|By PAUL GOUGH
A-League leaders Central Coast face a testing but winnable start to their Asian Champions League campaign on Wednesday night - at home to South Korean side Suwon Bluewings.
And although teams from South Korea's K-League have won three of the past four Asian Champions League titles - and a record 10 overall - such is the recent home form of Graham Arnold's Mariners that punters have been quick to get behind the home side.
The Mariners are the $2.05 favourites to win their opening Group H match at Centrebet, $2.09 at sportsbet.com.au and best value of $2.22 with Betfair.
Suwon are around the $3.15 mark at both sportsbet.com.au and Centrebet and again better value paying $3.45 with Betfair, while the draw is priced at $3.25 at Centrebet and $3.30 at both sportsbet.com.au and Centrebet.
Australian teams have a terrible record in the Asian Champions League, with Adelaide the only club to have ever made a major impression when they reached the final in 2008, only to go down to Japanese side Gamba Osaka.
And even this year the A-League has already suffered the embarrassment of having its other representative, reigning champions Brisbane, knocked out on penalties in the preliminary rounds by Thai side Buriram United - leaving the Mariners to fly the flag solo for Australia.
But despite being drawn in a tough group alongside not only Suwon but also Japan's Kashima Reysol and China's Guizhou Renhe - the Mariners are capable of making it to at least the knockout stages of the competition.
The Mariners lead the A-League table by a point from surprise packets Western Sydney, with five rounds remaining, but the fact that it is then a further eight points to Adelaide and Melbourne Victory gives you some idea of the form displayed by the Mariners this season.
And in front of their own fans lately the Mariners have been unstoppable, with their past three home matches in the A-League resulting in a 3-1 win over Adelaide, a 5-0 win over Wellington and a 6-2 thumping of Melbourne Victory last weekend.
But while it will be difficult to achieve a win of that magnitude against Suwon, the Mariners have an advantage in that they are match-hardened, while the Korean team are coming out of their off-season, with the new K-League campaign not starting until this coming weekend.
However, Suwon are not to be underestimated given they are four-time champions of the K-League and won the Asian Champions League in 2001 and 2002.
And while they only finished fourth in the K-League last season, they qualified for the Asian Champions League at the expense of the reigning champions in Ulsan Hyundai, who missed out on a spot in this season's competition by only finishing fifth last season in the K-League.
While it is hard to tip against the Mariners in their present form, this will be a tough match, with Arnold's team to win 1-0 perhaps the way to go in correct score betting at odds of $7.50 at sportsbet.com.au and $8 at Betfair.
|Central Coast to win at $2.22 at Betfair and Chelsea to win at $1.46 at Betfair
||Central Coast to win 1-0 at $8 at Betfair
Meanwhile, the fifth round of the FA Cup continues in England on Wednesday, with Championship side Middlesbrough hosting reigning Champions League and FA Cup holders Chelsea.
Boro, which are captained by Socceroos defender Rhys Williams and also have Australian striker Scott McDonald in their ranks, are sitting seventh in the Championship, while the Blues sit fourth in the EPL.
However, with Chelsea having already scored thumping 5-1 away wins against struggling opposition such as Southampton and Leeds in the domestic cups this season, the Blues are the dominant $1.46 favourites at Betfair - with Boro priced at $8.20 and the draw at $5.
Chelsea beat Middlesbrough in both the 1997 FA Cup and 1998 League Cup Finals and have won the FA Cup in four of the past six seasons.
But even if the Blues get past Boro, the odds are against them winning the FA Cup again this year given they would then have to face runaway EPL leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford in the quarter-finals.
As a result, Chelsea head into the fifth round at the big odds of $8.60 at Betfair to win the FA Cup.
They are only the fourth favourites behind 2011 winners Manchester City - who have a home quarter-final against Championship strugglers Barnsley - at odds of $2.84, while United are priced at $3.30 and Everton at $5.80, after the Toffees set up a home quarter final against EPL strugglers Wigan by beating Oldham on Tuesday night.
*Note prices are subject to change