Glory hopes extinguished
Sides from Brazil, Kenya, Mexico and the USA kissed goodbye to their title hopes at the weekend. With unexpected twists keeping matters tight at the top in Argentina and China PR, FIFA.com reviews the latest action from outside Europe.
Argentinian Apertura: Tigre the big winners
Tigre's wishes were fulfilled during a weekend which ended with just a point separating the top three. A Martin Morel brace earned El Matador at 2-0 win at home to Godoy Cruz, who fell bottom, while their two rivals for gold slipped up.
San Lorenzo, 3-1 up with ten minutes to play, appeared cruising to victory at Newell's Old Boys, but Leonel Vangioni and German Re ensured the spoils were shared. A worse fate was to befall Boca Juniors: an exquisite goal by teenager Jonathan Cristaldo proved crucial as Velez Sarsfield condemned Los Xeneizes to a 3-2 home defeat that left them one point shy of the front two.
Big game: On Gabriel Rodriguez's debut as caretaker-coach, a solitary Radamel Falcao Garcia header proved enough for River Plate to grab their first league win in 13 games away to Independiente, and move off the foot of the table.
Headline-grabbers: Gabriel Hauche and Andres Fabricio Romero scored doubles apiece as Argentinos Juniors beat Estudiantes 5-0 to move five points clear of the foot.
Brasileirao: Five becomes three
Five teams entered Round 35 of 38 with title ambitions, but only three emerged with those realistically intact. Sao Paulo's fifth straight victory kept them two points clear of runners-up Gremio, who beat Coritiba 2-1. A double from Borges took his tally to six goals in three games, and helped the defending champions beat Figueirense 3-1 in front of over 60,000 at the Morumbi.
Elsewhere, respective 5-2 defeats left Cruzeiro and Palmeiras out of the running. A Raposa went down at Nautico, while O Verdão lost a thrilling game away to Flamengo, who climbed to third, five points off the pace.
Big game: Goals from Washington, Tarta and Romeu helped Fluminense beat Portuguesa 3-1, which moved the Copa Libertadores 2008 finalists three points clear of the drop zone and left their opponents one shy of safety.
Headline-grabbers: Midfielders Kleberson and Ibson turned in exceptional displays, scoring once and thrice apiece to maintain Flamengo's challenge.
Mexican Apertura: Santos relief, Guadalajara despair
Reigning Clausura champions Santos Laguna sneaked into the play-offs despite failing to achieve the victory many believed would be necessary, but there was heartache for the country's most popular club despite finishing the regular season with a win. Guadalajara ended Indios Juarez's hopes with a 2-0 success, but it was insufficient to take them leave them among Group 2's three qualifiers: Cruz Azul and Tecos both won convincingly at home to join section winners Pumas in the Liguilla.
Santos, who drew 0-0 with Group 1 winners Atlante, advanced due to Pachuca's inability to beat Atlas at home.
Big game: Christian Gimenez's 58th-minute goal would have sealed Pachuca's progression had it not been for an equaliser from diminutive Argentinian Dario Bottinelli.
Headline-grabbers: A hat-trick from Paraguayan forward Pablo Zeballos inspired Cruz Azul to a 4-1 win over Jaguares that booked them a quarter-final date with Pumas.
Chinese Super League: Late drama smiles on Shenhua
Last-minute goals contrived to ensure Shanghai Shenhua will enter the penultimate round in the driving seat. Liang Cheng snatched Jia Xiuquan's side a 3-2 win at home to Changchun Yatai, while another 11th-hour strike condemned the leaders going into the weekend to defeat by the same scoreline. Song Lihui's effort not only dropped Shandong Luneng into the runners-up spot, but it also gave a significant lift to Shenzhen Shangqingyin's survival hopes.
Intriguingly, Shenhua and Luneng are level on points and have an identical head-to-head record, leaving the former's three-goal edge on goal difference has them in pole position.
Big games: Tianjin Teda took a step towards a top-four finish, and a place in the AFC Champions League 2009, by beating Liaoning 2-0. They now head fifth-placed Shaanxi Baorong, who drew 1-1 at Shenyang Ginde, by two points.
Headline-grabbers: Liu Jianye's goal earned Changsha Ginde a 1-1 draw with visiting Shaanxi Baorong and, crucially, the point they needed to guarantee survival.
New York Red Bulls may have crawled into the play-offs, but one week after their shock elimination of defending champions Houston Dynamo, another upset on their travels sent them into their maiden MLS Cup final. Dutch midfielder Dave van den Bergh started and finished the only goal of the game to earn Juan Carlos Osorio's side victory at Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference decider.
The Red Bulls will now attempt to win their first-ever national championship against Columbus Crew on Sunday, which is something Mathare United accomplished with one round to spare at the weekend. The Nairobi team achieved the point they needed to render SoNy Sugar unable to catch them in the Kenyan Premier League.