It is with a tear in the eye and a heavy heart that I bring you this latest report about the Europa League group stage coming to its natural conclusion tonight before the Champions League also-rans enter the fray.
But while the games do signal the end of the road for many of the lesser lights of Europe’s second best competition, they do represent one last chance for gamblers to capitalise on some of the more inept contenders for the Europa League crown.
So once again, here are three teams who look certain to sign off with a victory.
Anyone using the free £25 bet available for joining bwin.com on this treble could make it a night to remember, with potential winnings of £73.63!
Hannover 96 to beat Volskla Poltava @ 2/5
Last time out in the Europa League, Hannover 96 fell to a 2-0 defeat away at Standard Liege in a result that was out of character for the Bundesliga side.
After all, Hannover have been one of the stars of the Europa League this season, after dispatching a heavily-fancied Sevilla side in the qualifying round of this competition.
The group stage has brought some memorable results too, with Hannover scoring two goals a game for three matches running in Group B to secure qualification.
Although they effectively have nothing to play for – Standard Liege have already sealed top spot – the same can be said for opponents Vorskla Poltava.
The Ukrainians are a run of form that has seen them fail to win any of their last nine games and their second string should be no match for the Germans’ back-ups.
PSV Eindhoven to beat Rapid Bucharest @ 17/50
Heading into the knock-out stages of the Europa League, PSV Eindhoven look strong contenders to go all the way. Unbeaten in five games and with eleven goals to their name, the Dutch side have been in imperious form in Group C.
All of which bodes badly for visitors Rapid Bucharest, who have already ensured themselves an early exit from the tournament and have picked up just one win and four defeats from five attempts.
Worse still, they come up against a PSV side with an unbeaten run at home in all competitions that stretches back to February 5th 2011. The Eindhoven fans have enjoyed their fair share of goals too, with PSV scoring 25 in their last seven home matches.
All the signs, then, point to a comfortable win for the Dutch side at odds of 17/50.
Udinese to beat Celtic @ 57/100
Few things in football are ever certainties, but the match-up of Udinese and Celtic in Italy could be the closest thing to a dead cert this Thursday in the Europa League.
Celtic come into the game with arguably the worst European record away from home of any team in this competition. The Bhoys have managed just one win on the road in the past eight years – a 2-0 Champions League qualifying triumph at Dinamo Moscow in August 2009.
There’s little room for optimism in the Celtic camp either, given that they have won just once in Group I and in truth only qualified when play-off conquerors FC Sion were kicked out for breaking UEFA regulations.
Then there is the home side. Since losing to Arsenal in their Champions League qualifier in August, the Little Zebras have won ten games at home in a row, scoring an average of exactly two goals in each.
Confidence will undoubtedly be high after the home side drew level with Juventus at the top of Serie A at the weekend with a 2-1 win over Chievo. And with Antonio Di Natale continuing to fire on all cylinders – he’s scored in every match at Stadio Friuli this season – this has banker written all over it.
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