World Leagues preview
Though South Africa 2010 is just around the corner, there is still plenty of league championship fare on offer around the globe, with Corinthians out to maintain their perfect start in Brazil, Shandong Luneng defending their lead in China, and Bicentenario play-off finalists Toluca and Santos Laguna going to the wire in Mexico.
FIFA.com looks forward to the weekend’s fixtures in the biggest leagues outside Europe.
Brasileirao: Three out of three for O Timão?
With Santos and Vitoria advancing this week to the Brazilian Cup final and Flamengo having recently put paid to their hopes in the Copa Libertadores, Corinthians’ last hope of celebrating their centenary year with silverware lies in the league. O Timão have made the best possible start to their bid by winning their opening two games, the only team to do so. However, that record will be put to the test at home to a Fluminense side that is improving fast under coach Muricy Ramalho.
Big game: Internacional and Sao Paulo are both in buoyant mood going in to their meeting at the Beira-Rio on Sunday. O Colorado eliminated defending champions Estudiantes in the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores this week, with O Tricolor Paulista also advancing to the last four after easing past last year’s Copa runners-up Cruzeiro. As fate would have it the two will meet in the semis in late July, adding a little extra spice to their weekend duel.
Player to watch: Gremio keeper Victor did his level best to help his side reach the Brazilian Cup final this week, pulling off some stunning saves against Santos. In the end, however, the considerable talent of Robinho, Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso won the day, leaving the Porto Alegre outfit and their valiant shot-stopper to focus on the Brasileirao instead. Regarded the best keeper in the last two league seasons, can Victor maintain his focus for Saturday’s match-up with crisis-stricken Palmeiras?
Chinese Super League: Pressure on Shandong
Shandong Luneng will defend their one-point lead over Shanghai Shenhua when they play host to Changchun Yatai on Saturday. In the meantime, the men from Shanghai, who have played a game more than the leaders, take on Beijing Guoan. Down at the bottom, Jiangsu Sainty, the only side that have yet to win a game, will look to end a run of five straight draws when they square off against fellow strugglers Hangzhou Lucheng.
Big game: That match between Shanghai and Beijing pits second against third, with the hosts having drawn their last two games and the visitors their last three. Another draw will do neither side much good in their attempts to close up on Shandong.
Players to watch: The top scorers in the league this season are Shanghai’s Colombian striker Duvier Riascos and Shandong’s Chinese front man Han Peng with five goals apiece. Can the in-form duo add to their tallies this weekend?
American Major League Soccer: Crew looking shipshape
Columbus Crew beat New York Red Bulls 3-1 on Thursday, a result that kept their unbeaten record intact and took them to the top of the Eastern Conference at the expense of the side from the Big Apple. The Crew will defend their lead at Kansas City Wizards on Sunday, while the unbeaten Los Angeles Galaxy, the top dogs in the Western Conference, have a weekend off.
Big game: San Jose Earthquakes are mounting a strong challenge behind the Galaxy and have another opportunity to prove their credentials when they face Seattle Sounders on Saturday.
Player to watch: With several established stars away on international duty ahead of South Africa 2010, their replacements have now have a golden opportunity to show what they can do. One such hopeful is Houston Dynamo Brad Davis, who has deputised successfully for Brian Ching on previous occasions, scoring three goals and providing four assists already this season. Can the understudy chip in with another useful contribution against DC United?
Mexico’s Torneo Bicentenario reaches its conclusion on Sunday as Toluca and Santos Laguna go head to head in the return leg of the championship play-off final. The pair fought out an exciting 2-2 draw on Thursday, though Los Diablos of Toluca will fancy their chances at the Estadio Nemesio Diez, where they have lost just once all season.
The finalists of the Colombian Apertura will be decided this weekend. La Equidad and Deportes Tolima go into the second leg of their semi-final tied at 2-2, while Atletico Junior have a 3-1 lead to defend away to reigning champions Independiente Medellin on Sunday.