Passion aplenty as races hot up

Crunch time is fast arriving in Brazil, Japan and the USA, while Mexican fans are eagerly awaiting the ever-passionate gran clásico between Pumas and America. previews this weekend's action.

Argentinian Apertura: Big games at the summit

Surprise challengers Tigre, who lie second after three consecutive victories, will be determined to keep their run at fifth-placed Newell's Old Boys and hope leaders San Lorenzo drop points away to third-placed Velez Sarsfield.

Boca Juniors, level with Newell's on 14 points but ahead on goal difference, welcome Estudiantes to the Bombonera. Clausura champions River Plate, meanwhile, are already 12 points off the pace after just eight games. Los Millonarios visit Gimnasia La Plata desperate to pick up what would be their second victory of the campaign.

The big game: Given Velez Sarsfield's unbeaten record at their Estadio Jose Amalfitani so far, and with Leandro Somoza having scored three goals in his last two games, San Lorenzo face a daunting task this weekend.
Player to watch: Godoy Cruz's Jairo Castillo will be brimming with confidence after his hat-trick against Boca last time out. Boasting five goals in the competition thus far, the Colombian forward would love to increase his tally against relegation rivals Gimnasia Jujuy.

Brasileirao: Tight at the top
Former leaders Gremio, in second place on 50 points, have won just once in seven games and cannot afford another defeat by Botafogo as they attempt to keep the pressure on leaders Palmeiras. Vanderlei Luxemburgo's side, also on 50 points, have a theoretically easier task at home to Atletico Mineiro.

In the chasing pack, Cruzeiro moved to within one point of the front two with Thursday's 1-0 home win over Sport, while Flamengo and Sao Paulo will also be keen to stay in the reckoning by taking maximum points against Nautico and Ipatinga respectively.

The big game: Tailenders Vasco da Gama and 15th-placed Figueirense will compete in a relegation battle. Only three points currently separate the two sides, and a win for either would boost their survival hopes considerably.
Player to watch: Flamengo's return to form has coincided with the arrival of forward Marcelinho Paraiba, whose sights are set on Nautico and the title.

Japanese J-league: No margin for error

With just seven rounds to go, just six points separate the top seven sides in the table. Pacesetters Kashima Antlers head Nagoya Grampus Eight on goal difference, but will the outcomes of their respective encounters with Gamba Osaka and Tokyo Verdy cause the leadership to change hands?

The big match: Though Urawa Red Diamonds, in fourth place but just two points behind the leaders, are expected to prevail against third-bottom JEF United Chiba, the relegation strugglers have strung together four consecutive victories. With the impressive run including a 2-1 success over Nagoya Grampus Eight, Urawa have every reason to be concerned.
The player to watch: On the back of a seven-game scoring streak, and after grabbing a brace in midweek against Oyima Ardija, will Kashima goal-getter Marquinhos continue his purple patch and extend his lead atop of the scoring chart?

Mexican Apertura: All eyes on the gran clásico
Dominating proceedings in Mexican domestic action is Sunday's derby between traditional superpowers Pumas and America. Away from the gran clásico, overall leaders Real San Luis, who exited the Copa Sudamericana in midweek, travel to Indios Juarez.

Guadalajara, meanwhile, who remain in the Sudamericana hunt, are chasing a third win in a row against a Tigres side who have lost two of their last three games. 

Big match: Matches between Pumas and America are always intense, and this one will surely be no different. Los Felinos go into the game determined to turn over their fierce rivals after succumbing to consecutive defeats by San Luis and Atlante. Las Águilas, for their part, are soaring high after a double from returning striker Salvador Cabanas sealed a 2-0 home win over Cruz Azul.
Player to watch: Cabanas is the one Pumas most fear ahead of the weekend's derby. "He's a player to look up to, both for America and for all of us who play in his position," admitted Pumas forward Dante Lopez. "I just hope he has a bad day on Sunday."

With four rounds remaining in the American Major League Soccer regular season, four-time champions DC United take on Chivas USA needing to end a run of five games without a win that has endangered their place in the play-offs. Los Angeles Galaxy, meanwhile, have a crucial showdown with a Columbus Crew team on a seven-game unbeaten streak. Defeat for David Beckham and Co would end their play-off hopes for another season.

On Matchday 4 of the Nigerian top flight, joint-leaders Kaduna United and Enugu Rangers put their unbeaten records at stake when they travel to face FC Abuja and Nasarawa United respectively.

FIFA World Leagues Predictor
Pumas-America, Kawasaki-Oita and Nacional-Defensor are just three of the games in this week's FIFA World Leagues Predictor. Sign up to compete against fellow fans for some terrific prizes, including a trip to the next FIFA World Player Gala.