The drama and excitement of the final eliminators for the UEFA
EURO 2008 is gradually giving way to keen anticipation ahead of the
Preliminary Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Sandwiched in
between, top league football briefly seizes the spotlight again
this weekend when the biggest names in all of the continent's
strongest leagues will be out to avoid an upset.
Without exception, the leaders in Spain, England, France, Italy and Germany face the kind of fixture which looks straightforward enough on paper, but can easily produce a shock. FIFA.com casts an eye over the forthcoming action.
Premier League: Magpies out to derail Reds
Newcastle United and Liverpool have served up any number of thrilling battles down the years, with both teams as determined as ever to claim maximum points in the latest instalment of their long-running English top-flight rivalry. The Magpies need a win to stay in touch with the European qualifying places, while the undefeated Reds cannot afford the six-point gap separating them from top two Arsenal and Manchester United to grow any larger.
Pacesetters Arsenal entertain second-bottom Wigan Athletic, with United away to Bolton Wanderers, themselves languishing just a place above Wigan. Chelsea, currently five points off the pace, travel to bottom club Derby County.
The question: In their last 16 visits to Newcastle, Liverpool have kept only one clean sheet. However, the Reds have conceded only six goals in 12 matches so far this term. Can Rafa Benitez's men set out their defensive stall at St. James Park and avoid another goal against?
The big game: Newcastle United-Liverpool, Saturday 24 November, 12.45 pm (local time)
The quote: "We have a huge number of games coming up. The next few weeks are important for us, with no breaks for internationals. We need to make a start with three points against Reading." Sven-Goran Eriksson, Manchester City coach
Bundesliga: Magath returns to former stamping ground
A rather special reunion takes centre stage in Germany when leaders Bayern Munich entertain Wolfsburg, coached and managed by former Bayern boss Felix Magath. Werder Bremen and Hamburger, both just a point off the Bavarians in second and third, face the two Bundesliga clubs situated in the former GDR: Werder visit Energie Cottbus, with HSV at home to Hansa Rostock.
Surprise package Karlsruher, who sit in fourth, go in search of an eighth win of the campaign at home to Hertha Berlin, with champions Stuttgart looking for at least a point away to Eintracht Frankfurt.
The question: Hamburger have been on scintillating form of late, but how will the team cope with coach Huub Stevens' decision to return to the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven at the end of the season?
The big game: Bayern Munich - Wolfsburg, Saturday 24 November, 3.30 pm (local time)
The quote: "I had a tremendous and successful time in Munich and I'm looking forward to sending my team out to play in front of nearly 70,000 spectators." Felix Magath, Wolfsburg coach
Ligue 1: Old boy Wiltord aims to undo Lyon
Former France international Sylvain Wiltord is another man looking forward to a get-together with old friends. The striker leads the Rennes line against one of his former clubs, serial champions and leaders Lyon, and would be only too pleased to help his new team-mates claim all three points.
However, Lyon themselves urgently require a win, as Nancy lie just three points behind with a game in hand, and will be expected to complete a routine home victory over Lille at the weekend. Marseille aim to follow up a shock 2-1 win in Lyon a fortnight ago with victory over bottom club Metz, serving up confirmation of a resurgence in their fortunes.
The question: Can Marseille chalk up back-to-back wins for the first time this term?
The big game: Rennes-Lyon, Saturday 24 November, 5.10 pm (local time)
The quote: "We've never done well against Rennes, because they're a good footballing side. They have the potential to be champions. Rennes boast a number of talented youngsters, and of course Wiltord, who never knows when he's beaten. They also have the best defender in the league, John Mensah." Juninho Pernambucano, Lyon player
La Liga: Villarreal poised to pounce
The last two matchdays in Spain saw Real Madrid and Barcelona each finish on the wrong end of an upset, so the two big guns will be keen to re-assert their authority this time out. Both appear to face manageable challenges: champions and current leaders Madrid visit Real Murcia, with the Catalan outfit entertaining Recreativo Huelva.
Second-placed Villarreal take on promoted Almeria at home, hoping to profit from any further errors by the Primera Division's biggest two.
The question:Los Merengues' two defeats this season have both come away from home. Can the men from the capital avoid defeat on their travels this time?
The big game: Real Murcia - Real Madrid, Saturday 24 November, 10 pm (local time)
The quote: "We know it'll be very tough against Murcia." Gonzalo Higuain, Real Madrid player
Serie A: AC Milan seek confidence-booster
Over in Italy, the focus will similarly be on the leading teams' ability to avoid embarrassment in fixtures they will all be expected to win. Champions Inter Milan entertain Atalanta, second-placed Fiorentina travel to Reggina, Juventus are at home to Palermo, and Roma visit Genoa 1893.
Elsewhere, misfiring AC Milan go to Cagliari in pursuit of only their fourth win of the season, as the UEFA Champions League winners seek a boost to their morale and confidence in the build-up to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007.
The question: Can new Cagliari coach Nedo Sonetti, taking the helm in Sardinia for the third time in all, conjure up the perfect start at home to the Rossoneri?
The big game: Inter-Atalanta, Saturday 24 November, 8.30 pm (local time)
The quote: "As of now, every match is vital to us, because we must improve our league position. I hope we can set off on a winning run this Sunday." Yoann Gourcuff, AC Milan player