Wimbledon 2017 Betting Preview

Wimbledon 2017 Betting Preview

Rafa Nadal’s win on the red dust of the Roland-Garros was an entirely appropriate way to bring down the curtain on the 2017 clay court season, and reaffirmed his status of one of the greatest players ever to grace a clay court. But now it’s all about the grass and with Wimbledon but a matter of days away, now is the time, if you’re a gambler, to start thinking about where to put your money.

Men’s Singles

The first thing to note before making your choice(s) is that only once in the 21st century has the Men’s title been won by a player outside the tournament’s top four seeds – Goran Ivanišević’s unlikely win in 2001 making him the first wildcard and the lowest ranked player ever (no. 124 in the world) to claim the title.

On that basis it’s difficult to look beyond the usual suspects of Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal, yet the fact it has happened at all makes betting on an outsider attractive for punters. And one could argue that this Wimbledon is more open than it’s been for several years.

While Murray, the 2016 champion, remains the world number one and managed a thoroughly decent French Open – he lost only to Stan Wawrinka in a five set semi-final – he’s only now emerging from a dip in form brought on by illness and injury. Key to a successful Wimbledon for him will be reigniting the chemistry with coach with Ivan Lendl, who has not been by his side since January’s Australian Open. The good ship Murray is unquestionably more formidable when Lendl’s no-nonsense approach is there to calm any on-court Murray angst.

That Federer is currently second favourite with Bovado (+275) – only 50 points more generous that Murray (+225) – speaks volumes for the player’s condition, both mental and physical, and at 35-years old he remains the player to beat, especially on his beloved grass. He’s now careful to pick and choose his events and prior to the Stuttgart Open – which was selected specifically as a Wimbledon warm-up – had played in just four tournaments in 2017. Therefore he’ll be fresh, prepared and ready to give SW19 a good run for its money. In a nutshell, he’s not in London to make up the numbers.

The other two big guns, Djokovic and Nadal, remain only a few points behind in the betting and both have something to prove on the manicured lawns of south-west London. Djokovic, after starting the year in fine fettle with a win in the Qatar Open, has had an underwhelming 2017 by his own exacting standards and will be desperate to demonstrate that he still retains the hunger and desire to win a Grand Slam. With Andre Agassi now part of his coaching team, the Serb will be hoping the curve is once again upward.

Nadal on the other hand is on the crest of a clay-induced wave and will be equally desperate to translate his superhuman efforts on the slow clay of Paris to the slicker grass of Wimbledon. Much will depend on Nadal’s fitness – ongoing knees problems make grass a notoriously difficult surface for him now – but a fit and fresh Rafa will be a force to be reckoned with.

The best of the rest is the big-serving Canadian, Milos Raonic who has a game that translates perfectly to grass. If he ‘clicks’ it could be an interesting Wimbledon for him and armed with one of the fastest serves in world tennis he represents a danger to the big four.  So too French Open finalist, Stan Wawrinka who, despite having an ordinary record at Wimbledon, has the ability with his devastating one-handed backhand to represent a danger to the top four seeds. But he will need to find a way to smash his current SW19 glass ceiling, which right now is at the quarter-final stage.

For those who fancy this Wimbledon to be the year of the underdog, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, Germany’s Alexander Zverev and Australia’s enfant terrible Nick Kyrgios – if he can control his emotions – represent value at +2500, +2500 and +1400 respectively with Bovada, while Grigor Dimitrov at +1800 also looks a decent bet.

Recommended Bets

Outright winner: Roger Federer  Odds: +285 (Betonline)
Each-way: Milos Raonic  Odds: +1200 (Topbet)

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Women’s Singles

If history, or at least recent history, tells us the men’s winner will come from the top four seeds, it also tells us the women’s tournament has predominantly been the domain of the Williams sisters. Between Serena and Venus, the sisters have won the title twelve times since 2000 or, to put it another way, only five players without the surname Williams have won the women’s title in the 21st century.

But things are about to change. For starters, Serena is due to give birth in early September and will therefore miss the championships and Venus, at 37-years old, is, with the best will in the world, in the twilight of her stellar tennis career. The big question of course is does Venus have one final hurrah in her locker – and given she made the Australian final in January, there’ll be those who fancy her for one final Wimbledon blast.

The scene is set for a new champion to emerge with the world number three, Karolína Plíšková from the Czech Republic emerging as the bookies favourite (+450 with Topbet). Since winning her first WTA title back in 2013 Plíšková has gone on to win eight singles titles on the tour and her accurate serve, forceful groundstrokes and accomplished net play make for a potentially great grass court player. But she needs to overcome her Wimbledon hoodoo; her best result to date being reaching just the second round.

Germany’s Angelique Kerber, last year’s beaten finalist, is another who will be there or thereabouts but having reached three major finals in 2016, 2017 has seen early exits in the Australian and French Opens. Her world number one ranking is still intact, just, but Simona Halep is closing the gap with every passing tournament. The Romanian is a bona fide baseliner whose game is clearly suited to clay but at +1400 with Betonline she represents some value for those looking at outsiders, particularly with a Wimbledon semi-final and quarter-final already on her CV.

Petra Kvitova, the 2014 champion, will be in with a shout – as reflected in her +850 with Betonline – but the big mover in the market is the UK’s Johanna Konta (now down to +700 with the same bookmaker) who with home crowd advantage is starting to catch the eye of the punters and experts.

No longer in the running however is Maria Sharapova who, fresh from her 15 month ban for failing a drugs test, would have been the ‘Hollywood’ choice for those looking for a story. Alas a torn muscle has put paid to her grass court season and the scriptwriters will have to wait until the US Open, if she can acquire a wildcard, at the end of August. 

Recommended Bets

Outright winner: Johanna Konta Odds: +800 (Bovada)
Each-way: Venus Williams Odds: +1400 (Bovada)

All Blacks v Lions 2017 Betting Tips

Lions v All Blacks 2017 - Preview

The Lions looked in decent fettle after last Saturday’s 32-10 win over the New Zealand Maoris but for that to be followed by the midweek team’s 34-6 demolition of the Chiefs confirmed that things can barely be better in the good camp Gatland.

A mini furore over the late call up of four Welshmen at the weekend has quickly dissipated – it’s funny how wins can transform the mood in a touring party – and it’s now all systems go ahead of the big one in Auckland on Saturday (KO 8.35am BST/ 3.35am EDT).

First Test Hope

Historically the first test offers the Lions their best chance of winning a test on the tour, by exploiting any rustiness in All Black ranks. Traditionally the New Zealanders keep their number of warm-up games to a minimum and are sometimes still blowing away the cobwebs when the first match comes along (hence it theoretically being the Lions’ best chance of victory). But this time round Samoa were brought in as pre-test cannon fodder. That the All Blacks thumped them 78-0 would suggest any cobwebs are either history or well on their way to being so.

Yet still Eden Park, Auckland offers the Lions a chance that may be more elusive in Wellington and back in Eden Park the second time round. While Warren Gatland has put together a squad that is unquestionably one of the strongest ever to make the trip they are up against a New Zealand side that has not been beaten on home turf since South Africa won in Hamilton in 2009 – the Springboks winning 32-29.

That stat alone lays bare the task facing Gatland’s men but to take it a step further there’s the one about the All Blacks having not lost at Eden Park since July 3, 1994!

France were their conquerors on that day, winning 23-20 thanks to a try seconds from time, and while the All Blacks’ next Eden Park Test was an 18-18 draw against South Africa, they have since reeled off 37 successive wins. The Lions are naturally among this long list of victims – they were beaten 38-19 in 2005 –  while Australia have been beaten 14 times, with South Africa, England and France four times each, and Ireland three.

Other nations who have been on the receiving end of an Eden Park beating during this 23-year spell are Wales, Scotland, Canada, Argentina, Tonga and Samoa.

All of which brings home the sheer magnitude of the task facing the Lions on Saturday. Much will depend on how Gatland’s men are able to handle the occasion and if they have the power, both mental and physical, to impose themselves on the All Blacks in the early stages. The kicking of Owen Farrell too will be key in the Lions gaining some quality field position, especially in those same frantic early stages. For the Lions to get a foothold and not let the home side get their noses in front and their tales up will be important.

And for those looking for a straw to clutch, there is always the fact that Gatland was the Lions’ head coach in 2013 when they beat Australia 2-1 to claim a first series win in 16 years.

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Starting XVs

New Zealand

  1. Ben Smith, 14. Israel Dagg, 13. Sonny Bill Williams, 12. Ryan Crotty, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. Aaron Smith; 1. Joe Moody, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Jerome Kaino, 7. Sam Cane, 8. Kieran Read (captain).

Replacements: 16. Nathan Harris, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Charlie Faumuina, 19. Scott Barrett, 20. Ardie Savea, 21. TJ Perenara, 22. Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, 23. Anton Lienert-Brown.

The big news here is the return to the side of captain Kieran Read, who returns from injury to win his 98th cap, and, at the opposite end of the career spectrum Rieko Ioane starts on the left wing in his international debut.

British & Irish Lions

  1. Liam Williams, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Jonathan Davies, 12. Ben Te’o, 11. Elliot Daly, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Alun Wyn Jones, 5. George Kruis, 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain), 7. Sean O’Brien, 8. Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: 16. Ken Owens, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Kyle Sinkler, 19. Maro Itoje, 20. Sam Warburton, 21. Rhys Webb, 22. Johnny Sexton, 23. Leigh Halfpenny.

Peter O’Mahony will captain the Lions and there are also starts for Elliot Daly and Liam Williams; Gatland rewarding the pair for their impressive performances against the Chiefs on Tuesday. Owen Farrell has recovered from a thigh injury to wear the 10 shirt inside a centre partnership of Jonathan Davies and Ben Te’o. England’s new star, Maro Itoje will be among the replacements.

What to Bet On?

Saturday

New Zealand are 2/9 to win the game with Betfred with the Lions coming in to 7/2 having been buoyed by their two pre-test wins, but given that the Lions are likely to be at their best in the first test this does appear to represent some value.

If you’re looking to bet on a handicap basis the value looks to be in Betfred’s ‘Alternative Handicap 3’ with the Lions at +5 being offered at 15/8, with at the opposite end of the scale, the Lions winning based on a -4 handicap being offered at 5-1.

Recommended Bet:

The winning margin bet offers up an enticing 5.1 with 188bet for a Lions win of between 1 and 12 points.

The series

In terms of the overall series, New Zealand are a very short 1/7 to win it, with the Lions big outsiders at 5/1 and the draw 40/1.

The All Blacks are also odds on to win the series 3-0 with Betfred offering 4/7; the Lions 33-1 to win the series by the same score.

A 2-1 series win for New Zealand is also a short price at 5/2, the Lions at 13/2 for the same series score.

For those looking to speculate on a long shot the following may be of interest, which requires one or more of the tests to be drawn (all with Betfred):

New Zealand to win 2-0: 20/1
Lions to win 2-0: 250/1
Drawn series: 40/1

UFC Fight Night 112 – Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Lee

ufc 112

UFC Fight Night 112, headlined by a fascinating bout between Michael Chiesa and Kevin Lee, will air live on June 25 from Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Many fans are eagerly anticipating Chiesa vs. Lee after the controversy that occurred at the UFC Summer Kickoff. Chiesa is on a three-win streak dating back to April 2015 and has defeated the likes of Beneil Dariush, Jim Miller and Mitch Clarke. Kevin Lee looks to continue his winning streak of four after beating Francisco Trinaldo via submission in March.

Tim Boetsch will meet Johny Hendricks in a middleweight bout for the co-main event. Boetsch looks to get back on the winning track after being quickly submitted by Jacare Souza back at UFC 208. Hendricks will look to make it two in a row after defeating Hector Lombard in February via unanimous decision.

The main card will also feature UFC and mixed martial arts legend, B.J. Penn, as he takes on Dennis Siver.

Kevin Lee showed some glaring weaknesses in his game against Francisco Trinaldo, despite winning the fight in the second round. Michael  Chiesa will enter this one with confidence knowing that he can likely defeat Kevin Lee standing up or on the mat. Look for Chiesa, who enters as the underdog, to come out victorious in Oklahoma.

Recommended Bet

Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Lee
Sunday 25th June – 11:30pm (ET)
Michael Chiesa to Win (+120, 6/5, $2.20) 

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Main Card – 9pm ET / 1am GMT

Michael Chiesa vs. Kevin Lee – Main Event

Tim Boetsch vs. Johny Hendricks – Co-Main Event

Felice Herrig vs. Justine Kish

Joachim Christensen vs. Dominick Reyes

Tim Means vs. Alex Garcia

B.J. Penn vs. Dennis Siver

Prelims –7pm ET / 11pm GMT

Clay Guida vs. Erik Koch

Carla Esparza vs. Maryna Moroz

Devin Powell vs. Darrell Horcher

Vitor Miranda vs. Marvin Vettori

Fight Pass Prelims –5:30pm ET / 9:30pm GMT

Jared Gordon vs. Michel Quinones

Josh Stansbury vs. Jeremy Kimball

Tony Martin vs. Johnny Case

Bellator 180 live from Madison Garden

bell

Bellator moves to pay-per-view broadcasting this weekend with the action-packed Bellator NYC card, live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 24.

The main event features a bout with plenty of ‘bad blood’ as Chael Sonnen meets Wanderlei Silva inside the Bellator MMA cage. Silva, who despises Sonnen, reported this week that he ‘wants to feel Sonnen’s blood on the ground.’

The co-main event is special solely because it hosts the return of ‘The Last Emporer’ Fedor Emelianenko to our television screens as he makes his Bellator MMA debut against Matt Mitrione. The bookmakers believe that this is almost a perfectly even matchup between these star heavyweights.

If you’re not excited by two bouts between ageing mixed martial artists, don’t worry, the next three fights will surely catch your attention. Michael Chandler will defend the Bellator Lightweight title against the undefeated Brent Primus. Douglas Lima welcomes Lorenz Larkin to Bellator MMA from the UFC in a Bellator Welterweight Championship bout. Many hardcore MMA fans are also excited for the debut of Aaron Pico, a highly-touted 20-year-old potentially the greatest MMA prospect of all-time. Pico will kick-off the pay-per-view Bellator NYC card against 8-2 Zach Freeman.

The undercard for Bellator NYC is a Bellator 180 event, filled with some of Bellator’s best talent from start to finish. Bellator 180 airs on Spike TV and is headlined by a Bellator Light Heavyweight Championship bout between Phil Davis and Ryan Bader.

Recommended Bet

Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva
Sunday 25th June – 12:30am (ET) / 04:30am (GMT)

Wanderlei Silva to Win (+110, 11/10, $2.10) 

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Bellator NYC (Pay-per-view) – 10pm ET / 2am GMT

Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva – Main Event

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione – Co-Main Event

Douglas Lima vs. Lorenz Larkin – Bellator Welterweight Championship

Michael Chandler vs. Brent Primus – Bellator Lightweight Championship

Aaron Pico vs. Zach Freeman

Bellator 180 (Spike TV) – 8:00pm ET / 12am GMT

Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader – Bellator Light Heavyweight Championship

James Gallagher vs. Chinzo Machida

Neiman Gracie vs. Dave Marfone

Heather Hardy vs. Alice Yauger

Bellator 180 Preliminary Card (Spike TV) – 5:30pm ET / 9:30pm GMT

Ryan Couture vs. Haim Gozali

Jerome Mickle vs. Anthony Giacchina

John Salgado vs. Hugh McKenna

Matt Rizzo vs. Sergio da Silva

Bradley Desire vs. Nate Grebb

UFC Fight Night 111: Holly Holm vs. Bethe Correia – Preview

Holly Holm vs. Bethe Correia

The UFC continue their streak of overseas events when UFC Fight Night 111 hits Kallang, Singapore this weekend on June 17.

The event is headlined by a clash between Holly Holm, the former women’s bantamweight champion, and Bethe Correia. Holm looks to score a victory after experiencing a three-fight losing streak since famously defeating Ronda Rousey at UFC 193. Bethe Correia will be looking to cause a massive upset in Singapore after previously fighting out a majority draw against Marion Reneau at UFC Fight Night 106.

UFC Fight Night 111 contains some previous champions of the UFC, Pride and Strikeforce, including Andrei Arlovski, Rafael dos Anjos, Takanori Gomi, Tarec Saffiedine and the previously mentioned Holly Holm.

Andrei Arlovski will be hoping to snap a four-fight losing streak against rising star Marcin Tybura in a heavyweight contest.

The ‘Stun Gun’ Dong Hyun Kim will battle rising welterweight prospect, Colby Covington.

Tarec Saffiedine welcomes former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in his move up to the welterweight division.

Despite losing his last three fights, former Pride champion Takanori Gomi will provide stiff competition for Jon Tuck in a lightweight bout.

Recommended Bet

This fight is a perfect opportunity for Holly Holm to return to winning ways. However,  her odds are way too short for our liking. Bethe Correia has the power to stop Holm in her tracks. While I don’t recommend betting against Holm, we can account for some possible outcomes by betting on the total rounds market.

Holly Holm vs. Bethe Correia
Saturday 17th June – 10:00 (ET) / 14:00 (GMT)
Total Rounds – Under 4.5 (10/9  or +111) 

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Main Card – 8am ET / 12pm GMT

Holly Holm vs. Bethe Correia – Main Event

Andrei Arlovski vs. Marcin Tybura – Co-Main Event

Dong Hyun Kim vs. Colby Covington

Tarec Saffiedine vs. Rafael dos Anjos

UFC Fight Pass Prelims – 4:30am ET / 8:30am GMT

Takanori Gomi vs. Jon Tuck

Walt Harris vs. Cyril Asker

Alex Caceres vs. Rolando Gabriel

Ulka Sasaki vs. Justin Scoggins

Li Jingliang vs. Frank Camacho

Kwan Ho Kwak vs. Russell Doane

Naoki Inoue vs. Carls John de Tomas

Kim Ji-Yeon vs. Lucie Pudilova

World Cup Qualifiers June 2017 – Preview

World Cup Qualifiers June 2017 - Preview

For those who thrive on a regular fix of football betting, this weekend offers them one final chance before the summer recess properly kicks in. And it doesn’t get much bigger than three consecutive evenings of ‘Russia 2018’ World Cup qualifiers.

Top of the bill on this occasion goes to Scotland v England in Glasgow on Saturday – the ‘Auld Enemy’ are always on the receiving end of a ‘warm’ welcome when they head north of the border – but there are 26 other ties that will generate similar levels of tension and excitement for fans and punters alike.

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GROUP A (to be played on Friday)

Belarus v Bulgaria

Netherlands v Luxembourg

Sweden v France

The group’s top two clash in Stockholm, with Sweden looking to avenge France’s 2-1 win in Paris back in October. The format for these qualifiers is that only the top team of each of the nine European groups automatically qualifies, with the eight best runners-up entering a play-off round for the remaining four places – so it’s one that Sweden simply cannot afford to lose. The Netherlands, who have made a terrible start to the group, are also in ‘must win’ territory in order to keep their qualification hopes alive and will also be hoping to boost their ailing goal difference while despatching bottom-of-the-table Luxembourg.

GROUP B (Friday)           

Andorra v Hungary

Faroe Islands v Switzerland

Latvia v Portugal

Switzerland’s 100 per cent record will be tested in the Faroe Islands and they dare not slip up with free-scoring Portugal (19 goals scored in the 5 games) breathing down their neck. For their part the Portuguese have a tricky looking trip to Riga, Latvia to negotiate; Cristiano Ronaldo again being the key figure. With Hungary in third place in the group, five points behind Portugal, it looks to be a two-way fight for the top spot.

GROUP C (Saturday)

Azerbaijan v Northern Ireland

Germany v San Marino

Norway v Czech Republic

Typically it’s the Germans who lead the way and with them on maximum points and having conceded just one goal it’s already a battle for second place. Northern Ireland, off the back of a fine Euro 2016, lead the race but have the Czech Republic just two points behind them. Both are away from home this weekend with the Ulstermen in Azerbaijan and the Czechs in Norway; both eminently winnable games.

GROUP D (Sunday)

Moldova v Georgia

Republic of Ireland   v Austria

Serbia v  Wales

Along with Group G this is the tightest group of the bunch, with Serbia and the Republic of Ireland currently tied at the top, with the Serbs only edging it by virtue of a slightly better goal difference. Lying in wait for either to slip up are Wales – the heroes of Euro 2016 – and Austria, but with trips to Belgrade and Dublin respectively both have a difficult tasks to close the gap. The Welsh as ever will be hugely, perhaps overly, reliant on Gareth Bale, who’s fresh from his UEFA Champions League win with Real Madrid.

GROUP E (Saturday)

Kazakhstan v Denmark

Montenegro v Armenia

Poland v Romania

The Poles have control of this group with a five point lead, but the race for second is fascinating with Montenegro, Denmark, Romania and Armenia separated by just a single point. The Romanians have the most difficult task on Saturday with a trip to Warsaw (they were beaten 3-0 at home by the Poles) and Montenegro, who have a home clash with Armenia, will be looking to exploit any slip-ups by beating Armenia at home. Denmark also have, on paper, a good chance of pushing themselves to the top of the chasing pack with a trip to bottom-of-the-table Kazakhstan.

GROUP F (Saturday)

Scotland v England

Slovenia v Malta

Lithuania v Slovakia

The group appears England’s to lose but Slovakia lay in wait if Gareth Southgate’s men falter, especially with the English facing a Hampden Park cauldron on Saturday night. The Scots will be desperate in front of their own fans to avenge the 3-0 defeat at Wembley back in November and, despite their superior quality, it could be an uncomfortable one for England. Slovenia, who are at home to point-less Malta, will be looking to put pressure on second-place Slovakia, who themselves face a difficult looking tie in Lithuania.

GROUP G (Sunday)

Israel v Albania

Italy v Liechtenstein

Macedonia v Spain

Like Group D, this one is very tight and looks likely to be no different after Sunday’s games. The top two, Spain and Italy, both face bottom-two opposition, although the Spaniards’ away trip to Macedonia looks the tougher of the two, with the Italians hosting Liechtenstein – the table’s bottom side. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to see either of the top two slipping up but Israel meanwhile will be keen to keep the pressure on the main protagonists by going for a home repeat of their impressive 3-0 win in Albania back in November.

GROUP H (Friday)

Bosnia-Herzegovina v Greece

Estonia v Belgium

Gibraltar v Cyprus

Another group that remains in the balance, with the top three – Belgium, Greece Bosnia-Herzegovina – separated by just three points and having to date conceded just a single goal between them. Therefore the clash in Zenica between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece, who drew 1-1 in November, takes on an even greater importance; especially with top-of-the-table Belgium facing a comfortable looking away tie in Estonia (they won 8-1 in Brussels in November). Cyprus, who are out of the reckoning, have the most straightforward task with an away trip to point-less Gibraltar.

GROUP I (Sunday)

Finland v Ukraine

Iceland v Croatia

Kosovo v Turkey

One of the biggest clashes of the weekend takes place in Reykjavik where Iceland, off the back of a hugely successful Euro 2016, take on top-of-the-table Croatia. The Icelanders are just three points adrift of the Croatians, courtesy of their 2-0 defeat in Zagreb in November, and so a win will haul them back into the reckoning. It looks certain to be tight with Iceland frugal in defence but also finding goals hard to come, and a win for Croatia virtually guarantees them qualification for Russia 2018. Ukraine and Turkey, both currently five points off the table-leaders, will be looking to use games against the bottom two to keep the pressure on those at the top.

FANCY A BET?

The usual football betting markets are obviously available to the punter, but those looking for good value in a speculative winner-takes-all bet should not ignore the Faroe Islands in their home clash with Switzerland in Group B. While the Islanders are among the national game’s minnows they have been known to produce the odd surprise when playing on home soil (on an artificial pitch), including a 2-1 win over Greece in Euro 2016 qualifying. Iceland, given their good fine Euro 2016, also look decent value for a home win over Croatia.

If it’s a first-goalscorer bet you’re interested in then the Scotland/England clash offers a couple of interesting possibilities, with Scotland’s Leigh Griffiths and Chris Martin both looking generously priced. While an England win is odds-on, the possibility of the home side taking the lead in a Hampden Park cauldron should not be discounted.

And for those who fancy a longer-term bet then look no further than Sweden as winners of Group A, although their currently generous odds will shorten very quickly if they are able to beat France in Stockholm on Friday.

Champions League Final 2017 – Preview

Champions League Final 2017 - Preview

This weekend, Cardiff’s Principality Stadium plays host to European football’s 2017 showpiece with Real Madrid and Juventus contesting the game’s biggest prize. The Old Lady versus Los Blancos.

For the purist (and punter) it’s one that promises much and with footballing philosophies at opposite ends of the spectrum, these two European giants will hopefully bring down the curtain on the football season in style.

But don’t bank on it.

Miserly Juve

Juve have blown away all before them this season, having already secured the Serie A title and the Copa Italia, and are on the cusp of being only the ninth team ever to complete the domestic and European treble. But they’ve not done it by swashbuckling. They’ve done it by virtue of a pragmatic style underpinned by Europe’s most miserly defence.

While manager Massimiliano Allegri has the flexibility to play either a back-three or a back-four –depending on the set-up of the opposition – at Juve’s defensive core is a quartet with a combined age of 135. In front of legendary goalkeeper Gigi Buffon (39) are defenders Leonardo Bonucci (29), Giorgio Chiellini (32) and Andrea Barzagli (35), and they are collectively the rock upon which the Old Lady’s stellar 2016/17 has been built.

En route to the Scudetto, Juve conceded just 27 goals in their 38 games, with their run to the Copa Italia seeing them concede just six. Most impressive however – and most relevant if you’re having a flutter on the Cardiff showpiece – is the fact that in this season’s Champions League they have conceded just three times, along the way managing two clean-sheets against Barcelona.

As you would expect, double-winners Juventus are not without attacking thrust. While a solid base offers the opportunity for glory, it’s goals that win trophies and they carry menace aplenty in the attacking third. In their Argentinian duo of top scorer Gonzalo Higuaín and in-demand Paulo Dybala they carry a potent blend of experience and youth, with Dybala tellingly scoring twice in the 3-0 demolition of Barca in the home leg of the quarter-final.

Their third attacking option, Mario Mandžukić, also links well and adds attacking muscle, while from midfield, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic have both chipped in with goals.

In short, Juve are a solid, cohesive unit who have a winning habit. Those expecting Real’s Galacticos to blown them away need to think again.

Real Quality…

Los Blancos, for their part, have a rather different outlook on winning games of football. The Real Madrid way is to bring together a team of superstars, mould them together into something resembling a team and unleash them on opponents; said superstars being encouraged the freedom to tear opposition apart using their superior skill and technique.

In terms of an actual playing style, it tends to be s case of finding one that fits that particular group of players rather than vice-versa, but if there is an ethos that loosely underpins it all it’s ‘attack, attack, attack’.

And with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Isco and Gareth Bale from whom to choose his trio of attackers it’s not a difficult to see why manager Zinedine Zidane is content to offer his players a loose template from which to go and express themselves.

With Luka Modric and Toni Kroos offering the ammunition, Los Blancos pose a formidable attacking threat with Brazilian Casemiro offering the ballast in the centre of midfield. In defence the vastly experienced and no-nonsense Sergio Ramos is a key figure but is also known to pop up at the other end and score important goals.

Let’s look at team selections, with the only unknown is whether Zidane will opt for Isco, who has deputised successfully for the injured Bale, or recall the fit-again Welshman who has been out for six weeks with a calf injury.

So, it’s attacking brilliance versus the best defence in Europe and something has to give.

Beauty? Beast? Or Penalties?

So who’s going to win? Perhaps Juve manager Allegri inadvertently offered up a clue at the end of last season: “In Europe, you win with skill, not running. It’s not like the league.”

On that basis it’ll be Los Blancos’ day, but the surety offered by Juve’s water-tight defence is almost guaranteed to keep them in the game, even if they are on the wrong end of the possession stats. And extra-time is a distinct possibility. Even penalties.

There could be some value in first goalscorer. While Ronaldo is the obvious choice, Isco – if he starts ahead of Bale – is good value having managed double figures in La Liga. For Juve, it’s hard to see past Higuain and Dybala but for a long shot Dani Alves has been known to chip in with a goal or two from right-back.

And if you’re tempted to go for the first yellow card look no further than Sergio Ramos, whose almost guaranteed to be a central figure and may even pop up with a goal.

UFC 212 Preview – Jose Aldo v Max Holloway

 Jose-Aldo-Max-Holloway

A featherweight championship unification bout between Jose Aldo and Max Holloway headlines the UFC’s return to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 3 for UFC 212.

Max Holloway earned the interim featherweight title after finishing elite striker Anthony Pettis at UFC 206 and now seeks to become the undisputed featherweight champion with a win over Jose Aldo. This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge of the 25-year-old Hawaiian’s career and he’ll not only be facing one of the best to have ever competed inside the octagon, but thousands of screaming fans in Rio de Janeiro, too.

Jose Aldo will be competing for the first time since dominating Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. If Aldo proves victorious and defends the featherweight title for the eighth time in his career, the only scar that remains on his record is the 13-second knockout loss to Conor McGregor. A truly dominant performance against Max Holloway at UFC 212 would help provide the momentum required in attempting to convince Conor McGregor into a rematch in the future, however unlikely.

The UFC 212 co-main event is an intriguing battle between two of the best women’s strawweights in the world, Claudia Gadelha (10-1) and Karolina Kowalkiewicz (13-2). These fighters and their respective records have just one thing in common; they have only ever lost to current UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejcyk. Gadelha has pushed Jedrzejcyk to the limits on two occasions now and a win over Kowalkiewicz should put her in line for a third shot at the champion.

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Elsewhere on the card, Vitor Belfort competes for the last time in the UFC against Nate Marquardt. A highly anticipated bantamweight battle between former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champion, Marlon Moraes, and Raphael Assuncao headlines the preliminary card.

Main Card – 10pm ET

Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway

Co-Main Event

Claudia Gadelha vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Vitor Belfort vs. Nate Marquardt

Paulo Borrachinha vs. Oluwale Bamgbose

Erick Silva vs. Yancy Medeiros

Preliminary Card – 8pm ET

Raphael Assuncao vs. Marlon Moraes

Antonio Carlos Junior vs. Eric Spicely

Johnny Eduardo vs. Matthew Lopez

Iuri Alcantara vs. Brian Kelleher

UFC Fight Pass Prelims – 6:30pm ET

Viviane Pereira vs. Jamie Moyle

Luan Chagas vs. Jim Wallhead

Marco Antonio Beltran vs. Deiveson Alcantara

Leeds Farce Continues as Cellino Fails Owners’ and Directors’ Test

Leeds Utd

The ongoing debacles at Elland Road continued this week as it emerged that owner Massimo Cellino had failed the mandatory Owners’ and Directors’ Test, and will subsequently be told to vacate his spot among the Leeds directors. The Football League originally tried to block his first attempt to takeover in April 2014 but the move went ahead following Cellino’s appeal. Now, it appears he will have to take a step back until March 2015 at least.

The League’s board of directors arranged a meeting following the surfacing of tax evasion claims in Cellino’s native Italy. Having consulted the judge’s report the board were unanimous in their decision that Cellino be disqualified from carrying on in his current club role. What will now ensue is a tricky situation wherein he must immediately resign but has a fortnight to appeal. If the findings are upheld, which they very well could be, then he must steer clear of the club until March 18th 2015 at the earliest. Confusingly, he would then be eligible to reclaim his position, meaning that even if the ban is upheld it is effectively a three month hiatus as opposed to a long-term exclusion.

The charges come due to Cellino failing to pay adequate taxes on his yacht in Italy. This prompted the League to convene and their decision was clear to all. In a statement, the Football league said: “At its meeting last week, the board considered the reasoned judgment of the Italian court against Mr Cellino, having successfully applied to the Italian courts for its full disclosure.

“The board considered detailed legal advice and agreed unanimously… that Mr Cellino is subject to a disqualifying condition under the terms of the [Owners’ and Directors’] Test.

“As the judgment of the Italian court has not been published in Italy, the Football League will not make any of its contents public.”

This definitive stand leaves little room for negotiation, although it is likely the passionate owner will attempt to stand his ground. It may prove fruitless, but Cellino is not afraid of speaking out if he feels something is awry, even at the risk of being mocked. His tenure at Leeds to date is a testament to this. The zany Italian has frequently hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, implementing unconscionable ideologies that have left fans and staff alike bemused.

In an effort to save money earlier in the season, Cellino took the dramatic move of closing the club’s training ground and moving proceedings to Elland Road until the start of the season. For a Championship club that was top tier less than a decade ago this is an extremely counter-productive move that gives off an alarmingly bad impression to potential investors, players and competitors. Tampering with tried and tested traditions is nothing new to Cellino, though. In a move that was guaranteed to upset the players he remarkably told them that they would be required to bring their own lunches to work. This is particularly unbelievable in the modern age where diet has become such an important aspect of sport at the highest level, not to mention the huge dent in morale and bitter taste it would leave.

As if that wasn’t enough, Cellino publically took it upon himself to dictate where players can and can’t live. Stating previous lateness as a valid reason for relocation, the fiery owner claimed that every player would have to live in Leeds.

“Next season I do not want one single player who lives outside of Leeds, no way. That is mandatory” said the eccentric President of Leeds United. “Last year there were players who were coming late to games.

“Next year before a home game the players will stay together, have dinner together and go to the game together.”

This came on the back of Cellino cutting short the players’ summer holidays in order to have face-to-face talks before the beginning of the season. Whilst many criticise the lavish lifestyles of footballers given what some perceive to be an easy job, it is widely accepted that a summer break is a necessity to ensure an effective season as evidenced by players like Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie already suffering from fatigue this year. This bullish decision will therefore have upset both the players and the fans, a recurring theme in Cellino’s rogue rulebook.

During his time in Italy when Massimo Cellino was in charge of Cagliari he earned himself the nickname ‘The Manager Eater’ after powering through 36 managers in two decades. This is a proud tradition he has continued at Elland Road, firing both David Hockaday and Darko Milanic after just six games apiece in the power seat. Not content with just sacking those in managerial positions, Cellino took it upon himself to wave goodbye to ex-Sheffield United goalie Paddy Kenny.

Having returned to the club for pre-season training in 2014 Kenny found that he had fallen out of favour with the owner and, if media rumours are to be believed, Kenny’s birthday may have something to do with it. Apparently, Cellino believes that the number 17 holds such bad luck that when he found out Kenny was born on the 17th of May he axed him. Although this hasn’t been confirmed by Kenny’s agents, the fact that Cellino had the number 17 seat at former club Cagliari removed and replaced with 16B does add some credence to the story.

The League’s decision to remove Cellino from his position will be met with a fierce defence, particularly given the short-term nature of the ban and the huge repercussions. Looking at the overall picture, many fans will be in agreement that whilst it may rock the boat in the immediate future the removal of Cellino will put an end to the circus show that has become Leeds United, and eventually lead to long-term stability.

WSOP Final Table Gets Underway for $10 Million Prize

Nov Nine 2014

As of 8pm (ET) November 10th, the 2014 World Series of Poker final table will resume play with the winner taking home a stunning $10 million windfall. The biggest annual tournament in poker is being held, as ever, in the US gambling Mecca that is Las Vegas. The remaining participants – a collective now referred to as the November Nine – have been patiently waiting for four months since making the final table, and you can track their progress to riches live on ESPN as they battle for the crown of WSOP No Limit Champion.

Reaching the final table of this esteemed tournament is no mean feat with a field regularly exceeding 6,000. Following Chris Moneymaker’s fairtyale win in 2003, the field tripled from 839 that year to 2,576 in 2004. From here it boomed right up to a peak of 8,773 people but over the last half a decade has consistently average around the 6,500. Remaining in the running until there are just nine people therefore requires patience, persistence, a huge amount of skill, and maybe a bit of luck along the way.

This year’s grand prize of $10 million is the first time the bounty has ever reached eight figures, making it one of the most exciting final tables to date. The November Nine are a mixture of familiar names, online sharks and one that can only be described as a wildcard. Starting with the bookies’ favourite and working through the odds, here’s a quick rundown of the nine competitor’s going into the climax of the competition.

Jorryt van Hoof:

For those of you that follow the online poker scene, van Hoof will already be well known to you after one of the sickest calls you’re ever likely to see in a major tournament. Under the alias of ‘TheCleaner11’, the Dutchman made a complete soul read on fellow pro Dylan Linde and called with just 8-high on a 4-3-5-5-4 board. There were only a handful of hands that he could be beating, and all would involve a deuce and a second card lower than an 8 but excluding 4s, 5s and 6s. Incredibly his read was spot on and when he called the pot size bet on the river, Linde flipped over pocket deuces leaving the cleaner to clean up. But his credentials stretch far beyond a simple hero call.

With over 38 million in chips van Hoof is the chip leader going into the final furlong. This will certainly allow van Hoof an edge, and it is understandable that he is viewed as the favourite to win the coveted bracelet.

Felix Stephenson:

Although van Hoof is the chip leader it is not a commanding lead, with Stephenson just a few million behind. Ironically the Norwegian almost gave this year’s WSOP a miss, and only entered after picking up around $60,000 backing the Netherlands to beat Australia 3-2 at the World Cup in Brazil. At that moment he packed up his things and headed on over to take part in the prestigious tournament, a decision he no doubt now rates among his most important ever. This time, though, he’ll be hoping the Dutch don’t come out on top again.

 Mark Newhouse:

As van hoof and Stephenson are nervously eyeing each other in the build up to taking their seats, it’s possible Mark Newhouse will be sitting back with a wry smile, puffing on a fine Cuban cigar in a pair of flip-flops and Hawaiian shirt. He is, after all, the only one to have been there and done that all before – as recently as last year. Yes, this is Newhouse’s second main event final table in as many years, which is an incredible achievement when you think about the size of the field. Last time out Newhouse was the first to fall, finishing in ninth in what he described as an emotionally draining experience. This year, expect that experience to help him get off to a strong start – perhaps stealing a few pots early on as the others get settled – and potentially overtake the leaders for the win.

Martin Jacobson:

The fact that Jacobson has the second smallest chip stack yet maintains relatively short odds speaks volumes about the bookies’ confidence in the bespectacled Swede. He is the leading tournament earner of the November Nine with $5.5 million accumulated to date and will be exercising that familiar final table confidence that has served him so well in the past. Certainly one to watch.

 Andoni Larrabe:

The youngest player still in the tournament, Larrabe will stand out not only for his tactical nous but his Athletic Bilbao shirt. The proud Spaniard will be representing his home colours as he eclipses his current career earnings, which have yet to hit six figures, and he will be hoping to make a mark on a strong table.

Dan Sindelar:

Sindelar is regarded by some as one of the favourites to walk away from the WSOP final as champion despite a seemingly average stack of just over 21 million chips. Since 2008 he has cashed in WSOP events 17 times, but has failed to make a single final table. Having moved to Las Vegas to pursue his poker career, it is clear that Sindelar takes his game very seriously.

 Will Pappaconstantinou:

Everybody loves an underdog. The bane of commentators everywhere, Pappaconstantinou is an amateur player that has found himself just a few places away from a historic victory. During the four month hiatus preceding the final table the Greek captured a foosball championship. He exclusively hones his skill in live poker, preferring that to an online game, and is also a dealer at Rockingham Park. It will take a momentous effort to beat the other eight competitors but, as Chris Moneymaker proved in 2003, anything is possible.

 William Tonking:

Tonking will be thrilled to have made the November Nine having come some close to elimination as the bubble loomed large. Facing off against Jacobson, Tonking flopped the stone cold nuts, holding J-9 on a 10-8-7 flop. He managed to get it all in but Jacobson flipped over a flush, leaving Tonking to sweat two more cards as the crowd vied for his elimination. He survived, and will be looking to build on his 15 million chip stack.

Bruno Politano:

The short stacked Brazilian has become somewhat of a star in South America, so much so that a documentary is being made about his journey since qualifying for the November Nine four months ago. With a nation behind him and the shortest stack in play, expect plenty of support and a lively showing from Brazil’s new golden boy.