World Leagues preview
Glory hopes are poised to enhance for some teams and implode for others. The weekend will finish with just four sides in the hunt for gold in the USA, one of three leading down the home straight in Brazil and one of two crowned regular-season kings in Korea Republic. With play-off places up for grabs in Mexico, a decisive round in Argentina, title contenders colliding in Algeria and Tunisia, and New Zealand staging its biggest fixture, FIFA.com anticipates the forthcoming action outside Europe.
Argentinian Apertura: Keepers proving crucial
Estudiantes, who have averaged conceding only a goal every three games this term and are unbeaten at home in almost eight months, will entertain out-of-sorts Lanus as their two closest challengers undergo away examinations. Velez Sarsfield, three points off the pace in second, will hope Marcelo Barovero can keep a fourth straight clean sheet at sixth-placed Banfield, while third-placed Arsenal are at mid-table Racing.
With only seven rounds remaining, Godoy Cruz and Newell’s Old Boys, seven and six points behind Estudiantes respectively, know they require victory from their meeting in Mendoza to maintain realistic title aspirations.
High stakes: River Plate will visit All Boys for the first time in history in a battle of teams just inside and outside the relegation zone respectively.
Players to watch: The spotlight will be on Juan Roman Riquelme as he makes his first start of the campaign for Boca Juniors against Argentinos Juniors. However, another player whose skills were nurtured in the latter’s youth ranks, pint-sized forward Franco Niell, has designs on spoiling the veteran playmaker’s return from injury and Xeneixe coach Claudio Borghi’s reunion with the club he guided to Clausura glory in May.
Brasileirao: Derby dates for top two
Four teams have realistic title claims with five rounds remaining, and two of those face tricky derbies this weekend. Leaders Fluminense are at home to Rio rivals Vasco da Gama, while second-placed Corinthians, for whom Bruno Cesar and Ronaldo have been shining, are at Sao Paulo, who have won five of their last six to throw themselves a Copa Libertadores lifeline.
Cruzeiro, one point off the summit in third, are away to a Vitoria side who need points to stave off the threat of relegation, while fourth-placed Botafogo travel to third-bottom Avai.
High stakes: Atletico Mineiro, the competition’s maiden champions, will likely escape the drop zone if they can see off fifth-placed Santos at home.
Players to watch: All eyes will be on Fluminense playmaker Dario Conca and his Vasco counterpart Felipe as they go up against their former employers.
Mexican Apertura: Play-off place up for grabs
The penultimate round in the race to join Cruz Azul, Monterrey and Santos Laguna in the play-offs is set to take place. The latter are away to San Luis, who require just a point to qualify, while victory at struggling Atlante would send America though.
Jaguares will effectively advance if they beat lowly Atlas at home and Pachuca fail to overcome Necaxa.
High stakes: Success in front of their own fans would guarantee Tigres a Liguilla berth, but Monarcas simply need the three points to retain any hope of progressing.
Players to watch: Argentinian playmaker Daniel Montenegro, Michael Arroyo of Ecuador and Brazilian stand-out Itamar have the class to send their respective employers, America, San Luis and Tigres, through with a round to spare.
Major League Soccer: Eight to become four
New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy seemingly put one foot in the MLS Cup’s last four courtesy of 1-0 away wins in their Conference semi-final, first legs. After the former were unexpectedly eliminated by San Jose Earthquakes last night, however, David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Co will be wary of Seattle Sounders.
Meanwhile Columbus Crew will have home advantage but a one-goal deficit to recover against Colorado Rapids.
High stakes: Real Salt Lake must overturn a 2-1 loss away to FC Dallas to retain hope of defending their MLS crown. RSL actually won this fixture 2-0 three weeks ago, but must make do without the man who sealed that success, the suspended Javier Morales, on Sunday.
Players to watch: The Crew will entrust Robbie Rogers and Guillermo Barros Schelotto with propelling them into the last four, while the Rapids look to their Omar Cummings-Conor Casey spearhead.
K-League: Places secured, positions to play for
The line-up for the six-team play-offs may be complete, but there’s still plenty to play for on the final day of the regular season. FC Seoul lead Jeju United by one point in the battle to finish top and consequently earn a direct passage to the overall final. The capital club are at home to lowly Daejeon Citizen, while the islanders entertain an Incheon United side seeking their first win in seven outings.
Jeonbuk Motors need to triumph at in-form Suwon Bluewings to guarantee third place, which will book them a home meeting with the sixth-placed finishers. Fourth will host fifth in the other match in the first round of the play-offs.
High stakes: Seongnam Chunma and Gyeongnam are level on points - one behind Jeonbuk - in fourth and sixth respectively.
Players to watch: In their quest to finish in the top four and thus secure home advantage in the first round of the play-offs, fifth-placed Ulsan Horangi hope Paraguayan striker Jose Ortigoza can fire them to victory over second-bottom Gwanju, who will look to Choi Won Kwon to save them from the wooden spoon.
Esperance will try to respond to a 5-0 defeat by TP Mazembe in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final last weekend by consolidating their position atop of the Tunisian Ligue 1 standings. However, Khaled Korbi, Michael Eneramo and Co have a daunting task in the shape of a short trip across the capital to third-placed Stade Tunisien, who have goalkeeper Rami Jeridi in resplendent form.
Algerian Ligue 1 pacesetters ES Setif will visit sixth-placed MC El Eulma as MC Saida and ASO Chlef, both two points off the pace in third and second respectively, collide.
The stand-out fixture on the New Zealand Football Championship calendar will unfold in Round 3, when second-placed Auckland City entertain their table-topping arch-rivals Waitakere United. The in-form Allan Pearce will lead the line for Neil Emblen’s visitors, while City hope Daniel Koprivcic can do damage to the club he represented so splendidly before his high-profile transfer between the giants last year.