By DAVID MOSSE
One of the top matches in all the world this weekend won't be played in England, Spain, Germany or anywhere else in Europe. It'll be happening in Argentina.
Boca Juniors and River Plate renew their Superclasico rivalry Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.), and while Boca Juniors hitman Martin Palermo (above, right) has enjoyed a fascinating career with many memorable moments, scoring a goal in his final Superclasico would certainly be very special. La Bombonera promises to be packed as the two fierce rivals collide in a crucial contest, particularly for the home side, which trails Velez Sarsfield by nine points in the Clausura.
Palermo should benefit from the pinpoint service provided by Juan Roman Riquelme, who has been limited in training this week due to a muscle injury suffered against Argentinos Juniors, but wouldn't conceive of missing this match.
The visitors would probably be content with a draw, but they do count on the wonderful talent of Erik Lamela, one of the bright young stars in Argentinian soccer who can turn a match at any moment. Expect River to rely on the counterattack in the hopes of snatching a result that would send Boca tumbling down the standings. It should be another heated clash between these sides.
Here's a look ahead to some of the other important matches in South America and Mexico this weekend:
Lanus vs. Velez Sarsfield, Sunday, 7:20 p.m.
Velez Sarsfield could be forgiven for being preoccupied with the Copa Libertadores at this point. As the only Argentinian club left in the competition, Velez might suffer from fixture congestion in the coming weeks, but with a four-point lead over Godoy Cruz atop the Clausura standings, Ricardo Gareca's side would love to capture the domestic title as well and will push forward.
Gareca has promised to field his strongest side in the league clash with fifth-placed Lanus on Sunday, which means Ricky Alvarez leading the attack. Alvarez has emerged as a difference-maker this season, while Uruguayan Santiago Silva is capable of scoring important goals. With the likes of Seba Dominguez and Emiliano Papa anchoring the back-line, this team is difficult to beat.
San Lorenzo vs. Argentinos Juniors, Saturday, 3:10 p.m.
Both San Lorenzo and Argentinos Juniors have suffered through inconsistent campaigns so far, with Argentinos at least in part distracted by the Copa Libertadores. Pedro Troglio's team failed to advance past the group stage and now hopes to make a run at the leaders in the Clausura Championship, but Argentinos will need to play much better than it did against Boca Juniors.
The 2-0 defeat last week exposed the lack of creativity of the side, so Troglio needs to give Emilio Hernandez more freedom to operate. Goalkeeper Nicolas Navarro is suspended due to yellow-card accumulation and Luis Ojeda takes his place. San Lorenzo is waiting on the health of captain Cristian Tula, while play-maker Leandro Romagnoli will be the key figure in the center of the park.
Gremio vs. Internacional, Sunday, 3 p.m.
Internacional legend Paulo Roberto Falcao is already under fire after the club was knocked out of the Copa Libertadores and dropped the first leg of the Gaucho State Championship final to arch-rival Gremio last weekend. Internacional will attempt to overturn a 3-2 deficit on Sunday, and Falcao needs a big effort from playmaker Andres D'Alessandro to break down Gremio's defense.
Fellow Argentine Mario Bolatti is also an influential figure in the center of the park, while youngsters Oscar and Leandro Damiao represent two dangerous weapons for the Porto Alegre giants. Gremio counters with Douglas and the emerging Leandro, who was the best player on the field in the first leg and has even drawn comparisons recently to Santos sensation Neymar.
Santos vs. Corinthians, Sunday, 3 p.m., GOLTV
The aforementioned Neymar has assumed even greater responsibility with Paulo Henrique Ganso sidelined once again due to injury. He will be the danger man, as Santos looks to capture a second straight Paulista State title against its arch-rival on Sunday. Ganso limped out of the scoreless first leg with a thigh problem that should keep him out of action for at least six weeks.
Influential midfielder Arouca is also a doubt, but Santos boasts a deep roster and excellent coach in Muricy Ramalho.
Corinthians signed Adriano recently only to see him suffer a serious injury in training before even making his debut, yet the club does feature a striker of international pedigree in Liedson, while midfielders Bruno Cesar and Jorge Henrique are capable of providing goals also.
Penarol vs. River Plate, Saturday, 7 p.m.
Penarol is flying high after picking up a somewhat fortuitous 2-0 win over Chile's Universidad Catolica in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores quarterfinal tie Wednesday. Diego Aguirre's side now has a chance to move level on points with Nacional atop the Clausura standings by beating River Plate on Sunday. Penarol did suffer a disappointing loss to Nacional last week in the league.
Defender Guillermo Rodriguez was sent off in stoppage time and will be suspended, but Penarol boasts plenty of quality including strikers Dario Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Oliveira. Argentinian Alejandro Martinuccio is a dangerous player as well, while Nicolas Freitas will be entrusted with establishing control in the center of the park against a River Plate team mired in 14th place.
Pumas vs. Chivas de Guadalajara, Sunday, 1 p.m., Telemundo
Chivas will need to win on Sunday to advance past Pumas in the Mexican league playoff semifinals, but the situation could be worse after captain Hector Reynoso was sent off for dissent in the 33rd minute of Thursday's first leg. Pumas returned the gift, however, when David Cabrera saw red just before halftime and both teams returned for the second half with just 10 men.
Pumas took the lead on a back-post header from Efrain Velarde early in the second half before a blunder from goalkeeper Alejandro Palacio allowed Omar Arellano to equalize. Los Auriazules finished higher in the league table during the season, so they can play for another draw, while Chivas will push forward in what should be a pulsating contest at Ciudad Universitaria Stadium.
Morelia vs. Cruz Azul, Sunday, 9 p.m., Azteca America
Morelia will have a big mountain to climb on Sunday in large part due to a goalkeeping blunder from Federico Villar in the first half of Sunday's first leg. Villar fumbled an easy free kick from Christian Gimenez midway through the first half and the ball trickled over the line. Gimenez laid on the second for Emanuel Villa with a cushioned header to culminate a flowing passing move.
Villa evaded defender Joel Huiqui and smashed into the roof of the net from close range. Cruz Azul is now in great shape to advance to another Primera Division final in its quest to capture a first Mexican title since 1997. Los Cementeros have lost three finals in the past six seasons and failed to get out of the quarterfinals after posting the best regular-season record last fall.
Who do you see winning the Boca Juniors-River Plate match? What match-up are you most looking forward to seeing? Who do you see advancing to the Mexican liguilla finals?
Share your thoughts below.