One weekend, three games, Worldwide. All the information.
We arrived the special moments of the football season. Most of leagues are preparing for the final acts, when champions are crowned and clubs face relegation. In other places, the league is taking off and the season is only in the beginning.
This weekend we will taste a bit of both. We will check the early stages of the Uzbek league; a decisive survival series in Chile; and a Paulista encounter in Brazil. We really shouldn't explain no more. Enjoy!
(All the hours are in CET local time)
Friday, 1630, Nasaf Qarshi - Lokomotiv Tashkent (Uzbekistan PFL)
The spring is here, what means the start of the Central Asian leagues. Matchday no. 7 in Uzbekistan is here, and two surprising teams lead the table – Nasaf Qarshi and Lokomotiv Tashkent.
Nasaf Qarshi is a permanent member in the top places of the Uzbek league, but they never won the title. In the past ten seasons the club finished once as a runner-up and six times on the third place. In 2011 they made history and became the first Uzbek team to win a continental title, defeating Al-Kuwait 2:1 in the AFC Cup final. They are the current league leaders, with 15 points. The manager, Ruziqul Berdiev, is a former Nasaf Qarshi player, who played 11 seasons for the club. Their main players are Artur Gevorkyan, last season's league top scorer who already scored four goals in four games this season, Ilkhom Shomurodov, one of the club's 2011 AFC Cup title heroes, and Rok Roj, a Slovenian player who formerly played in Netherlands and Azerbaijan. Lokomotiv Tashkent, the league’s runner-up two years in a row. This season the club aims for a sensational first championship. Last year they won the first title in the club's history, defeating Bunyodkor 1:0 in the Uzbek Cup final. This season they are ranked on the 2nd place, one point less than Nasaf Qarshi, but they didn't lose a match yet. The notable figures are Timur Kapadze, the most capped player in the history of the national team with 119 caps, and Ignatiy Nesterov, the national team goalkeeper who won ten domestic championships in his career. Other dominant players in the squad are Ruslan Koryan, Russian-Armenian player who spent most of his career in the Russian lower divisions, and the Bosnian Nemanja Janičić, who plays for the first time in his career outside the Balkans.
Two teams which started the season with great results, who could keep up its title aspirations?
Sunday, 2030, Ñublense – Cobreloa (Chilean Primera División)
The last matchday of the season is always exciting. The final matchday in Chile will make two teams cry. In the current situation, five teams still can be relegated, and only two of them will finish with the ticket to the second division. Ñublense and Cobreloa are in the most complex status – both of them ranked now in the 17th and the 16th places, the relegation spots, which means that the losing team will relegate, no matter the results in the parallel games. Just to clarify: the relegation in Chile based on the points per game ranking of the past two seasons.
Ñublense is a veteran club in the Chilean football, but in the last few seasons they struggle for stability. The last time Ñublense played in the second division was in 2012, and it seems that they are about to return there now. Two bad tournaments, last season's Clausura (17 points out of 17 matches) and this season's Clausura (16 points out of 16 matches), led the team to battle against relegation. The leading players are Sebastián Varas, the team's top scorer with 13 goals, Benjamín Ruiz, who plays for the team since 2010, and Jonathan Cisternas, another veteran who won three championships through his career with the opponents, Cobreloa.
While Ñublense remembers the feeling of playing in the second division, the home club of Alexis Sánchez, Cobreloa, is facing the unknown. Since the club’s formation in 1977, Cobreloa played in the Primera División and never relegated, so it means that relegation will be an historical occasion for the club. Their poor performances in this season's Apertura, achieving only 11 points, lead Cobreloa to the final matchday with the sword over its throat. The manager, Marco Antonio Figueroa, knows the team well as he led the team as player to the Chilean title in 1992. Watch out for Cristián Gaitán, who played for six years for Estudiantes, Miguel Sanhueza, a strong defender who plays his eighth season for the club, and several talented Chilean youngsters such as the 19 years old players, Fernando Cornejo and Iván Ledezma.
No one wants to finish the season with a disastrous feeling of relegation, and both will try to avoid it, but someone will cry on Sunday.
*Two other matches will be played in the same hour, and will be part of the survival race: O'Higgins will host Antofagasta, and Audax Italiano will travel to San Marcos.
** IMPORTANT UPDATE: Due to administrative and bureaucracies the Chilean FA reduced 3 points from Cobreloa before the match, what sealed their relegation to the second division. Despite a 3-2 victory in that match, Ñublense will join them.
Sunday, 2100, Santos – Palmeiras (Campeonato Paulista)
After three months, the Brazilian State Leagues are getting closer to their final stages. This week, most of the leagues will play their finals, and our main event is the Paulista final. The Paulista, the São Paulo's tournament, will have a great final between Santos and Palmeiras, the "Clássico da Saudade" (The Good Days Classico). In the first leg, Palmeiras won at home 1:0. Santos, the origin club of Pelé and Neymar Jr., wish to win and to receive the big prize for their century season in the Paulista. If they will win, it will be their fourth title in the last six years. On the first round Santos made a great run with a single defeat and at the playoff they eliminated XV de Piracicaba and São Paulo. The manager, Marcelo Fernandes, making his debut season as a head coach and wish to win his first title. Like many clubs in Brazil, Santos also have some great names with a lot of European experience, such as Robinho, who spent great season in Real Madrid, Manchester City and now he is loaned from AC Milan, Ricardo Oliveira, who played in Spain and Italy and return to Brazil after playing in the last 5 season in the Emirates, and Renato, who played 7 years for Sevilla. Keep your eyes also on Gabriel, 18 years old teenager who is considered as one of the biggest hopes of the Brazilian football.
The few past seasons of Palmeiras were pretty though. After their promotion two years ago, they almost relegated once again last season. Now they hope to improve as much as they can, and their Paulista season made some of their wishes come true. After winning the quarterfinals against Botafogo-SP, they made great upset in the semifinals, winning by penalties against Corinthians, one of the tournament’s favorites. Their manager, Oswaldo de Oliveira, won the Paulista title once, with Corinthians in 2000. The biggest name of the club is the veteran Zé Roberto, who played for years in Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich and returned 3 years ago to Brazil. Other big names in the squad are Dudu, former Dynamo Kyiv player, the Chilean Jorge Valdivia, who is one of the fans’ favorites, and Fernando Prass, an experienced goalkeeper who won the last year's Brasileirão Goalkeeper of the Season title.
Such games are always a classic, and the Paulista is one of the most luxurious titles in Brazilian football. With all of its history, it will be another classic match, like in the good old times.