In a week that has already seen two dramatic semi-finals featuring Spanish sides, can the Europa League match its bigger brother for excitement?
Both ties remain finely poised after the first legs and while Valencia need to mount a famous fightback to get past Atletico Madrid, the proposition for Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao is much simpler – beat Sporting Lisbon by more than one goal and they’re definitely heading to Bucharest in May.
Sporting showed their class with a come-from-behind 2-1 win at the Jose Alvalade and are 9/2 to repeat that victory in 90 minutes or 6/5 to qualify by any means.
Athletic are favourites for the match at 11/20 in bwin’s 3Way football betting market and for the tie at 31/50, while you can bet on Sporting squeaking through with a draw at 31/10.
I’m expecting Athletic’s class to prevail over the piece and odds of 29/20 for the Basques to win by two goals or more in 90 minutes (back Athletic in the 0-1 handicap market) is the best route into this eventuality.
What seems certain from the first leg and both sides’ approach in previous knock-out rounds – where they have averaged three goals a game between them – is that this game will remain in the balance throughout, with over 2.5 goals available at 13/20.
While a 1-0 win (7/1 in the goal bet market) would see Bilbao through on the back of Jon Aurtenetxe’s away goal, Bielsa admitted this week that “Plan B is not an idea I understand” and that his team would continue their policy of all-out attack.
With five goals against Manchester United in the round of 16 followed by six against Schalke in the quarter-finals, Athletic are on a roll and are 83/100 to score first.
No player in their line-up (and arguably the competition) is hotter than Fernando Llorente, who’s averaged a goal every 1.5 games in the knockout stages and is 30/1 to score first in a 3-1 Bilbao win.
New customers using the free £25 bet they receive when joining bwin.com would win an incredible £775 if the Lion King does set Bilbao on the way to a win that would send them through in 90 minutes.
However, Ricardo Sa Pinto’s team have shown both in this tie and in previous rounds that falling behind doesn’t faze them and 14/1 for Sporting to get the draw they need despite being behind at half-time is also worth considering.
But I’m expecting Athletic’s class to prevail over the piece and odds of 29/20 for the Basques to win by two goals or more in 90 minutes (back Athletic in the 0-1 handicap market) is the best route into this eventuality.
Recommended bet: Athletic to beat Sporting by two goals or more @ 29/20
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