Friday, February 16, 2007

Champions League Super 16 Preview

The cream of Europe domestic soccer has risen to the top as 16 teams approach the knock-out phase of the Champions League. With ten former European champions among them, it is no easy task to find the winner. Chelsea are the Premiership's leading contender, vying for outright favouritism with holders Barcelona at Pinnacle Sports , the internet's leading online bookmaker offering up to 60% better Champions League odds than the competition.

If you're confident one of the pair will be celebrating under the ticker-tape at Athen's Olympic Arena in May, Pinnacle Sports has priced the duo 2.55, versus the field, 1.606. To get to the final, the reigning champions must first negotiate the tie of the round, meeting the 2005 winners, Liverpool.

Barca swept all before them last season, successfully defending their La Liga title and winning this competition in Paris, but that air of invincibility was missing in the Group phase. The Reds have the benefit of playing the second leg at Anfield, so the Catalans will be keen to gain an advantage from Wednesday's tie at the Nou Camp, priced 2.10 (-1) at Pinnacle Sports , with Liverpool 1.833 (+1).

When Porto and Chelsea were drawn together, a wry smile formed across Jose Mourinho's face. The Special One left the Portuguese side after success in this competition in 2004, to begin a revolution at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho's departure was the catalyst for a mass exodus of the talent that had also brought the Dragoes UEFA Cup success in 2003.

Nevertheless, Porto are still the leading force in Portuguese football, but rates them as slight underdogs 2.07 (0/scratch & 0.5) despite home advantage, with Chelsea 1.862 (0/scratch & -0.5) looking to take a lead back to Stamford Bridge.

Despite qualifying for his pension, Alex Ferguson's enthusiasm for the game is undiminished, but the Scot may consider retirement if he could repeat the success he enjoyed in this competition in 1999. Though you will hear the cliche about 'no easy games at this level', Lille are 100/1 with Pinnacle Sports
for overall success. Surprisingly they contributed to United's humiliating early exit last year winning the most recent of four meetings. Out for revenge, the Red Devils are 2.05 (-0.5) for the game at the tiny Stade Lille-Metropole, looking for Rooney and Ronaldo to continue their inspirational form, while the French minnows are 1.877 (+0.5).

Though Celtic have finally broken their Champions League duck, qualifying for the knock-out stages at the fourth attempt, Hoops fans will be acutely aware that the club are still seeking their first Champions League success on the continent - with one draw and 11 defeats from 12 attempts.

In contrast, Celtic's Champions League record at Parkhead is quite imposing, (including qualifying games) they have only lost one of the last 19 games. If the Bhoys are to stand any chance of getting past AC Milan, they must surely take a comfortable lead to the San Siro. Celtic lost 3-1 in Italy when the sides met three years ago, with the return leg finishing goalless. For Tuesday's crunch game Pinnacle Sports price Celtic 1.952 (0/scratch & +0.5) with Milan 1.971 (0/scratch & -0.5)

Arsense Wenger will be hoping that his young-Gunners can build on the experience of the last campaign where Arsenal made it all the way to the final eventually losing 2-1 to Barcelona which ended a record-breaking sequence of ten consecutive clean sheets in this competition.

As Arsenal topped their group, they earned the right to play their second leg against Dutch Champions PSV at the Emirates Stadium where they remain unbeaten. The Farmers came agonisingly close to a final appearance in 2005, when a young side pushed AC Milan all the way. However, as is often the case with promising Dutch sides, the team's most promising stars left for Europe's better paid leagues, and Ronald Koeman's side face a real challenge to progress to the quarter-finals. However, for this first leg in Holland Pinnacle Sports cannot separate the sides on their Asian Handicap pricing PSV 2.10 (0/scratch), with Arsenal 1.833 (0/scratch).

Elsewhere former European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich slug it out to try to rebuild their fading reputations, while Inter Milan look to transfer their record breaking winning streak in Serie A to Europe. The Nerazzurri face Valencia, finalists in 2000 and 2001, who cruised through topping Group D. The line-up for the knock-out phase it completed by Roma and Lyon, both considered dangerous dark horses.


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