World football set for festive frolics
In England, the traditional Boxing Day (December 26) programme sees Premier League leader, Chelsea, open the 19th round of matches away to another club nicknamed the Blues, Birmingham City. The biggest clash of the round takes place the following day at Emirates Stadium in London, where Arsenal and Aston Villa, level on points in third and fourth respectively, could each steal a march on its rival with a win.
Though England’s professional footballers are accustomed to a hectic festive season, the burden is even more intense than normal this year as the New Year round of matches has been brought forward by a couple of days. Rooney, Torres, Ballack and company are in action again from the 28th to 30th of this month, with Manchester United taking on Wigan Athletic and Chelsea at home to Fulham in the west London derby.
By contrast, Europe’s other top leagues suspend hostilities for a short period. La Liga in Spain restarts with a round of fixtures on January 2, 2010, Italy’s Serie A is back in action on January 6, with the French and German leagues on holiday till the 15th of the month.
Naturally, in parts of the world where there are no holidays at this time of year, the fans have plenty of football action to enjoy. The Saudi Arabian Premier League boasts a full programme on the 24th, including the crunch meeting between leader, Al Hilal, and fifth-placed Al Wehda. The top footballers in Azerbaijan also battle for points on this day.
The Division One teams in Libya go head-to-head on December 24 and 25, including a highlight clash between two Tripoli-based rivals, second-placed Al Medina and third-placed Al Ahly. The next round of fixtures takes place straight afterwards on 29th to 31st. Top spot in Algeria is at stake on 25th, when chief pursuer, JS Kabylie, could leapfrog league leader, CA Bordj Bou Arreridj, into first place with a home win. The Algerian clubs are again in action on the 28th, with another round on January 4.
Back in Europe, Belgian fans can look forward to a thrilling festive season, as the winter break has been dropped as part of a radical restructuring of the league this season. League leader, Anderlecht, entertains third-placed Gent, while Club Brugge takes on Cercle, its top flight rival from across Bruges.
Whereas the Jupiler League stars are likely to face chilly temperatures and a high chance of rain or snow, their Australian counterparts will be more worried about coping with the heat. Soaring temperatures off the field will be matched by the fierce heat of battle on it when A-League leader, Melbourne Victory, meets tail-ender North Queensland Fury, while second-placed Sydney takes on second-from-bottom Adelaide United.
Problems with snow would be an equally major shock in the Nigerian Premier League, where the stars go into action on 26th and 27th and 30th and 31st. Football in the last week of the calendar year is not confined to club level, as the period also features a number of friendly internationals. FIFA World Cup hopeful, Korea DPR, visits Iran, and Qatar entertains Mali on the 27th.
On the 29th, Egypt plays Malawi, Iran meets Mali, Qatar takes on Korea DPR, and Syria faces Kenya. Angola versus Estonia and China PR versus Jordan are set for 30th, with Singapore hosting Oman on New Year’s Eve.
As the schedule shows, the last week of the calendar year has plenty to offer the devoted football fan wherever he or she happens to be. And once it is 2010, there will be just 170 days until kick-off of the 19th gathering of the very best national teams on the planet for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa!