FIFA.com’s weekly review of top leagues outside Europe features a new leader in Brazil, Estudiantes moving clear in Argentina and first-time crowns for MLS champs Colorado Rapids and J-League counterparts Nagoya Grampus Eight. Also on the menu are the key happenings in Mexico, Korea Republic and Australia.
Major League Soccer: Own goal seals Rapids’ first title
Despite the bitter cold in Toronto, Canada, the final of the MLS Cup 2010 was quick to catch fire, with Colombian No10 David Ferreira, voted this year’s Major League Soccer MVP, opening the scoring for FC Dallas in the first half. Opponents Colorado Rapids, who had only made the play-offs thanks to a late-season surge, levelled the match on 57 minutes via an opportunistic effort from Conor Casey and took the game into extra time.
The destination of the title was finally decided in bizarre circumstances in the 107th-minute, when a cross-cum-shot from Rapids’ attacker Macoumba Kandji was diverted into his own net by Dallas defender George John. John very nearly made amends in the final minute only to be denied by a stunning save by Colorado keeper Matt Pickens, with the Rapids holding on to clinch their first ever MLS crown.
Headline-grabber: As you would expect, John’s inadvertent clincher divided opinion in both camps. The Dallas defender was inconsolable after the game while his skipper Daniel Hernandez stated that “It hurts to get this far and be so close. This is my fourth MLS Cup (final) and I haven’t ever won the championship.” Rapids coach, Gary Smith, for his part, had this to say: “I don’t care how the goal went in. If it came via an own goal it’s because we put them under pressure and forced that mistake.”
Brasileirao: Corinthians stumble lets in Flu
Having enjoyed a one-point lead at the top going into the 36th round of matches, Corinthians’ 1-1 draw away to Vitoria allowed Fluminense to leapfrog O Timão into first place with an emphatic 4-1 win at Sao Paulo. With 65 points to their closest rivals’ 64 and only two games remaining, Flu could even clinch the title away to Palmeiras next Sunday should results go their way.
Big game: In the race for fourth place and potentially a spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores, Gremio continued their impressive run of form since the season’s halfway point by beating direct rivals Atletico-PR 3-1 in a thrilling game in Porto Alegre.
Headline-grabber: Now six points clear of fourth-placed Gremio, Cruzeiro are virtually assured of Libertadores involvement in 2011. However, A Raposa’s 3-1 win over Vasco da Gama took them to within two points of leaders Flu and they will not be giving up on the title just yet.
Argentinian Apertura: El Pincha out in front
Last time out Velez Sarsfield took full advantage of a slip-up by Estudiantes La Plata to move level at the top with El Pincha, but this weekend’s results enabled the latter to move two points clear with only four matchdays remaining. Juan Sebastian Veron and Co secured a 2-0 win over Huracan, while Velez were held to a goalless draw by second-bottom Gimnasia La Plata.
Big game: Boca Juniors bounced back from 16 November’s superclásico defeat to River Plate and the subsequent departure of coach Claudio Borghi to record a 2-1 win over third-placed Arsenal. The victory, achieved with goals from rising starlet Sergio Araujo and Martin Palermo, takes Los Xeneizes into tenth spot.
Headline-grabber: Godoy Cruz took a giant stride towards ensuring a berth in the 2011 Libertadores thanks to a 2-1 win over Banfield. The team from Mendoza are now two points clear in fourth place.
Japanese J-League: Champagne flowing in Nagoya
With three matchdays still to play, Nagoya Grampus Eight clinched their first-ever J-League crown after a 1-0 win at already relegated Shonan Bellmare. Those three points, combined with Kashima Antlers’ 0-0 stalemate away to Vissel Kobe, gave Dragan Stojkovic’s charges an unassailable ten-point lead over the Kashima outfit – champions for the last three years. The trophy thus caps an excellent campaign for Grampus Eight, who have recorded 21 wins from 31 games so far and boast a prolific strike pairing in Australia’s Josh Kennedy and Japan’s Keiji Tamada, scorers of 28 of the team’s 50-goal tally.
Big game: Their hopes of a fourth successive championship now dashed, Kashima must now be wary of losing their grip on second spot after third-placed Gamba Osaka moved level on 56 points following a 2-0 away win over Urawa Red Diamonds.
Headline-grabber: Already an icon at the club he graced as a player between 1994 and 2001, Serbian coach Stojkovic was clearly delighted to bring a first J-League title to Nagoya Grampus Eight: “It’s a very special moment and feels completely different to when I was a player. I have more responsibility now.”
There was a major shock in the Mexican Apertura, when Cruz Azul, the team with the best regular-season record, were dumped out of the title-deciding Liguilla play-offs by Pumas UNAM. Able to lose by one goal and still progress to the last four, Los Cementeros went down 2-0 at home in their quarter-final second leg. Pumas will now meet Monterrey, whose superior regular-season record saw them through after a 4-4 aggregate draw with Pachuca. Also still in the hunt are Club America, who thumped San Luis 4-1 at home to set up a semi-final tie with Santos Laguna – winners against Jaguares.
Turning to Korea Republic’s K-League, holders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors continued their bid to retain the trophy after a 2-0 first-round play-off win over Gyeongnam FC, courtesy of goals from Cho Sung-Hwan and Brazilian Eninho. In the second round they will take on Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma who, fresh from their recent triumph in the AFC Champions League, won 3-1 at Ulsan Hyundai Horangi in their first-round clash. The winners of Jeonbuk versus Seongnam will meet Jeju United in the semi-finals, with regular-season pace-setters FC Seoul awaiting in the final.
Finally to Australia’s Hyundai A-League, where leaders Brisbane Roar lost momentum after a second successive 1-1 draw, this time at home to North Queensland Fury. Closest chasers Adelaide United, 2-0 victors away to Melbourne Heart, are now just three points behind with a game in hand.