In Japan, Brazil, Russia and the USA, the leagues have one thing in common: no-one is running away with the title. Everywhere, the leaders are feeling the challengers' breath on their necks, and realize they are only a loss, or even a draw, away from being sucked back into the pack. Meanwhile, Europe is slowly being roused from its UEFA EURO 2008 slumber, as the business of league competition gets underway again.

Japanese J-League: Summit clash
Kashima Antlers took advantage of Urawa's surprise slip-up at home last week to take a two-point lead at the top of the J-League, and the Red Devils will be hungry for revenge at the Kashima Stadium on Sunday, in the weekend's last match. For the two J-League giants, both of whom will be competing in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League in September, the match is a true six-pointer.

Big game: Following a 4-0 home win over Omiya Ardija, Dragan Stojkovic's Nagoya are now only two points off the pace at the top. They will have their work cut out away to Kawasaki Frontale, however, who will be full of confidence after upsetting Asian champions Urawa on Monday.
Player to watch: With Gamba Osaka's star striker Bare now on his way to the UAE, fellow Brazilian Lucas now has the chance to shine, and at home to Oita Trinita, he will be keen to make an impression.

Brasileiro: Gremio on a roll
After a midweek glut of goals, the Brasileirao is still tight at the top. Following their stunning 7-1 win on the road in Florianopolis, their third win in succession, Gremio have overtaken Flamengo at the head of the standings. High-flying Palmeiras, however, will provide tough opposition at the Monumental on Sunday. Gremio's closest rivals Flamengo have a Rio derby against Botafogo to negotiate, while Vitoria, in third, face their northern neighbours Atletico Mineiro on the road.

Big game: Sao Paulo and Portuguesa have differing aims in the Paulista derby, with the former seeking to regain some ground in the race for the title, while Portuguesa seek to slip further away from the relegation zone following their heartening draw with table-toppers Flamengo in midweek.
Player to watch: Internacional's Nilmar simply can't stop scoring at the moment: a double in midweek lifted his team to victory over Sao Paulo, and he will have a good chance to add to his current tally of seven for the season against bottom-placed Ipatinga on Saturday.

USA Major League Soccer: The lines are drawn
After a draw-filled Round 19, the state of play is much the same in the MLS, with only three points separating first from fifth in the Western Conference, while Steve Nicol's New England Revolution hold sway on the Atlantic side of the competition. A number of the competition's stars, including LA Galaxy's David Beckham, Chicago Fire's Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Juan Pablo Angel of New York Red Bulls, will be weary from their midweek exertions in the MLS All-Stars match in Toronto. It will be interesting to see whether the Toronto showpiece will affect their league performances.

Big game: Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew both have plenty to play for in a battle of the inlanders. Hosts Colorado can move back into the Western Conference top four with a win, while Columbus will be keen to peg back some of the Revoution's five-point lead.
Player to watch: Can the MLS All-Stars' Most Valuable Player against West Ham, Mexican leged Cuauhtemoc Blanco, maintain his impressive form against the Kansas City Wizards?

Russian Premier League: Zenit on the rise
It has been a disappointing season so far for UEFA Cup champions Zenit St. Petersburg, but with eight points from their last four outings, things appear to be going better for the Russian glamour side, who are gradually catching up on all their postponed games. Nevertheless, a trip to third-placed Dinamo Moscow will test their mettle to the limit. Surprise leaders Rubin Kazan, meanwhile, will be looking to extend their lead against mid-table CSKA Moscow at home.

Big game: Another Moscow derby takes place this weekend, with FC Moscow hosting Lokomotiv. Although the teams are only five points apart, such is the closeness of the competition that Lokomotiv are in the top four while their opponents are hovering above the relegation zone.
Player to watch: Guus Hiddink often trusted Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to make an impact for Russia at EURO 2008, and with a goal in each of his last two games, he will be hoping to make an impact for Lokomotiv in the derby this weekend as well.

Elsewhere
Across Europe, various leagues are waking from their slumber. In Slovakia, champions Artmedia, who needed a late penalty to win their opening match, face a much tougher test in the shape of last season's runners-up MSK Zilina, who won their opening encounter far more convincingly.

Another league champion to experience a difficult first day back at the office was Switzerland's FC Basel, who faced close rivals Young Boys of Berne on the opening day, and needed a late second-half comeback to secure a 2-1 win. After a second win in midweek, they will be expecting to pick up another three points on Saturday against competition new boys Bellinzona.