Rio derby tops global bill

This weekend brings to an end a month's break for the Chinese Super League, a period during which the entire nation was focused on hosting this year's Olympic Games. Over in Brazil, fans in the footballing hotbed of Rio de Janeiro are preparing for a Carioca clássico between Flamengo and Fluminense. With big matches also taking place in Argentina, Korea Republic, South Africa and the looks ahead to the action.

Argentinian Apertura: Boca off to a flyer
Buenos Aires giants Boca Juniors are shaping up to be the team to beat this campaign, boasting a 100 per cent record so far and a midweek South American Super Cup win over compatriots Arsenal. This latest continental success, which took Boca level with AC Milan on 18 international trophies apiece, should ensure morale in the Xeneize camp is buoyant ahead of this weekend's trip to Huracan. And though Tigre and Colon, set to travel to San Martin and Newell's Old Boys respectively, currently top the standings, Juan Roman Riquelme and Co have a game in hand.

The big match: River Plate-San Lorenzo is about more than just three points. Clausura 2008 winners River, defeated last time out, welcome El Ciclón determined to exact revenge for their dramatic last-16 exit in this year's Copa Libertadores. Leading 2-0 at home in the second leg, Los Millonarios allowed ten-man San Lorenzo to score twice and snatch a 4-3 aggregate win.
Player to watch: Having decided against bringing in another striker to replace the talismanic Martin Palermo, expected to be out for six months through injury, the spotlight has fallen on Boca's 21-year-old Lucas Viatri. Will the youngster be able to fill El Loco's sizeable shooting boots?

Brasileirão: Rio beating to Fla-Flu drum
Even in a football-crazy nation like Brazil, the derby clash between Rio rivals Flamengo and Fluminense, particularly when staged in the mythical Maracana stadium, gets the pulse racing like few others. Leaders Gremio, meanwhile, take on Vasco da Gama focused on protecting their five-point lead from second-placed Palmeiras, who visit Atletico Paranaense. Struggling Santos, winners last weekend, visit Sao Paulo aiming for another three points to help move clear of the drop zone.

The big match: The Fla-Flu clássico will send Rio shuddering to a standstill for 90 minutes this Sunday, with a carnival atmosphere expected throughout the pre-match build-up. "I've dreamed of playing in a Fla-Flu match since I was a boy," said Fluminense striker Washington, set to appear in the encounter for the first time.
Players to watch: Just back from Beijing 2008 with an Olympic bronze medal round his neck, Fluminense star Thiago Neves faces a high-tempo return to domestic league action. Strongly rumoured to be the subject of an imminent move to European football, the attacking midfielder has shaken off the speculation to put in some sparkling training-ground displays and looks in top form for Sunday's showdown. Meanwhile, Flamengo forward Marcelinho Paraiba has vowed to dye his hair red and black especially for the match.

American Major League Soccer: Tensions running high
While Western Conference leaders Houston Dynamo have opened up a comfortable five-point gap over closest pursuers Real Salt Lake, it is much tighter at the top over in the Eastern Conference. New England Revolution, who host Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday, are in first place on goal difference from Columbus Crew, who travel to FC Dallas. Just two points behind the leading pair are Chicago Fire, who visit in-form Houston.

The big match: Having appeared in the changeover ceremony that officially handed the Olympic baton from Beijing 2008 to London 2012, David Beckham returns to MLS action with his side mired in a run of nine games without a win. Can the midfielder get Galaxy back on the victory trail this weekend?
Player to watch: New York Red Bulls Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel has hit four goals in his last three games. The former River Plate and Aston Villa striker will be determined to continue his rich vein of form against Eastern rivals DC United.

Chinese Super League: Post-Olympic era begins
Throughout the global spectacle that was the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, football was one of the few disciplines not to end in a medal for the hugely successful host nation. That said, league action recommences this weekend with all those involved determined to continue improving standards in the domestic game. Shaanxi Baorong take on fifth-placed Henan Jianye keen to maintain - or extend - their two-point advantage over Shandong Luneng, who travel to eighth-placed Guangzhou Yiyao.

The big match: Having finished third-bottom and fourth-bottom respectively last season, Shaanxi and Henan go head-to-head this time around with both teams riding high. Free of the relegation worries that dogged them last term, this meeting between the campaign's two surprise packages promises much.
Player to watch: Henan's Poland international Emmanuel Olisadebe heads the scoring charts with seven strikes so far. And the Nigeria-born striker would surely love to find the net again on Saturday and drag his side to within seven points of the leaders.


The new South African Premier Soccer League season having kicked off with two matches on Wednesday, reigning champions SuperSport United get their own campaign underway at home to Free State Stars. Fresh from a pre-season spending spree, coach Trott Moloto's star-studded Mamelodi Sundowns face a tricky first test with Sunday's visit to Bloemfontein Celtic.

Suwon Samsung Bluewings, who sit comfortably atop Korea Republic's K-League, have a theoretically straightforward task this weekend against bottom side Busan I'Park. Second-placed Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, currently five points behind the leaders, take on struggling Chunnam Dragons as they look to close the gap at the top.