Juventus may be the favourites against Celtic, but the brave Hoops have already exceeded expectations in the 2011-12 Champions League. Can they do it again?
|By PAUL GOUGH
Celtic are great value to cause an upset in the UEFA Champions League in the first leg of their Round-of-16 tie against Italian champions Juventus as the knockout stages of this season's competition gets underway on Tuesday.
The Hoops are appearing at this stage of the world's most prestigious club tournament for the first time in five years after a great effort in the group stages, which saw them finish second in Group G behind tournament favourites Barcelona but ahead of Benfica and Spartak Moscow.
Yet they are at the huge odds of $4.50 at sportsbet.com.au, $4.80 at Centrebet and $4.90 at Betfair to win their first-leg showdown against Juve [ Wednesday morning, Australian time], with the Serie A leaders the warm favourites at $1.75 with Centrebet, $1.83 at sportsbet.com.au and $1.87 at Betfair.
The draw is also tempting odds, paying $3.50 at sportsbet.com.au and Centrebet and again best odds at Betfair at $3.75.
Celtic are a massive 18 points clear on top of a Scottish Premier League, and the Hoops even had the luxury of fielding a virtual reserves side on Saturday when they still managed to win 3-1 away to second-placed Inverness.
That will ensure that Celtic's strongest XI will be fit and fired up on Tuesday, in front of what is sure to be a passionate Glasgow crowd.
|Leicester and Paris Saint-Germain to win their matches on Tuesday at Betfair
||Take Celtic in the draw/no-bet market of $3.45 at Betfair|
Juventus had no such luxury on the weekend, but as the reigning Italian champions extended their lead at the top of Serie A to five points after beating Fiorentina 2-0.
However, Juventus are no longer the force they once were in European football and this is their first appearance in the knockout stages for four years, as they look to lift the trophy for the first time since 1996.
Celtic also famously beat Juventus 4-3 in their only previous Champions League meeting in Glasgow in October 2001.
Aand while there is no doubt Juve have the stronger squad [as evidenced by the fact they are priced at $13 to win the competition at Betfair while Celtic are the rank outsiders at $210], the Hoops are capable of causing an upset in the first leg at home.
But the best way to back Celtic might be to take them in Betfair's draw no-bet market at $3.45, where punters get their money back if the game ends in a draw.
And in Gary Hooper and Georgios Samaras, the Hoops certainly have the firepower to score, given those two have already scored nine Champions League goals between them this campaign.
Both are attractively priced at $8.20 [Hooper] and $8.80 [Samaras] at Betfair to score the opening goal, with Hooper having done so twice during the group stages and Samaras once.
Meanwhile, in the other first-leg Round of 16 Champions League tie being played on Tuesday, big-spending French league leaders Paris Saint-Germain look great value to win away against fifth-placed Spanish side Valencia, who have not gone further than the last 16 in the Champions League for six years.
Valencia are the $2.37 favourites at sportsbet.com.au and $2.46 at Betfair to win the first leg at home, but PSG - bolstered by the January signing of English veteran David Beckham - look great value at $3 at sportsbet.com.au, $3.05 at Centrebet and $3.35 with Betfair.
In the English FA Cup on Tuesday, high-flying Leicester should have few problems winning their fourth-round replay at home to fellow Championship side Huddersfield at odds of $1.42 with Betfair, with the visitors paying $3.05 and the draw at 90 minutes priced at $4.60.
* Note prices subject to change