World Leagues preview

Champions will be crowned in the USA this weekend as the play-offs begin in Mexico and Korea Republic. With the finishing line in sight in Argentina, Brazil and Japan, and gripping early-season fixtures in Ghana and New Zealand, previews the forthcoming action outside Europe.

Argentinian Apertura: Big derbies
Banfield and Newell’s Old Boys are level on points at the summit, and both have steep hurdles to climb with five rounds remaining. The former, spearheaded by the competition’s leading marksman Santiago Silva, will visit a joint-fourth-placed Independiente side for whom Dario Gandin has been radiating, while the latter will entertain fierce enemies Rosario Central.

Third-placed Colon are away to mid-table Lanus tonight, when joint-fourth-placed Estudiantes host rock-bottom Tigre.

High stakes: Having lost their last two games at home, San Lorenzo will look to return to winning ways when they travel to their second-bottom arch-rivals Huracan.
Players to watch: All in-form, city-born youngsters, Alexis Machuca and Mauro Formica of Newell’s, and Rosario pair Jorge Broun Mario and Angel Paglialunga, will be desperate to excel in their derby.

Brasileirao: Three rounds to go
The title marathon effectively became a two-team sprint for the post when third-placed Palmeiras lost on Wednesday, leaving themselves three points off the pace having played a game more. Frontrunners Sao Paulo face an examining test at relegation-threatened Botafogo in Rio de Janeiro, where Flamengo, two points back in second and with Adriano on fire, host ninth-placed Goias.

Elsewhere, fifth-placed Atletico Mineiro host an Internacional side above them only on goal difference in the quest to qualify for the Copa Libertadores.

High stakes: Santo Andre, third-bottom and six points shy of safety, simply need to win at home to seventh-placed Avai, who are just three shy of the Copa Libertadores 2010 qualification places.
Players to watch: Atletico’s Diego Tardelli and Andres D’Alessandro of Inter both possess the class to swing any game.

Mexican Apertura: Liguilla time
Toluca and San Luis seized the first and last places in the play-offs respectively, meaning the former will be heavy favourites to win their tie and reach the semi-finals. With this in mind, Los Gladiadores will be determined to convert home advantage into a cushion ahead of next weekend’s second leg.

The prolific Emanuel Villa will lead the challenge of Cruz Azul, who won Group C, away to a Puebla team boasting the impressive Jorge Villalpando between their sticks, while Santos Laguna welcome Morelia to Torreon.

Big game: America and Monterrey finished level on points in fourth and fifth respectively in the regular season, making their tie arguably the most wide-open. The Mexico City giants will visit the Estadio Tecnológico for the first 90 minutes.
Players to watch: The output of San Luis’s Argentinian marksman Alfredo Moreno and his Chilean counterpart Hector Mancilla of Toluca could be crucial to the outcome of their duel.

Japanese J.League: Decisive duels at both ends
Three teams have realistic title ambitions with three rounds remaining. Kawasaki Frontale will visit Oita Trinita in an intriguing battle between top and bottom: the former have won their last six outings, while the latter, who need victory to have any chance of survival, are unbeaten in seven.

Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka, one and four points off the pace, are away to troubled Kyoto Purple Sanga and fourth-placed Shimizu S-Pulse respectively.

High stakes: Third-bottom Kashiwa Reysol desperately need an away win to ease their relegation fears, but fifth-placed Albirex Niigata have their eye on a top-three finish and qualification for the AFC Champions League 2010.
Players to watch: Oita’s Fernandinho and Renatinho of Kawasaki have been in sparkling form of late.

Ghanaian Premier League: Outsiders aim to maintain pace
Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoke have, between them, won the last 12 domestic titles, but the early-season indications are that this run is about to be arrested. The former, one place above the drop zone, will seek to kick-start their campaign at home to Bechem Chelsea in Round 7, while the mid-table Porcupine Warriors travel to fourth-placed Heart of Lions.

Kessben, four points at the summit, visit newly-promoted New Edubiase, in sixth, as Berekum Arsenal and AshantiGold collide in a scrap between second and third.

High stakes: Victory in front of their own fans would elevate Liberty Professionals from fifth, but tailenders Eleven Wise are in desperate need of points.
Players to watch: Prolific defender Bismark Idan has been in sublime form for Kessben this season, when it has become apparent why New Edubiase forward Nuhu Fuseini is one of Africa's most-coveted youngsters.

Los Angeles Galaxy or Real Salt Lake: who will become American Major League Soccer 2009 champions on Sunday? The Galaxy won the Western Conference and reached Sunday’s decider in style, while RSL snatched the last play-off berth and only sneaked into the MLS Cup following a penalty shootout triumph. But, as history has shown, favouritism guarantees nothing, and Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Co will be aware of this as they prepare to take on in-form goalkeeper Nick Rimando, free-scoring Robbie Findley and team-mates at Qwest Field.

The New Zealand Football Championship’s only two champions will meet on Sunday, when early-season leaders Auckland City host second-placed Waitakere United in the former’s last game before they fly out to the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009. City coach Paul Posa will hope all-action forward Daniel Koprivcic finds his irrepressible rhythm, while his United counterpart Neil Emblem will entrust the exciting Roy Krishna with inspiring victory.

The Korean K-League play-offs will kick off with FC Seoul hosting Chunnam Dragons on Saturday, before Seongnam Chunma entertain Incheon United one day later. The winners will advance into the second round.