Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, they say (although Pep Guardiola appears to have misread that one…it is a tad ambiguous, to be fair). Or they may badly misquote Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or Al Pacino’s Tony D’Amato. Unusually for a Friday, there is a lot at stake in all of today’s chosen games, which should please that mysterious ‘they’. If you prefer your football desperate, intense and gut-wrenching, now’s the time to put your feet up with a six-pack, and act in exactly the opposite way as those preceding adjectives.
1) Ligue 1: Toulouse vs. Montpellier, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST
There are five matchdays left in France. Montpellier, surprise leaders, are on a quest for their first-ever French league title, but their fans are feeling the heat as moneybags PSG mercilessly hunt them down. Toulouse are having a great season, are on cracking form (as demonstrated by their thwacking of Lyon last week) and can still qualify for the Europa League. A couple of days after Chelsea somehow knocked out Barcelona, and Bayern and Real showed the world how not to take penalties, could this game prove to be the outstanding fixture of the week?
2) Belgian Pro League, play-offs: Racing Genk vs. Anderlecht, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
It’s officially squeaky bum time in Belgium. Anderlecht hold a four-point lead over Club Brugge as the much-maligned play-off system draws to a close, but a loss to a rejunenated Genk side would give their closest challengers the chance to cut it to one on Saturday, and invite today’s opponents back into the race. The supposedly all-important psychological advantage goes to Thomas Buffel and Co., who have already spanked their Brussels-based adversaries 3-1 away from home. A repeat of that result would see cats leaping unannounced into gatherings of unsuspecting pigeons all over Belgium.
3) Portuguese Primeira Liga: Sporting Braga vs. Olhanense, 21.15 CET/15.15 EST
Braga have never won the league. And let’s face it, it’s not an easy task, what with Benfica, Sporting and Porto peskily snapping up 97.4% of the available titles since the formation of the Portuguese championship (sadly, that’s a real stat). In the last few years, they have attempted to gatecrash this private three-team party, finishing 2nd in the table and notably reaching the Europa League final last year. Recent slip-ups have probably ruined their chances of lifting the trophy this year, so they must concentrate on the next best thing, second place and the Champions League spot that comes with it. Defeating a useful Olhanense outfit is about as must-win as they come for Braga this season, especially if they want to be known for something other than having quite simply the coolest stadium on the planet.
Thought all the best football today had already been and gone? Think again. Here’s an appetising Americas assortment that’ll get your pulses racing faster than that of a Kazakh athlete forced to listen to Borat’s ‘alternative’ anthem at a recent medal ceremony.
1) Argentinian Primera A (Clausura): Racing Club vs Unión, 00.30 CET/18.30 EST
Now managed by David Beckham nemesis Diego Simeone, Racing are, well, racing to end an eleven year wait without a league title, a bloody eternity for fans of a club considered to be part of an admittedly rather arbitrary ‘big five’ in Argentina. Their newly promoted opponents have not done too shabbily so far back amongst the big boys, and with both sides having strengthened their defence, it promises to be a tight one.
2) Mexican 1a División: Santos Laguna vs Querétaro, 03.00 CET/21.00 EST
In Mexico, it’s second against 18th tonight, also known as last. Querétaro have won once in eleven matches, while Santos Laguna recently put six goals past a previously-thought-to-be-pretty-damn-good Seattle side in the CONCACAF Champions League. Expect a few goals at the Estadio Corona, and expect them for just one team.
3) MLS: Vancouver vs DC United, 04.00 CET/22.00 EST
The Canadians won their first two games of the season, including a first-ever away victory as an MLS club last week. In the meantime, DC United were losing their opening two fixtures. While it all points to a home win, the Whitecaps have a few pesky injuries, and DC United have…well, it might be clutching at straws, but they might well have more Canadians on the field than their hosts, if Dejan Jakovic can shake off a groin strain and 2011 league MVP Dwayne de Rosario plays, as he is expected to do. De Rosario constitutes DC’s best chance of taking something from the game, and he would no doubt relish the chance to do it in front of his countrymen, continuing his mission to become the most famous Canadian since, um, John Candy.
Fridays generally offer slim pickings for those looking for some live footy action, and today’s fixture list does have a certain Old Mother Hubbard look to it. Still, football’s a bit like sex, or pizza; even when it’s bad, it’s really, really good:
1) Bundesliga: Wolfsburg vs Hamburg, 20.30 CET/15.30 EST
Hamburg have had a bad season, by their high standards. Currently scrabbling about just above the drop zone, the former European champions really need to take something from their tricky trip to Wolfsburg, following a run of five games without a win. Hamburg have never been relegated from the top flight, but should they get bitten on the bum by the Wolves tonight, the yawning abyss will seem a wee bit too close for comfort.
2) Portuguese Primeira Liga: Olhanense vs Benfica, 21.45 CET/16.45 EST
It’s been a pretty divine couple of weeks for Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side, what with them making it into the Big Cup quarter-finals, being chosen to host the 2014 final of that same competition and cutting the gap on pesky Porto to one point. A win this evening over Algarve outfit Olhanense would see them temporarily leap-frog their rowdy rivals into first place. However, just before you stick the mortgage on The Eagles to grab all three points, it’s worth noting that their traditionally modest opponents are enjoying one of their best ever seasons in the top division.
3) MLS: Seattle vs Houston, 04.00 CET/22.00 EST
A battle of undefeated sides, I hear you say? Let’s be having some of that! Except the MLS season has only reached matchday…three. Still, Sounders fans always create a cracking atmosphere, and the Dynamo have looked pretty solid so far. Seattle should have won the MLS last year, and Houston almost did, so the chances of a dull encounter are as unlikely as one of Mitt Romey’s campaign advisers comparing the candidate’s policies to an Etch A Sketch. Oh, wait…