to watch: Nikita Rukavytsya had an unhappy time of it in Beijing at the point of the attack: he will want to do better in front of his adoring home fans in Perth, in a clash with the A-League champions.

Elsewhere
San Luis, the surprise early leaders in Mexico, this weekend host fourth-placed Tigres, who, like the Potosi club, are yet to be defeated in this year's Apertura. Clausura Champions Santos Laguna, meanwhile, travel to Guadalajara to face Chivas, while Cruz Azul host a Monterrey side stunned by last week's 4-2 home loss to Tecos.

While Mexico's competition is now in full swing, Uruguay's league makes its bow this weekend. Juventud host Nacional in Las Piedras in the competition curtain-raiser on Saturday, before the full round of games is completed on Sunday. In the pick of the action, Clausura champions Penarol face a Montevideo derby against Wanderers, while promoted Villa Espanola, Racing and Cerro Largo all start their campaigns on home turf, against Liverpool, River Plate and Danubio respectively.