Leaving it late
It was truly a week for connoisseurs of last-minute drama. In Uruguay, South Africa, Australia, Peru and Honduras, the goals rained in as the seconds ticked away, breaking hearts and keeping dreams alive in equal measure. In Argentina, the season finished in unique fashion, and Mexico played host to one of the most dramatic two-leg final ties of the year. FIFA.com reviews the pick of the weekend action.
Argentinian Apertura: Crowded summit
For the first time in Apertura history, three teams have finished level at the top of the league. Joint leaders Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Tigre all won their final matches to keep pace with each other at the top: Boca surged into an early lead against Colon before being pegged back to 3-2, while their two rivals managed 1-0 victories over Argentinos Juniors and Banfield. Goal difference is not used to determine a winner in Argentina (much to San Lorenzo's dismay), and the top three will now contest a mini-league to determine the Apertura champion.
Big game: River Plate's relentlessly miserable season looked like ending on a high note at least, when defender Eduardo Tuzzio put them into the lead at Estudiantes on 57 minutes. Yet Los Pincharratas levelled thirteen minutes later through former Boca man Mauro Boselli, and despite the late dismissal of Juan Sebastian Veron, River were unable to find a winner.
Headline-grabber: Tigre have been the surprise packet of the season, and it is surely fair to call Martin Morel the revelation of the campaign. The late-blooming No10 was on target again for El Matador on Sunday against Banfield, taking the Victoria club to the three-way title playoff.
Uruguayan Apertura: Clásico glory for Nacional
There is no bigger occasion in Uruguayan club football than the clash between eternal Montevideo rivals Penarol and Nacional, and it was Los Bolsos who came away smiling on this occasion. A 72nd-minute penalty from Sergio Blanco, recently returned from a spell playing in China, was enough to give Nacional both bragging rights and top spot on the table after 13 rounds. Overtaken Danubio remain within a point of the leaders, while third-placed Penarol and seventh-placed Liverpool are only separated by two points, in a tight field.
Big game: Erstwhile leaders Danubio travelled to the Estadio Belvedere to face Liverpool, and looked headed for defeat when goals from Eduardo Aranda and Emiliano Alfaro left them 2-0 down after an hour. But La Franja proved that they had not reached the top by accident, pulling a goal back from the spot on 73 minutes before Jorge Garcia equalized in added time.
Headline-grabber: While his namesake Christian Gimenez prepares to strut his wares in Japan, young River Plate striker Henry Gimenez did his chances of another national call-up no harm at all with two goals in a 3-1 win over Bella Vista.
South African Premier Soccer League: Bunched pack
It is still anyone's title in South Africa, with only six points separating first from eleventh in the table. Gavin Hunt's SuperSport had to settle for a share of the lead when Katlego Mashego's late strike secured a 1-1 draw at Moroka Swallows, a result which brings SuperSport level at the top with Ajax Cape Town, who triumphed 2-1 in the Telkom Cup final against Orlando Pirates. Bidvest Wits moved to within two points of the leaders with a crucial 2-1 away win over Bloemfontein Celtic in sweltering conditions, which left Mitch d'Avray's side in serious danger of the drop.
Big game: A pulsating match at Olympia Park Stadium in Rustenburg between Kaiser Chiefs and Bay United ended 3-3. The promoted side went into an early two-goal lead before Amakhosi fought back with goals from Jose Torrealba and Thabang Rooi. A brilliant free-kick from Jermaine Christian put the away side ahead again, but the Chiefs rescued a point with an 88th-minute penalty.
Headline-grabber: Free State Stars may not have had the best of seasons to date, but they had reason to cheer on Sunday as midfielder Duncan Lechesa scored a hat-trick, including two penalties, to hand the relegation-threatened side a 3-2 win over Thanda Royal Zulu.
Australian A-League: Late drama all round
While Adelaide United experienced triumph followed by tragedy at the FIFA Club World Cup, the A-League continued apace, with Queensland Roar and the Central Coast Mariners both registering last-ditch wins to move within spitting distance of the absent leaders. Wellington Phoenix's frustrating draw with Perth Glory has left both sides lagging behind the leading group, while defending champions Newcastle suffered yet another demoralizing defeat, this time to Queensland. The Jets are now rock bottom of the table, and ten points off the top four with six rounds to play.
Big game: Queensland's poor home record looked set to continue when Joel Griffiths put cellar-dwellers Newcastle in front at Suncorp Stadium. But Mitch Nichols, Australian U-20 hero, equalized just before the break, and Dutchman Sergio van Dijk thumped home a left-wing cross in injury time to give the home side a crucial 2-1 win.
Headline-grabber: Combative Central Coast midfielder Mile Jedinak has been receiving rave reviews recently, even forcing his way into Pim Verbeek's Australian squad for a recent FIFA World Cup™ qualifying match. He enhanced his reputation further by burying the late penalty that gave the Mariners a win over Sydney FC, and a place in the top four.
The conclusion of the Mexican Apertura was sensational. Toluca looked to be home and dry after a 2-0 away win over Cruz Azul in the first leg of the final on Friday, and up until half-time in Sunday's return leg, the Diablos Rojos had kept their opponents scoreless. Yet goals from Alejandro Vela and Julio Cesar Dominguez stunned the home side, and the teams were ultimately forced to penalties after extra time failed to yield any goals. Vela then turned from hero to villain for Cruz Azul, firing the away side's ninth (!) spot-kick into the arms of veteran Argentine keeper Hernan Cristante, with the penalty count at 7-6. Toluca were thus crowned Apertura champions, 2008.
Another league that finished in suitably dramatic fashion was the Honduran Apertura. Marathon emerged triumphant after a free-kick from international Mario Rene Berrios two minutes into added time gave the Verdes a 1-1 draw with Real España in the second leg of the final, and a 2-1 aggregate victory.
In Peru, a 2-2 draw at Jose Galvez was enough for San Martin to clinch not only the Clausura title but the national crown on aggregate, while Alianza Atletico claimed the last Copa Sudamericana berth with a convincing 3-0 win at home to Cienciano.