Though many of the top leagues outside Europe are still in their early stages, there was no shortage of decisive encounters last weekend - most notably in Australia, Brazil and South Africa. FIFA.com brings you its customary look at the latest goings-on around Planet Football.
Brazilian state championships: Botafogo seize first silverware
Written off just a few weeks ago after a 6-0 defeat by Rio de Janeiro rivals Vasco da Gama, a reverse which saw coach Estevam Soares replaced by Joel Santana, Botafogo overcame the odds to win the Taca Guanabara – the first stage of the Campeonato Carioca. Goals from Fabio Ferreira and Sebastian Abreu were enough to sink Vasco 2-0 and guarantee O Fogão’s place in the overall Rio de Janeiro final, where they will meet whoever wins the second stage of the competition, the Taca Rio.
Big game: It fell to a new boy to play a decisive role in the year’s first Minas Gerais clássico, with Cruzeiro’s recent signing Roger marking his return from Qatari football in style. Having joined the fray on 72 minutes with the scores level at 1-1, six minutes later he supplied the corner for Leonardo Silva to head home before ending Atletico Mineiro’s hopes with a thumping drive to make it 3-1 in the 89th minute.
Headline-grabbers: After a 4-1 defeat by Sao Caetano last Wednesday cost Palmeiras boss Muricy Ramalho his job, within two days he had been replaced by the coach who masterminded that emphatic victory: former Brazil defender Antonio Carlos Zago. The effect was immediate, with the new man in charge guiding O Verdão to a 2-0 win over rivals Sao Paulo on Sunday, both goals coming via the head of forward Robert.
Australian A-League: Keepers to the fore
This weekend’s two ‘minor’ semi-finals ran a similar course, with tightly contested draws followed by extra time and penalty shoot-outs. For Wellington Phoenix, goalkeeper Liam Reddy was the hero of their 4-2 shoot-out win over Perth Glory, while Newcastle Jets custodian Ben Kennedy denied Gold Coast United’s Zenon Caravella from 12 yards to clinch a 6-5 spot-kick success for his team.
The Phoenix and the Jets are now set to meet on 7 March in Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, with the winners meeting the victors of the ‘major’ semi-final between regular-season top two Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory. Victory won the first leg 2-1 at home, with the second leg to be played in Sydney, also on 7 March.
Big game: On their first appearance in the championship play-offs, Perth Glory fell at the first hurdle against Wellington Phoenix. The New Zealand outfit opened the scoring on 37 minutes via Chris Greenacre, but Glory dragged themselves level on 67 minutes through Scott Neville’s header to take the game into extra time. Yet they were unable to profit after Phoenix went down to ten men, with the latter’s keeper Reddy making a string of fine saves to keep his team in the tie before crucial stops from Naum Sekulovski and Scott Bulloch in the shoot-out.
Headline-grabbers: Newcastle Jets custodian Kennedy has had to endure a spate of criticism since taking the club’s No1 jersey following Ante Covic’s departure, though his display against Gold Coast and vital penalty shoot-out save should earn his some respite. “It’s always good to silence your critics,” said Kennedy. “But I know that I’ve got to follow this up with another good performance.”
Argentinian Clausura: Velez march on
Winners of the Clausura 2009, Velez Sarsfield look well placed to repeat the feat this year after an impressive 3-0 win over Independiente, the goals coming from Juan Martinez, Maximiliano Moralez and Apertura 2009 top scorer Santiago Silva. Velez are now joint-top on 11 points, level with Colon of Santa Fe. Godoy Cruz, who had led the standings going into this fifth matchday, went ahead at home against Boca Juniors via a Federico Higuain strike, only to be pegged back after the interval by a header from Martin Palermo.
Big game: Colon needed an injury-time effort from Federico Nieto away to Chacarita Juniors to claim all three points and a share of top spot. Nieto, Colon’s 12-goal leading scorer in the Apertura 2009, had a point to prove having been dropped to the bench by coach Antonio Mohamed.
Headline-grabbers: Exactly 18 years to the day since making his first River Plate debut, Matias Almeyda will not have very happy memories of Sunday’s anniversary. Sent off just seven minutes into the second half against Arsenal of Sarandi, he was therefore powerless to help Los Millonarios go beyond a 1-1 draw – a result which leaves them in 15th with just five points. It was also the first time Arsenal have taken a point at River’s Estadio Monumental.
Mexican Bicentenario: Chivas in seventh heaven
The leaders of the three groups in the Mexican Bicentenario tournament all held their positions, but it is Group 1 pacesetters Guadalajara who continued to catch the eye with a 3-2 victory over Puebla. The win was Chivas’s seventh in a row since the start of the season, a record run which keeps them five points ahead of closest challengers Monterrey in the overall standings.
Big game: There were goals galore at Santos Laguna’s stadium, with the home side taking the lead only to find themselves 3-1 down to Estudiantes Tecos. However, they remain in first place in Group 3 after fighting back to claim a 3-3 draw courtesy of a Juan Pablo Rodriguez penalty and a goal from Carlos Morales. Tecos, who have just five points so far, continue to prop up the rest of Group 3.
Headline-grabbers: Moments away from a home defeat against Tigres, America salvaged a 2-2 draw thanks to Luis Alonso Sandoval’s 89th-minute leveller – his second goal of the game.
SuperSport United moved closer to their third successive South African Premiership title after nearest pursuers Mamelodi Sundowns were held 3-3 by Moroka Swallows. United now have 57 points to the Sundowns’ 53, with just two rounds of matches still to be played. In the Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, the fierce rivals played out a goalless stalemate, just as they had earlier in the season.
Over in Colombia, midweek wins for Independiente of Medellin and La Equidad put the pressure on leaders Real Cartagena, who held firm to beat America de Cali and take their tally to 13 points - three clear of the aforementioned duo.
In the Chilean Apertura, meanwhile, early season revalation O’Higgins had their winning run ended by Union San Felipe, who grabbed a 2-0 success thanks to a brace from Argentinian Victor Meza. Union Espanola moved into top spot on 14 points after a 2-1 victory over Universidad Catolica, while Universidad de Chile are just one point further back.
Finally to the Uruguayan Clausura, where Penarol continue to sweep all before them in the race for gold. A 3-1 win over Liverpool was their fifth from five games, with their grip on first place strengthened by a 4-1 defeat for main rivals Nacional at the hands of River Plate.