Reigning champions Atletico Madrid may be favourites, but it is the odds for cashed-up Russian club Anzhi that has raised the most eyebrows in Europa League betting
|By PAUL GOUGH
They are a club hardly synonymous with European success, but Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala have opened as fifth favourites to win this season's Europa League competition.
The group stages of Europe's second-tier club competition League get underway on September 20, with the Russian club drawn in one of the toughest of the 12 groups - Group A ‑ alongside English Premier League heavyweights Liverpool and Serie A club Udinese.
However, that has not deterred online bookmakers Luxbet from installing Anzhi [$19] only behind reigning champions Atletico Madrid of Spain at $11 equal favourites with Italian club Inter Milan, as well as EPL giants Tottenham [$13] and Liverpool [$15] to win the Europa League this season.
And if you are wondering just why a club most football fans in Australia perhaps know little about could be so high in betting to win such a prestigious competition, then think back to the Socceroos and their wonderful performance at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
That's right - the common denominator is world renowned manager Guus Hiddink, who was appointed coach of Anzhi in February, after the club was bought by billionaire Suleyman Kerimov.
Anzhi finished fifth in the Russian Premier League last season and have one of Africa's greatest ever players in their ranks in star striker Samuel Eto'o, while France international Lassana Diarra is a new acquisition.
And to give a further idea of just how highly rated the Russian club is heading into this season's Europa League, then consider some of the clubs that Anzhi is above in betting at Luxbet.
|Atletico Madrid to win the 2012-13 Europa League at $11 at Luxbet
||Anzhi to win the 2012-13 Europa League at $19 at Luxbet|
Immediately below them in betting are Napoli, who finished fifth in Serie A last year, at $21, while last season's runners-up in the Europa League in Spanish club Athletic Bilbao are next at $23.
They are followed by a host of big name European clubs at $26, in French duo Lyon and Marseille, Italian club Lazio, Bayer Leverkusen of Germany's Bundesliga and EPL outfit club Newcastle.
But Atletico Madrid clearly remain the team to beat in the Europa League again this season, having won the competition in two of the past three seasons.
They are eligible for this competition again this season after only finishing fifth in the Spanish La Liga last campaign, with only the top four clubs in Spain qualifying for the more lucrative Champions League competition.
But Atletico, whose superstar Colombian striker Radamel Falcao is one of the world's top marksmen, have already shown what a formidable team they will be again this season by thumping last season's Champions League winners Chelsea 4-1 in the European Super Cup final last Thursday in Monaco.