CHAMPIONS LEAGUE qualifying continues on Tuesday night. Here Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon.
APOEL Nicosia v Slavia Prague | Tuesday 15th August 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Following Thomas Christensen’s decision to join Leeds, APOEL Nicosia opted to bring in former Feyenoord and Genk boss Mario Been. But after coming under severe criticism following three lacklustre performances in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League.
Veteran Greek manager Giorgos Donis turned down an offer from Egyptian giants Zamalek in favour of a return to Cyprus having led The Legend to a league and cup double in 2013/14. With APOEL claiming the title in each of the past five seasons, Donis’ task is clear.
Defeat in the Cypriot Super Cup to Apollon last week wasn’t ideal but surprisingly, the domestic giants have failed to clinch the curtain-raising trophy in any of the past four years with attention firmly set on Tuesday night’s Champions League qualifier.
In 2016/17 APOEL exited the competition at this stage against FC Copenhagen but went on to enjoy relative success in the Europa League. The Legend made it all the way to the Last 16 before losing to Anderlecht and their home record deserves maximum respect.
The Cypriots have W8-D1-L1 in their past 10 European outings at their GSP Stadium home with victories against the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Olympiakos, and Young Boys included in the capital. And with five shutouts bagged in their last six continental clashes here, don’t expect APOEL to give much away.
So whilst the summer turnover in coaches is far from ideal, I still believe the hosts are a little underrated in the markets. With APOEL Nicosia +0 on the Asian Handicap available at 9/10 (188BET), I’m keen to keep The Legend onside.
Working in the same way as the Draw No Bet market, we’ll see our stake returned should the match end in a draw. We’ll only lose our stake if Slavia Prague secure a first leg success.
Slavia Prague haven’t played in the group-stage of the Champions League for 10 years and only managed to oust BATE Borisov in the previous round on away goals having lost 2-1 in Belarus following a 1-0 victory on home soil.
The Czechs started their season with a draw against Banik Ostrava before beating Vysocina in Prague on Friday night but their wretched road record in European football is hard to ignore. Slavia have now W0-D2-L6 in their past eight and W0-D8-L9 since their last away win on the continent in 2007.
With neighbours Sparta spending fortunes, there’s big pressure on the highly-rated Jaroslav Silhavy to navigate a path into the group-stages but with temperatures touching the 30 degree mark come kick-off, I’m happy to oppose the guests.
Sporting Lisbon v Steaua Bucharest | Tuesday 15th August 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
It’s been a revolutionary summer for Sporting Lisbon with the Lions opting to buy virtually a brand new team with a number of expensive imports.
Marcos Acuna and Bruno Fernandes have joined Jeremy Mathieu, Fabio Coentrao and Seydou Doumbia through the door at the Estatio Jose Alvalade. Combined with the usual handful of high-quality youngsters arriving from the academy, Sporting look well set for a tilt at domestic glory this term.
However, one of those bright lights appears to be on his way out. William Carvalho has been heavily linked with a move to West Ham and been left out of the Sporting squad for Tuesday night’s Champions League qualifying tie with Steaua Bucharest.
Nevertheless, I still fancy the Lions to roar here. They kicked-off their new campaign fielding six debutants in a 2-1 triumph at newly-promoted Desportivo Aves last weekend and although there were a few teething problems, Gelson Martins’ goals in each half secured the points.
But it was Acuna who stood out. The €9.6 million capture played on the left in the three behind lone striker Bas Dost in Sporting’s 4-2-3-1 and the Argentine winger came close to scoring on three occasions including a terrific long-range effort that rattled the bar.
On Friday night the Lions overcame Vitoria Setubal 1-0 at the Jose Alvalade and whilst the final scoreline suggested another toil, Jesus’ charges enjoyed over 70% possession, won the shout 18-4 – including 14-3 when only counting in the box efforts – with their visitors failing to land an on-target effort.
Once again Acuna impressed, attempting three more efforts as Sporting piled on the pressure. He was pulled off after 65 minutes but the diminutive wideman should be back in the fold for Tuesday’s tussle and he looks overpriced at 11/4 (Unibet) to score.
Acuna made his Argentina debut in the summer and arrives at this encounter having scored four goals in his last 10 games. Playing in his home country last season he managed nine goals and 13 assists in 25 appearances for Racing Club meaning he was involved in a goal every 101 minutes.
Sporting have scored in 14 of their 19 home Champions League outings since 2005, only failing to net against Bayern Munich (x2), Chelsea, Manchester United and Twente in that sample. Last term they notched against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund here and they’ve averaged over two goals per-game in their past six fixtures in this competition.
FCSB – the artist formerly known as Steaua Bucharest – arrive having ousted Viktoria Plzen 6-3 on aggregate in the previous qualifying round. Progression was secured thanks to a very impressive 4-1 win on the road in the second leg.
But despite starting their domestic season almost a month ago, Steaua have only managed three victories (W3-D3-L0) including back-to-back draws against CSM Iasi and Astra Giurgiu. And across all their fixtures, the Romanians have recorded a solitary shutout in eight.
Nicolae Dica’s men have managed just two clean sheets in nine road trips in the Champions League – at Stromsgodset and Trencin – even though they’ve not made it to the group stage since 2013 and their W1-D2-L3 return from their past six continental away days suggest they might not be good enough to thwart Sporting here.