Thursday, February 23, 2012


THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23RD .... sent overnight

Saint Etienne won 4-2 and Matteo Manassero beat Webb Simpson 3 &2 yesterday, hopefully we can add to those today. I have two emails planned for today, the second will contain one more football preview ( my strongest news of the day) and a look at day two of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and that should be with you by 10.30 UK time.



Olympiakos won the first leg 1-0 in frozen Moscow last week, the match was played in an empty ( 1,600 spectators) stadium, devoid of atmosphere, Rubin had just flown in from a Spanish training camp and the weather and conditions were as much a trial for them as they were for the "visitors". It was hard to see too much advantage for the Russians, who looked rusty and also missed a penalty to further add to their woes.

Rubin have a vastly experienced squad, 14 full internationals were involved in the first match and they have picked up plenty of european knowledge over the last three seasons and I very much doubt they will be prepared to give up on this tie just yet. Coach Kurban Berdyev who has been in charge at Rubin for over a decade, admitted that he got the tactics wrong in the first half last week and felt his team would really benefit and come on for the 90 minutes of proper competitive action, which is very likely.

At the same stage last season , they lost 2-0 in Moscow to Twente and really came out all guns blazing in Enschede, pulling the two goals back inside 24 minutes. They eventually lost 4-2 on aggreagate, but will take confidence in how quickly they turned that tie on it's head and having avoided defeat at both Panathinaikos and PAOK in the last two seasons, this is far from a trip into the unknown for them.

Hosts will surely be looking to keep this tight and hold on to what they have got, which is very much the Greek way and they would snatch your hand off for a draw right now, especially coming into the game without four starting players.

Rubin will strip much fitter tonight, looking to play their favoured high pressing game which works well on the road, they really impressed in the group stage at White Hart Lane, at Dynamo Kiev in CL qualification and were close to putting Lyon out of the premier club competition. They have received a big boost with the return of veteran goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov for this tie, he is a steadying influence on the whole defensive line and I have to take the visitors and the draw. 1 unit Rubin Kazan +0.5 ball 2.20 asian line.


First game ended 0-0, the Italian side enjoyed much the better of things as you might expect and created quite a few chances, but not for the first time, they looked toothless without Antonio Di Natale and they have failed to score in 243 minutes since both he and Mauricio Isla limped out of the match with Milan,earlier this month. They have travelled with the following group of players....

Udinese :Keepers: Handanovic (1), Padelli (21), Romo (28).
Defenders: Armero (27), Basta (8), Benatia (17), Danilo (5), Domizzi (11), Ekstrand (24), Ferronetti (32), Neuton (13), Pasquale (26).
Midfielders: Abdi (23), Asamoah (20), Battocchio (18), Bedin (42), Pazienza (4).
Strikers: Fabbrini (31), Floro Flores (83), Marsura (43).

That means no Di Natale, Isla, Barreto, Badu, Torje or Pinzi ( with an average of 19 starts between them this season) and instead just three strikers in Flores, whom they dare not risk losing to injury, Fabbrini arguably more of a midfielder and untried 18yo ( birthday last monday) Davide Marsura.

PAOK are in good shape, unbeaten in ten european matches and fully focused on this competition and having not conceded in three starts, they are coming off a 0-0 home derby draw with Aris, but will have had one eye on this and were denied five times by the woodwork, so they are due a change of luck this evening. They really impressed in the Group stage and looked a good team in their 2-1 win at Tottenham. Italian teams have no recent history in this competition, which they tend to treat with a hint of derision. Udinese have a massive Serie A game at Bologna on Sunday, where they desperately need to get back on track and retain their top three position. If they had to choose between winning tonight, or at the weekend, the domestic fixture would win hands down.

Hosts are very tough to beat here in Thessaloniki and even if Udinese were up for this and I am not certain that they are, their most likely route would be via a score draw, so no damage with PAOK with the draw no bet option, which has to be my pick. 1.25 units PAOK level ball 1.81 + asian line.

Good Luck.

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