Tight races at both ends
Many of the world's leagues are heading for an exciting conclusion, but it is not just the race for the domestic crown that has the fans biting their fingernails; there are plenty of close contests in the dreaded relegation zones as well. FIFA.com previews another action-packed week in the world's leagues, after a break for FIFA World Cup™ qualifying matches.
Brasileirao: Gremio holding firm
Two morale-boosting home wins against Botafogo and Santos have gotten leaders Gremio back on track in the Brasileirao, but only two points separate them from Palmeiras. The Tricolor will expect to take the full three points from their trip to lowly Portuguesa this weekend, while Palmeiras must sweat it out against local rivals Sao Paulo, only two points behind them in third, in the Choque Rei derby. At the other end of the table, six teams, including Copa Libertadores finalists Fluminense, are within three points of each other in what promises to be a true relegation scrap.
Big game: The Clásico dos Milhões between Vasco da Gama and Flamengo has a particular edge to it this time, with Vasco desperate to move off the bottom of the table and O Mengão equally determined to break into the top four.
Player to watch: After three goals in two games, including a brace on Thursday in a 2-2 draw against Sport, veteran striker Leandro Amaral will be Vasco's best bet for goals in the derby. Flamengo, for their part, will be looking to inspirational captain Fabio Luciano to stop him!
Argentinian Apertura: The chase is on
Only nine games into the season, it is becoming a case of catch San Lorenzo if you can in Argentina. The Almagro club are already five points clear of the pack, coach Miguel Angel Russo showing that his Copa Libertadores triumph with Boca Juniors in 2007 was no fluke. El Ciclón will expect to extend their lead at home to San Martin this weekend, in which case second-placed Newell's Old Boys will need to win at Godoy Cruz to keep the leaders within striking distance. Tigre, level with Newell's on 17 points, face a tough opponent in fourth-placed Lanus.
Big game: No question which encounter will be grabbing the headlines this weekend. The Superclásico between River Plate and Boca Juniors is one of the highlights of Argentina's calendar, let alone its football league. With Boca starting the season in indifferent fashion and River, incredibly, languishing in the bottom three, the desire to win will be intense on both sides.
Player to watch: Jose Sand's superb form at club level with Lanus won him his first international call-up for Argentina's recent FIFA World Cup qualifier against Chile, even though he was only used as a late substitute. The 28-year-old striker scored his third brace of the season in his last outing, and will hope to add a fourth against Tigre.
Japanese J-League: First among equals
It has been one of the tightest J-League races in recent memory. No team has firmly established their title credentials as yet, with only three points separating the top five sides with six rounds to play. This week, the leading pack all manage to avoid each other, although Oita Trinita face the possibility of their opponents FC Tokyo drawing level with them, should they lose. The joint leaders, Kashima Antlers and Nagoya Grampus Eight, both face mid-table opposition, but Kashima, unlike their rivals, will have home advantage...and a determination to make amends for their surprise AFC Champions League exit.
Big game: Apart from Consadole Sapporo, who need a miracle to survive, the relegation scrap is as close as the fight at the top. This weekend, second-from-bottom Omiya Ardija travel to the capital to face Tokyo Verdy, in a match which may prove crucial in the battle to beat the drop.
Player to watch: The previous round featured no fewer than three league hat-tricks, but perhaps the most significant was that scored by tall forward Ryoichi Maeda for Jubilo Iwata against Consadole. The 27-year-old has previously only been used at international level in friendlies, but with Japan misfiring in front of goal of late, national coach Takeshi Okada may feel inclined to call upon him for November's FIFA World Cup qualifier against Qatar if his prolific form continues.
Australian A-League: Away day for leading pack
With the top three teams in the A-League all facing away trips this weekend, the stage looks set for a surprise or two. Table-toppers Melbourne travel to Newcastle, while Sydney FC make the long journey across the Nullarbor to Perth, who will be keen to recover some ground after a wretched start to the campaign. Adelaide United, in third, will hope to carry their AFC Champions League form into their trip to Queensland on Friday evening.
Big game: The encounter at Energy Australia Stadium between Newcastle and Melbourne pits the 2007 and 2008 A-League champions against each other, with Melbourne seeking to continue their excellent start and injury-ridden Newcastle looking to avenge their 5-0 drubbing at Melbourne's hands in August.
Player to watch: Just who can stop Shane Smeltz at the moment? Eight goals in the Oceania FIFA World Cup qualifiers for New Zealand, and three goals in his last two A-League games...the Central Coast Mariners will not need to be told to keep an eye on the Wellington Phoenix striker.
Chinese leaders Shandong Luneng face a daunting trip to third-placed Shanghai Shenhua on Saturday, knowing that they need a result to keep second-placed Shaanxi Baorong at bay. Not that the men from Xi'an have an easy task themselves: they travel to the north-east to face Changchun Yatai, who are in red-hot form at the moment, having knocked in six goals without reply against Guangzhou last weekend.
Petrojet currently top the pile in Egypt, but Zamalek, in second place with no fewer than three games in hand, look threatening, and can move within a point of the leaders with a win at lowly Tala Al-Jaish on Friday evening. The Cairo giants will contest another game in midweek, against fourth-placed Enppi; Petrojet could therefore find themselves deprived of the lead before they can lace on a boot in anger!