World Leagues preview

The Argentinian Clausura will commence on a weekend in which engrossing, high-stakes battles unfold in Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand. With the title races continuing apace in Qatar, Malaysia and Morocco, previews the pick of the forthcoming action outside Europe.

Argentinian Clausura: The big kick-off
The last seven Argentinian league campaigns have yielded seven different champions, and the upcoming Clausura campaign, which begins today, oozes unpredictability. Apertura holders Banfield will open their account at River Plate, who are determined to put a disastrous 2009 behind them, while Newell’s Old Boys and Independiente, second and fourth last time out, meet in Rosario.

Elsewhere, Boca Juniors visit Argentinos Juniors in a battle between Diego Maradona’s former clubs, Atletico Tucuman entertain San Lorenzo, and Velez Sarsfield are at home to Colon.

High stakes: Racing Club and Rosario Central will begin the campaign towards the bottom of the relegation zone. Both will, therefore, be eager to hit the ground running.
Players to watch: Surplus to requirements at Velez, Santiago Silva spent 2009 on loan at Banfield and duly fired them to Apertura glory. Many expected the Uruguayan to sign a permanent deal with El Taladro, join River or head to Europe, but he ultimately returned to El Fortín. Silva’s shootout with 37-year-old Esteban Fuertes could be central to the Velez-Colon outcome.

Brazilian State Championships: Derby Sunday
Ituano, the surprise leaders of the Paulistao, are at home to a Santo Andre side nine places but only two points to their rear, but the competition’s major attraction takes places at the Pacaembu. There, Corinthians and Palmeiras, third and second in the standings and fierce enemies, will collide. With Ronaldo out, Dentinho will carry O Timão’s chief goal threat, while O Verdão will entrust Cleiton Xavier with inspiring them to victory. Fourth-placed Santos will host Oeste, as Sao Paulo, in sixth, travel to Sertaozinho.

Over in Rio de Janeiro, Vasco, in-form and atop of Group B in the Taca Guanabara, visit Friburguense, while third-placed Botafogo entertain America.

High stakes: Fluminense and Flamengo, level on points at the top of Group A in the Taca Guanabara, will do battle at the Maracana.
Players to watch: Will the Fluzão frontline of Maicon and Fred, or O Mengão’s Vagner Love-Adriano attack, come out on top?

Mexican Clausura: 100 versus zero
Guadalajara will take the only 100 per cent record into Matchday 3, when cross-city rivals Estudiantes Tecos, the only side on zero points, pay them a visit. With Javier Hernandez, 21, having scored four times in Chivas’s opening two games, much pressure will rest on the shoulders of veteran centre-back Juan Leano.

Group 2 leaders America will look to pay tribute to striker Salvador Cabanas, who was shot on Monday, by winning at home to Indios, who prop up Group 1.

High stakes: Monterrey will host Cruz Azul in a repeat of December’s thrilling Apertura 2009 final, which the former won 6-4 on aggregate.
Players to watch: America forward Daniel Montenegro will carry an added burden in the absence of Cabanas, while Indios look to Honduran playmaker Emil Martinez for inspiration.

New Zealand Football Championship: Duel of the giants
It is the fixture in the NZFC: Waitakere United versus Auckland City in a duel between the only champions in the competition’s history. Fittingly, they are level on points at the top, although the latter have two games in hand. United will hope Fijian forward Roy Krishna is at his irresistible best, while City will look to the in-form Jason Hayne.

Otago United and Team Wellington, third and fourth respectively, will square off, as Canterbury United, in fifth, travel to second-bottom Hawkes Bay United.

High stakes: Third-bottom Youngheart Manawatu and tailenders Waikato will collide looking to ease their wooden spoon fears.
Players to watch: Otago’s Stu Kelly and Greg Draper of Wellington have both been among the goals recently.

Al Sadd and Al Gharrafa are level on points at the Qatari Stars League summit, and they will be expected to make light work of the bottom two on Saturday. The former, who boast Brazilians Felipe, Leandro and Afonso Alves, are at home to tailenders Al Shamal, while the reigning champions, for whom Younis Mahmoud stars, make the trip to Al Siliya.

Super League Malaysia pacesetters Selangor will be tested at fourth-placed Perlis. Terengganu, in second, welcome mid-table Kuala Lumpur.

The Moroccan Botola enters its second half with DH El Jadida, three points clear out in front, at home to fifth-placed OC Khouribga. WAC Casablanca, in second, are away to basement side JS Massira, while reigning champions Raja Casablanca host HUS Agadir in a scrap between third and fourth respectively.