Ball rolling again in Europe
Barely three weeks have passed since the end of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, but already fans are gearing up for another exciting season of domestic action. While most of the top divisions around Europe are still enjoying a well-earned break, a number of leagues have been underway for some time already.
In Russia, 2008 UEFA Cup winners Zenit St. Petersburg are top of the Premier Liga table with a nine point cushion over nearest challengers Rubin Kazan. The first half of the season comes to a fascinating close this weekend as the league leaders host the reigning champions in the round's top match. The Russian top flight only suspended operations for a short while to allow for South Africa 2010.
Double winners in trouble
The action has also already started across Scandinavia. Similarly to the Russians, Sweden took a short break for the 2010 world finals, but Norway and Finland left their fixture programmes running throughout the international showpiece. Rosenborg and HJK Helsinki lead the standings in those respective top tiers, each with a six-point advantage over their closest rivals.
In Denmark, the SAS-Ligaen season kicked off just a week after proceedings came to an end in the so-called Rainbow Nation, and reigning champions FC Copenhagen have picked up where they left off last term with two wins from as many games. Meanwhile in Sweden, defending champions and double-winners AIK are in serious danger of relegation from the Allsvenskan.
Also among the early starters this year are Austria and Switzerland, where the domestic seasons have already been running for two weeks. Swiss double-winners FC Basel boast a 100 per cent record with two games gone, while Austria's Red Bull Salzburg began their assault on the title with a goalless draw against SV Kapfenberg.
Heading into eastern Europe, thousands of football fans have already made the transition from national to domestic football. In Croatia's 1. HNL, cup holders Hajduk Split lead the standings thanks to a 6-1 demolition of Istra 1961 Pula, ahead of reigning champions Dinamo Zagreb, who ran out 4-1 derby winners against Hrvatski Dragovoljac.
Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk have enjoyed an excellent start with maximum points from their first three matches. Dnipro, who finished fourth last season, are currently top of the table, with defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk and fellow challengers Dynamo Kiev both chasing on seven points apiece.
Several other leagues around Europe will commence this coming weekend, including Belgium's Jupiler League, Bosnia-Herzegovina's Premijer Liga, Bulgaria's A Liga and Hungary's NB1. The so-called 'top five' divisions begin their 2010/11 seasons slightly later, with France the first to get going on 7 August, before England (14), Germany (20) and Spain and Italy (both 28).
But before the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich kick off another year of domestic thrills and spills, there are a number of international friendly matches to look forward to on 10/11 August. USA take on five-time world champions Brazil, Italy face Côte d'Ivoire in London, and the third-placed team at South Africa 2010, Germany, travel to Denmark. Mexico can look forward to welcoming newly-crowned FIFA World Cup winners Spain, while runners-up the Netherlands meet Ukraine.
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