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Sports Desk

by Aidan Elder |  Published: Oct 01, 2009


by Aodhan Elder

Heineken Cup
For a country with such an inherent passion for rugby, the lack of a single edition of Europe’s premier club competition must be difficult to stomach for Wales. Since the Heineken Cup’s first incarnation in 1995, just one Welsh side has got as far as contesting the final. Although the starkness of that statistic must be qualified with the fact that Welsh rugby struggled to put together a provincial structure to compete with the professional set ups of England, France, and Ireland in the early years, recent seasons haven’t yielded the rewards at club level that the talents of the national side would suggest are attainable.

It’s folly to think that Wales are “due” a Heineken Cup, but with obvious aptitude at their disposal, it is a matter of when rather than if. Last season Cardiff Blues lost out on an appearance in the final due to a farcical penalty kick contest and the Ospreys have been bubbling under for a few years, claiming a couple of Magners Leagues and an EDF Energy Cup.

Heinken Cup

Looking for a bit of value, the Ospreys at 18/1 could be the choice. They have landed a straightforward group where they will face a Bath team ravaged by drug scandals, an Ulster team in never-ending transition, and a Brive side that may be more focused on their domestic campaign. A quarter final place is certainly attainable and after that there will be no one to fear.

In contrast, the Blues have suffered from the vagaries of the seeding, and landed a nightmare draw with every match looking daunting. Even if they qualify, a home quarter final looks unlikely, and from there, it’s all uphill. Leinster bucked that trend last year, but it’s hard to see them defend the title without the totemic Rocky Elsom.

Seldom has a player came, saw, and conquered in such a short space of time and his influence was what dragged Leinster over the line at points when they would have otherwise failed. Munster are always a threat but their pedigree ensures a perennial lack of value, and there are hints that the French teams are drifting back to focusing mainly on their national top 14 championship with the Heineken Cup taking a backseat. It may not be true, but at such short prices, you wouldn’t want to be taking a risk that’s subject to Gallic whim.

Champions League
Its moniker may be slightly misleading, but there can be little doubt that in its current format , the Champions League produces the highest standard in global club football, particularly as the competition reaches it’s knock-out stages. In terms of the technical ability and tempo, possibly only a European Championship, Copa America, or World Cup rank higher.

The price we pay for such quality comes in the shape of rather predictable groups stages. As the competition proper gets underway in September, it’s very unlikely that we will see the minnows gazump the giants for a place in the knockout phase come December.

Although they might claim a rare draw or an even rarer shock victory, the success rate of the big sides is normally enough to see a familiar group of names enter the pot for the continuation of the tournament in the new year.

It’s something the egalitarian Michel Platini is attempting to remedy, but it will be some time before his efforts bear fruit, and in the meantime there are some interesting trends to note from recent seasons.

UEFA Champions League

In the group exchanges of last season’s competition, the favourites prevailed 51 percent of the time. With such a vast range of leagues and competitions, it’s difficult to come up with a definitive answer, but a general rule of thumb in football would be that the favourites prevail roughly between 35 and 40 percent of time. The data from last year’s group stage matches coupled with the anecdotal evidence from prior seasons — if you are a fan of backing favourites, doing it in the Champions League is more reliable than in other competitions.

With only three possible outcomes in match betting, favourites in football tend to be very skinny prices, but if you’re going to string a few of them together in a multiple, the Champions League looks to be the right competition to do it in. Spade Suit