Football's festive frolics
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Many people regard the period between Christmas and New Year as a time to relax and recover from the hurly-burly of everyday life. A number of the world’s leagues agree, and take a break at this time of year. However, many football associations around the globe take the opposite view, and the battle for points and places is often at its most intense at a time when many folk are enjoying the holiday season. One thing is for sure: none of the teams involved will be handing out festive presents to the opposition.

In England, the traditional Boxing Day (26 December) programme sees Premier League leaders Chelsea open the 19th round of matches away to another club nicknamed the Blues, namely Birmingham City. The biggest clash of the round takes place the following day at Emirates Stadium in London, where Arsenal and Aston Villa, level on points in third and fourth, could each steal a march on their rivals with a win.

Although England’s professional footballers are accustomed to a hectic festive season, the burden is even more intense than normal this year as the New Year round of matches has been brought forward by a couple of days. Rooney, Torres, Ballack and company are in action again from 28-30 December, with Manchester United taking on Wigan Athletic and Chelsea at home to Fulham in the west London derby.

Non-stop football
By contrast, Europe’s other top leagues suspend hostilities for a short period. La Liga in Spain restarts with a round of fixtures on 2 January 2010, Italy’s Serie A is back in action on 6 January, with the French and German leagues on holiday until the 15th of the month.

Naturally, in parts of the world where there are no holidays at this time of year, the fans have plenty of football action to enjoy. The Saudi Arabian Premier League boasts a full programme on 24 December, including the crunch meeting between leaders Al Hilal and fifth-placed Al Wehda. The top footballers in Azerbaijan also battle for points on this day.

The Division 1 teams in Libya go head-to-head on both 24 and 25 December, including a highlight clash between two Tripoli-based rivals, second-placed Al Medina and third-placed Al Ahly. The next round of fixtures takes place straight afterwards on 29-31 December. Top spot in Algeria is at stake on 25 December, when chief pursuers JS Kabylie could leapfrog leaders CA Bordj Bou Arreridj into first place with a home win. The Algerian clubs are again in action on 28 December, with another round on 4 January.

Clubs and countries in action
Back in Europe, Belgian fans can look forward to a thrilling festive season, as the winter break has been dropped as part of a radical restructuring of the league this season. Leaders Anderlecht entertain third-placed Gent, while Club Brugge take on Cercle, their top flight rivals from across Bruges. Whereas the Jupiler League stars are likely to face chilly temperatures and a high chance of rain or snow, their Australian counterparts will be more worried about coping with the heat. Soaring temperatures off the field will be matched by the fierce heat of battle on it when A-League leaders Melbourne Victory meet tail-enders North Queensland Fury, while second-placed Sydney take on second-from-bottom Adelaide United. Problems with snow would be an equally major shock in the Nigerian Premier League, where the stars go into action on 26-27 and 30-31 December.

Football in the last week of the calendar year is not confined to club level, as the period also features a number of friendly internationals. FIFA World Cup™ hopefuls Korea DPR visit Iran, and Qatar entertain Mali on 27 December. On 29 December, Egypt play Malawi, Iran meet Mali, Qatar take on Korea DPR, and Syria face Kenya. Angola versus Estonia, and China PR versus Jordan are set for 30 December, with Singapore hosting Oman on New Year’s Eve.

As the schedule shows, the last week of the calendar year has plenty to offer the devoted football fan wherever he or she happens to be. And once we step into 2010, there will be just 170 days until kick-off in the 19th gathering of the very best national teams on the planet: the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa!

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