5 World Football Games to Watch This Weekend
The football world never sleeps, and this weekend is no different with crunch matches, finals, relegation battles and potential title deciders being played across the world.
The Africa Cup of Nations is coming to an end with the final on Feb. 10 between Nigeria and Burkina Faso having the potential to be one of the best games of the entire tournament.
Elsewhere on planet football, the domestic European season is turning towards the final straight. There are a number of huge matches that will have consequences right across the next 12 months and into next season so now is not the time to allow frayed nerves.
Here, Bleacher Report looks at five of the biggest and most important matches to watch on the football calendar, never mind this weekend.
Read on and leave your comments, suggestions and recommended matches for B/R readers in the slot below.
African Cup of Nations Final: Nigeria vs. Burkina Faso
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Who: Nigeria vs. Burkina Faso
What: Africa Cup of Nations Final
When: Sunday, February 10, 1 p.m. ET
Where: FNB Stadium Johannesburg, South Africa
Nigeria will face Burkina Faso in Johannesburg in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations on Feb. 10, and it promises to be one of the best games of the competition.
In 1994 Nigeria were a world power on the rise, and having won the Africa Cup of Nations in January they approached the World Cup in America with gusto. Managed by Clemens Westerhof the Super Eagles topped a group that included Argentina, Greece and Bulgaria before they were fortuitously knocked out in extra-time by Italy and Roberto Baggio in the round of 16.
From such an impressive showing at USA '94, Nigeria were expected to dominate African football for years to come, but their unprecedented and ill-conceived withdrawal for political reasons from the AFCON '96 in South Africa set them back years.
They were then banned from the AFCON in 1998, and by the time they returned in 2000 they had been overtaken by Cameroon and Egypt as Africa's No. 1 team.
This final represents their first return to an AFCON final in 13 years and the 52nd-ranked team in the world will be more than keen to cement their place in Africa's elite.
Having gone unbeaten through the 2013 competition with three wins and two draws, including an impressive 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast in the round of 16, Nigeria have shown plenty of endeavour going forward but are susceptible at the back.
Burkina Faso also made it through Group C with Nigeria but topped the table on goal difference. The Stallions, ranked 92nd by FIFA prior to the tournament, have been one of the revelations of the competition.
Having drawn with Nigeria in their opening game, they utterly destroyed Ethiopia before they held the holders Zambia scoreless to progress as group winners. Led by Marseille's Charles Kabore, the Stallions have been one of the most exciting teams in the competition and have produced shock after shock during their progression to the final.
The biggest shock of all was in beating Ghana on penalties in the semifinals, but they thouroughly deserved their victory after stunning displays from Kabore, Augsburg's Aristide Bance, Dinamo Bucharest's Paul Keba Koulibaly and Lyon's Bakary Kone.
The Stallions are not to be underestimated by their low FIFA ranking or by the fact that the best they have ever achieved at the AFCON was fourth in 1998. Most amazingly 1998 was the only year prior to their final appearance in 2013 that they made it past the group stages.
As a match this game has everything. Nigeria represent the old power returning to claim their throne while Burkina Faso are the new kid on the block who will give everything until they drop.
Tune in because you will see history in the making regardless of who wins.
Lazio vs. Napoli
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Who: Lazio vs. Napoli
What: Serie A. Title decider and Champions League showdown
When: Saturday, February 9, 2:45 p.m. ET
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy.
Lazio, currently third in Serie A on 43 points sit just six points behind Napoli as two giants of the Italian game clash in Rome on Saturday evening.
Edinson Cavani's team are unbeaten in six following a run of four straight defeats and will fancy their chances of beating the Rome side. When last the two teams met in September Napoli won 3-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Cavani.
The in-form Uruguayan striker has notched up a phenomenal 25 goals from 25 appearances this season and is the main reason for Napoli sitting just four points behind Serie A leaders Juventus. Most importantly he has only failed to hit the back of the net in eight games this term. Going further, Cavani has only failed in two from 12 matches on the road—Lazio had better beware.
Lazio, for their part, have only lost two games from their previous 19. However, those two defeats have come within their last three games and are separated by an inspiring 2-1 victory over Juventus in the Coppa Italia.
Lazio have been in imperious form in the Stadio Olimpico this season and have only lost twice in 12 matches. Their home record is only bettered by Napoli's home record, as the Naples-based side have only lost once.
On the road, Napoli possess the second-best record in Italy behind Juve, but, significantly, they have only won six games from the 11 available.
This game on Saturday is easily one of the most important in the Serie A season. The result could have a huge affect on the title race whoever wins. Whilst defeat for Lazio would allow both AC Milan and Inter Milan the chance to close the three-point gap on Edoardo Reja's team.
Manchester United vs. Everton
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Who: Manchester United vs. Everton
What: Barclays Premier League and Champions League decider.
When: Sunday, February 10, 11 a.m. ET
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England.
When Everton and Manchester United last met at Old Trafford they produced a 4-4 draw that would go down in folklore but would also be one of the deciding points of the 2011-12 season.
Prior to the Toffees' visit, United were five points clear of their nearest rivals, Manchester City, with just three games to go. The 4-4 draw combined with a City win left that gap at just three points. The result gave City a huge psychological edge when the two teams met the following week, and it was no surprise that City won and went on to lift the trophy.
This year United have set out to exorcise those ghosts, but once again Everton have been a thorn in their side. The two teams met in the first game of the season with David Moyes' team triumphing 1-0 with thanks to a Marouane Fellaini goal.
Since then the Red Devils have won an astonishing 20 games from 24 and have only lost twice more to Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City. The catalyst behind this unbelievable surge is without doubt Robin van Persie, who has waded in with 24 goals from 33 games.
The Toffees are currently occupying fifth plasce in the Premier League and are hot on the heels of Tottenham Hotspur while Arsenal shadow closely behind. Both North London teams will be hoping for a United victory, but defensive solidity combined with the excellent form of Leighton Baines and Fellaini make Everton a very tough nut to crack.
This first-versus-fifth clash is easily the best Premier League game on offer this weekend and will have a huge say in the make-up of the title race and Champions League race come May.
Galatasaray vs. Medical Park Antalyaspor
Photograph Courtesy of http://www.galatasaray.org.uk
Who: Galatasaray vs. Medical Park Antalyaspor
What: Turkish Super League title decider
When: Sunday, February 10, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul, Turkey.
Perennial title challengers Galatasaray lead the Turkish Super League once again, but this time they are being tracked down by one of the smallest teams in Turkey, Medical Park Antalyaspor.
The gap between Fatih Terim's team and MP Antalyaspor is just four points as the second half of the season gets under way.
Led by ex-Besiktas legend Mehmet "Scifo" Ozdilek, Antalyaspor have been one of the revelations of the TSL this season. Boasting the best home record in the league, MPA have beaten all comers but were hammered 4-0 by Galatasaray when the two teams last met in the 7,000 capacity Akdeniz University Stadium.
Before that convincing win, MPA were unbeaten against their illustrious opponents in three matches including an astounding 3-0 win in late 2011.
Things will be very different this weekend when they travel to Istanbul to do battle in the 53,000-seater Turk Telekom Arena. Their mettle will be tested to the full, and it is here that their impressive season faces breaking down.
This term MPA have only taken a 12 points from 30 available on the road, which is in direct contrast to their impressive home form. Galatasaray, led by the free-scoring Umut Bulut, have only lost once at home and just twice away.
If MPA's fairytale season is to continue, Lamine Diarra will have to add to his 14 goals from 27 matches in his debut season.
This is a real David vs. Goliath match with Galatasaray heavy favourites at 8-15 to record a win, but they were heavy favourites back in 2011 too.
Rayo Vallecano vs. Atletico Madrid
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Who: Rayo Vallecano vs. Atletico Madrid
What: La Liga European place decider
When: Sunday, February 10, 13 p.m. ET
Where: Campo de Futbol de Vallecas, Madrid, Spain
It takes a special game to throw either Barcelona or Real Madrid off the games to watch this weekend in La Liga but the upcoming derby between Rayo Vallecano and Atletico Madrid has all the ingredients to do so.
In years past Rayo have always been the little brother to Atletico, who have been the black sheep of the Madrid-based La Liga family.
This term, like Atletico, they are enjoying their best season in years.
Atletico currently occupy second spot in the La Liga table, a gargantuan nine points behind Barcelona and a meagre seven points ahead of Real Madrid in third. At this point in time Rayo are just outside the European places on goal difference having taken an impressive 34 points from their opening 22 games.
As the two Madrid-based teams head into battle at the Campo de Futbol, they are full in the knowledge that hurting their city rivals is the best way to further their own gains.
Despite the fact that the two teams are based in Madrid they have only faced each other 17 times since 1994, and Rayo have won just three of those matchups. When the two met last met in September they produced a 4-3 cracker where the two teams were only separated by a Radamel Falcao penalty.
Atletico had coasted into a four-goal lead only for Rayo to launch an amazing comeback in the last eight minutes that saw them score three goals during a siege of Thibaut Courtois' goal.
Along with Falcao who has scored 21 goals from 20 games, 20-year-old Courtois has been a revelation and has kept 12 clean sheets in 26 appearances. He has also kept three clean sheets from four while playing for Belgium during their World Cup qualifiers.
Rayo have been less brilliant than Atletico this term, but from an abysmal run where they only won one game from eight they have now only lost two from their last seven.
La Liga fixtures over the second half of the season mirror the first half exactly. With that in mind it is ominous for Rayo that they are now playing against the same eight teams that gave them their worst run of the season.
They lost last weekend to Sevilla and face Real Madrid next week before they face Valladolid who hammered them 6-1 when they met in September.
If Rayo harbour any real ambition of moving into the top six they will have to begin with a result against their Champions League-chasing neighbours.
And while Atletico may not win the league, finishing above Real Madrid would most certainly be the equivalent of winning a trophy; the same could be said of Rayo qualifying for Europe.
Roll on Sunday, and what a day of football it will be.
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