Wednesday, December 14, 2011



Wins for Oldham Athletic and Internazionale at very nice odds, steadied the ship after a poor weekend and after taking Monday "off", that was a promising way to start the new week.

Four selections today, including two very strong ideas in the Europa League.
Going to start with the Thursday morning ( for those of us in Europe) kick off between Al-Sadd this year's AFC Champions League winners and Barcelona, far and away the best club side in world football, in the "semi final" of the Club World Cup, which this year returns to Japan after the UAE played host the last two years.

Barce need no introduction, so let's start with a few words about Al- Sadd, they are certainly no lightweights, or shrinking violets and have a big physical presence, being renamed "Al Badd" by the South Korean media after a hugely controversial, which is a bit of an understatement, two legged semi final with Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the AFC Champions League. They then had to return to Korea for the final, with all the baggage and media attention hanging over them from the earlier game and showed huge courage to beat Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on penalties, in front of a very noisy and huge home crowd. The South Korean clubs had dominated the competition in recent seasons, something we discussed earlier in the year and for Al-Sadd to beat not one, but two of them, including the domestic champions in the final on home soil, tells you all you need to know about the mental fortitude of the team from Qatar. They are match fit after beating Espérance in the "quarter finals" and have a lot of experience in their ranks with Kader Keita ( 60 caps Ivory Coast), Marmadou Niang ( 50 games for Senegal) and Nadir Belhadj ( 50 + appearances for Algeria) all well known to european audiences, Lee Jung-Soo has played over 50 times for South Korea and all the others are Qatari internationals.

Of course, they have not met the like of Barcelona before and if the Catalan giants put their best foot forward, they can probably win this with ease. They have taken a squad of 23 players to Japan, all the big names are there and we are sure to see each in action, if not in this game, then in the final against Santos or Kashiwa Reysol. Barce got the result they craved in Madrid at the weekend and that will have hugely lifted the mood on the very long flight over, all were given one "day off ", but like their training day, with it came a lot of calls from the media and PR work. We talked about this in the summer, when Barce went to the US, there is huge demand on them, as a club and world champions to "get out there" and be seen and they take these responsibilities seriously, it has a big payback of course, especially in huge still untapped markets like Asia and the USA, but it is time consuming.

When Barce last played in this competition in 2009, they opened with a 3-1 win over Atlante of Mexico, their opponents led for over half an hour and it was only half way through the second half that they really got on top and then they relaxed and eased off a little. Messi only played the final 35 minutes btw. This whole competition is a PR event, of course, Barcelona will want to win and we could see the best of them in the final if they face Santos, but it doesn't really help anyone if they come an embarrass the "minnows", especially with Qatar ( at least at the moment) due to host a World Cup and looking to raise their profile at every opportunity. That is kind of a cynical view I guess, but even if that is not the case and Barcelona look to score as many as possible, after their biggest game of the season on saturday, a 14 hour flight and a couple of days with jet lag and the media following them everywhere, I think they will struggle to notch four against such a professional, physical opponent, far more used to the surroundings and I have to take Al- Sadd and that huge handicap start. Al-Sadd +3 goals 2.19 asian line.

There are three bets that I like in the Europa League, I am not going to spend a huge amount of time talking about the matches, they are all ......... rest of the notes are restricted.

Good Luck.

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