World Leagues preview
Though the Brazilian national league season is still in its infancy, there is no shortage of decisive encounters elsewhere in Latin America. The Argentinian Clausura title race will be won, the first leg of Uruguay’s grand final is set to be played and there are Bicentenario final places up for grabs in Mexico. FIFA.com brings you a closer look at all this and more, including the upcoming action in Morocco, Japan and the USA.
Brasileirao: Jostling for position
With eight clubs still dividing their attentions between the league and their Copa Libertadores or Copa do Brasil commitments, the likes of Corinthians, Palmeiras, Atletico Mineiro and Avai will be looking to take full advantage. Flamengo, Sao Paulo, Internacional, Cruzeiro, Santos and Gremio, for their part, must decide whether to field full-strength teams or rest players ahead of their midweek cup encounters.
Thumping 6-1 winners over Gremio Prudente on the opening day, leaders Avai face a tough away day against Cruzeiro. A Raposa, who rested players last weekend yet still won away against Internacional, subsequently lost their Libertadores quarter-final, first-leg against Sao Paulo. Atletico Mineiro, meanwhile, are aiming to underline their title credentials against a shell-shocked Gremio Prudente.
High stakes: The weekend’s biggest-name encounter pits Gremio against Corinthians at the former’s Estadio Olimpico, though the Gaucho side have one eye on the Copa do Brasil semi-finals. Coach Silas may well rest the likes of Jonas, Borges and Douglas, but can call on quality replacements and the support of the passionate home fans. Brasileirao success is now a must for opposite number Mano Menezes, following early exits in both the state championship and Libertadores, and he needs veteran striker Ronaldo to start firing on all cylinders.
In the spotlight: On Sunday, Vasco da Gama are set to meet Palmeiras in another heavyweight duel. Rio de Janeiro side Vasco, who bounced back from Serie B last year but fell short in both the 2010 Carioca championship and Copa do Brasil, also failed to produce in last week’s league opener. Palmeiras, for their part, kicked off their Brasileirao bid by beating Vitoria but remain under pressure following last year’s late-season collapse.
Argentinian Clausura: Juniors sight title
Tension aplenty is on the cards in the final round. Argentinos Juniors’ incredible comeback win over Independiente on the previous matchday, allied to Estudiantes’ draw with Rosario Central, took Diego Maradona’s former club a point clear of El Pincha at the top of the table and within touching distance of a first title in 21 years. Estudiantes, beaten in Libertadores action midweek and without the talismanic Juan Sebastian Veron through suspension, must beat Colon and hope Argentinos slip up away to Huracan.
High stakes: Chasing a Copa Sudamericana berth, Velez Sarsfield and Lanus both face tough encounters on Saturday. The former take on a Rosario side fighting desperately to avoid the drop, while the latter visit Independiente, who led the way earlier in the campaign. Both teams have 60 points in the overall standings, though Velez have a slight edge on goal difference.
In the spotlight: On loan from Independiente, Ismael Sosa has struck nine goals for Argentinos Juniors in the tournament and lies just one behind the joint-top scorers Mauro Boselli and Martin Palermo. “It doesn’t matter if I finish top scorer or not,” said Sosa. “All I want is for us to be crowned champions.”
Mexican Bicentenario: Who will reach the final?
High-scoring draws were the end result in both first-leg encounters in the semi-finals, with Monarcas Morelia coming from behind three times at home to deny Santos Laguna a vital win. However, thanks to their superior regular-season record, Santos need just a draw in Saturday’s second leg to reach the final, while only victory will do for Monarcas.
High stakes: Pachuca and Toluca are set to go head-to-head in Saturday’s other semi-final, which finished 2-2 after the first leg. On home soil for the return, their regular-season record means that a draw is enough for Toluca to progress.
In the spotlight: Toluca’s Chilean hitman Hector Mancilla took his tally for the competition to ten with a goal in midweek to move level with Javier Hernandez, Johan Fano and Hercules Hurtado on the scoring chart, though the latter trio will have no further opportunities to increase their totals.
Uruguayan Primera Division: A tale of three clásicos
On fire throughout the Clausura 2010, when racking up 14 wins and one draw from 15 games, Penarol topped the overall standings and had looked well-placed to seal the 2009/10 Uruguayan championship against Apertura 2009 winners Nacional. Yet despite the blow of a 6-1 aggregate defeat by Brazil’s Cruzeiro in the Libertadores, Nacional dug deep to sink their fierce rivals 2-0 on 12 May and force a two-legged title decider.
High stakes: The capital Montevideo is therefore set to come to a standstill once more on Saturday, and the Estadio Centenario, which welcomed over 50,000 spectators for Thursday’s duel, is again expected to be full. With the pressure firmly on, how will previously buoyant Penarol react to their first domestic reverse of the year?
In the spotlight: Given the personal backing of coach Eduardo Acevedo, Santiago Garcia did not disappoint in Thursday’s clásico. The 19-year-old forward struck a vital brace to win the hearts of the Nacional fans, who will be hoping Garcia can now fire them to a 32nd national title.
American Major League Soccer: Galaxy out of this world
Everything seems to be going according to plan for Western Conference leaders Los Angeles Galaxy, top of the standings by nine points after just eight games of the campaign following seven wins and a draw. Their latest success was a 4-0 away thumping of Seattle Sounders, with the Sounders so outclassed their fans were given their money back, and Galaxy will be expected to pick up another three points at home to Toronto FC.
High stakes: It does not get any easier for the Sounders who, after their mauling by Galaxy, now visit Eastern Conference top dogs New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls are four points clear of closest Eastern rivals Columbus Crew, though the latter, who host Chivas USA, have played two games fewer.
In the spotlight: Having hit 15 goals in eight games so far, it is up front where Galaxy appear to have the biggest edge over their fellow MLS sides. Star man Landon Donovan has the guile to unlock even the toughest defences, while strike partner Edson Buddle has already found the net nine times this campaign.
The destination of the trophy will be decided this weekend in Morocco, where Raja Casablanca are a point clear at the top going into the final round and within touching distance of a tenth national title. City rivals and closest challengers WAC, in first place until one matchday ago, need to beat FUS Rabat and hope Raja slip up away to FAR Rabat.
After losing last time out, Shimizu S-Pulse, the pacesetters in Japan, will be looking to bounce back on their visit to tenth-placed FC Tokyo. Two points behind Shimizu in second spot are Nagoya Grampus Eight, who host Kashima Antlers – champions for the last three years.
Finally turning to China PR, where the division’s top sides are both away from home this weekend. Shanghai Shenhua lead the standings with 13 points from seven games and travel to face Jiangsu Sainty, while second-placed Shandong Luneng, on 12 points from six matches, visit Shenzhen Ruby in third.