World Leagues preview

A thrilling weekend’s football is on the horizon in Latin America, with clásicos in both Mexico and Chile the highlights. In Brazil, the state championships are drawing ever closer to their decisive conclusions while over in Asia it remains early days in Japan, Korea Republic and Uzbekistan. brings you a closer look at the pick of the action ahead.

Mexican Bicentenario: Country at a standstill
The 13th round of matches is packed with high-profile encounters such as UNAM Pumas trip to Monterrey, Cruz Azul versus Queretaro or Monarcas Morelia’s clash with Puebla. Four of these sides were involved in continental competition in midweek, with Monterrey and Monarcas held to draws by Sao Paulo and Banfield respectively in the Copa Libertadores, results that hindered their hopes of reaching the knockout phase. Pumas, enjoying a six-game winning streak in the league, will be buoyed by the 1-0 first-leg victory over Cruz Azul in the semi-final of the CONCACAF Champions League, courtesy of Pablo Barrera’s goal.

Big game: Topping the bill by some way is Sunday’s meeting between fierce rivals Guadalajara and Club America, one of Mexico’s great clásicos. On form, Las Chivas should be favourites, given their ten-point lead over Las Águilas in the overall standings and the fact they are unbeaten at their Estadio Jalisco so far. “Perhaps we’re favourites on paper, but all that goes out the window once the game begins,” said Guadalajara defender Aaron Galindo. "There’s so much more at stake than just statistics."
Player to watch: After Chivas went two games without scoring in a defeat against Chiapas and a goalless draw with Pumas, leading scorer Javier Hernandez Balcazar got back on the goal trail with strikes in the 2-1 reverse at Monterrey and the morale-boosting 6-2 win over Santos. Topping the divisional scorers’ charts with ten goals, Hernandez Balcazar will be keen to extend his lead over closest pursuers Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Miguel Angel Zepeda (Atlas) and Jackson Martinez (Jaguares).

Brazilian state championships: Maintaining momentum
It was a good week in the Copa Libertadores for Brazil’s big boys, particularly Internacional of Porto Alegre and under-fire coach Jorge Fossati, who will have been delighted to relieve some of the pressure thanks to a 2-0 home win over Uruguayan outfit Cerro. Next on their wishlist is a win in the Rio Grande do Sul state championship, something they have not achieved since 7 March, though O Colorado will be confident of sinking Group 2 bottom side Universidade in the final match of the second round. Rivals Gremio, clear at the top of Group 1, travel to Caxias do Sul to meet Juventude.

The situation in Rio Grande do Sul is similar to that in the Rio de Janeiro competition, where, one matchday from the end of the second round, the four biggest-name clubs are all virtually guaranteed a semi-final berth. Flamengo, who lead Group 1 with 19 points, travel to face Friburguense while second-placed Fluminense host Macae. Over in Group 2, already qualified Botafogo take on Bangu while Vasco da Gama will be hoping to guarantee second spot against Duque de Caxias. O Gigante da Colina are just one point ahead of America, who host Volta Redonda.

Turning to the Sao Paulo tournament and big-spending Corinthians, who are currently in fifth spot and in line to miss out on a semi-final place. O Timão should be buoyed by their narrow midweek win in the Copa Libertadores and Roberto Carlos and Co will be confident of overcoming Ituano. Sao Paulo, who followed up last weekend’s clássico reverse against Corinthians with a draw at Monterrey in the Libertadores, will be determined to keep hold of fourth place with a positive result against Botafogo SP.

Big game: The Mineiro championship is the only one of the leading Brazilian state championships to have already entered the knockout phase. The standout tie of the quarter-finals is the duel between traditional foes Atletico and America. Resurgent Cruzeiro, on a high following Wednesday’s 3-0 Libertadores win over Velez Sarsfield, have the theoretically simpler task of welcoming Uberaba to the Mineirao stadium.
Player to watch: Having missed four Paulista games due to a thigh injury, Santos No7 Robinho is set to return for the championship leaders, who are already sure of a place in the semi-finals thanks to their five-point cushion over Santo Andre. And with Os Meninos da Vila putting on a show virtually every time they play this season, there will be plenty of interest surrounding Sunday’s encounter at Sao Caetano’s Estadio Anacleto Campanella.

Argentinian Clausura: Clash of the champions
This weekend boasts an intriguing clash between two teams which claimed silverware in 2009, Libertadores champions Estudiantes and Argentinian Apertura 2009 winners Banfield. Not that it is the only intriguing meeting, with second-placed Godoy Cruz taking on fourth-placed Velez Sarsfield and leaders Independiente coming up against neighbours Arsenal, with the latter going into the match on the back of four wins and a draw. At the wrong end of the table comes a game between two sides unused to such travails, with second-bottom Rosario Central travelling to face third-bottom Boca Juniors at La Bombonera.

Big game: Currently third in the Clausura, Libertadores champs Estudiantes are also close to clinching a berth in the knockout phase of this year’s continental competition. Opponents Banfield, for whom Apertura 2009 was their first ever national title, are sixth in the Clausura and also remain in contention for a place in the next phase of the Libertadores.
Player to watch: Arsenal custodian Cristian Campestrini, in the running to take Argentina’s third-choice keeper spot at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, is enjoying a run of 371 minutes without conceding. Can he extend his streak against high-flying Independiente?

Chilean Apertura: Another clásico in store
Heading the Apertura 2010 standings with 19 points after nine rounds, Universidad de Chile will be gunning for their fourth win in a row when they take on fifth-placed Union Espanola on Saturday. “They are a very compact and gritty side. [Coach Ruben] Israel knows how to assemble competitive teams, which may not be easy on the eye but are able to challenge for major honours,” said Universidad’s Uruguayan boss Gerardo Pelusso. Palestino, currently bottom of the pile, have brought in Paraguayan coach Gustavo Benitez in a bid to turn things around, with his first game coming on Sunday against O’Higgins.

Big game: Stealing most of the limelight this weekend is Saturday’s eagerly anticipated clásico between second-placed Colo Colo, who are three points behind the leaders, and Universidad Catolica, who have bounced back from three consecutive defeats to record 4-2 and 3-1 wins over Santiago Wanderers and Audax Italiano respectively. “It ought to be a clásico with some good football on show. We’re not doing quite as well as they are but we won’t give up the chase,” said Catolica midfield man Milovan Mirosevic.
Player to watch: A scorer in four of El Cacique’s last five games, spanning both domestic and Libertadores action, including a brace in last week’s 2-0 win over San Luis, can Esteban Paredes carry his rich vein of form into el clásico?

Japanese J-League: Table taking shape
Japanese football fans have grown used to seeing Kashima Antlers atop the J-League in recent years, and the champions for the last three seasons have kicked off this campaign with ten points from their opening four games under Brazilian boss Oswaldo de Oliveira. The Kashima outfit, who along with Shimizu S-Pulse and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are the only unbeaten sides in the top flight, face a difficult trip to fifth-placed Vegalta Sendai this weekend and will need their wits about them to stifle divisional top scorer Yong-Gi Ryang of Korea DPR.

Big game: It is not just Kashima who face a tough away day this weekend, with second-placed Shimizu S-Pulse, two points behind the leaders, visiting Yokohama F. Marinos who are a point further back in third.
Player to watch: Brazilian forward Marquinhos recently grabbed his 51st goal in Kashima Antlers colours, thus moving ahead of compatriot Mazinho as the club’s all-time top scorer. That strike came in the Asian Champions League, however, and Marquinhos has not scored since the opening day of the domestic season on 6 March.

As you would expect, things remain tight going into the sixth round of matches in Korea Republic’s top flight. Champions Jeonbuk Motors are in joint fifth spot, though are just two points behind leaders Ulsan Horang-I, on ten points thus far. Jeonbuk meet Incheon United, while Ulsan are set to take on Gangwon.

Over in USA, Argentina’s Javier Morales of reigning MLS champions Real Salt Lake will go into this weekend’s second round of games on a high after being voted player of the opening matchday. Morales scooped the award thanks to a brace in a 3-0 away win at the San Jose Earthquakes, and his team now face another away day against Houston Dynamo.

Turning back to Asia and Uzbekistan, where Bunyodkor, coached by former Brazil and Portugal supremo Luiz Felipe Scolari are top of the table after winning their opening two games. Scolari’s charges host Shortan determined to bounce back from successive Asian Champions League defeats against Iran’s Zob-Ahan.

Zob-Ahan, for their part, have the opportunity to keep the pressure on Iran Pro League leaders Sepahan, who currently hold a six-point lead after 29 rounds of the 34-match campaign. On matchday 30, second-placed Zob-Ahan take on seventh-placed Peykan, while the pace-setters have a tricky away trip against the side in fifth, Steel Azin.