Cup Competitions: Where the Money Is
(Originally posted 28 February 2004)
To keep things exciting, soccer teams participate in
cup competitions to determine which the best club in Europe. Teams
from different countries compete against each other -- not
national teams but league teams (like if the Atlanta Braves
played the Yokohama Baystars, for example). Rich, strong clubs
can tire of playing their national league counterparts, so
tournaments like the Champions League are a refreshing change.
Heavyweights such as Arsenal, Real Madrid, Milan and Bayern
Munich, just to name a few, battle it out until only one team
is left standing. Those failing to qualify for the Champions
League often play in the UEFA Cup, a second-class but
significant and exciting competition.
As a soccer handicapper, these types of tournaments are a real treat
because several factors are involved that are largely absent
in normal league play. One of them is travel distance.
In the national leagues, teams rarely travel longer than a
couple of hours by bus. The European cup competitions,
however, can see teams from England and Spain flying as far as
Moscow, Kiev or Istanbul. Most bettors will blindly play on
the top teams without considering the many disadvantages they
face on the road. Bad, unhealthy food, strange people in
strange countries, and climate variations are all
uncomfortable and prevent a team from fully focusing on the
Certain places are more intimidating than others. Turkey has
some of the rowdiest fans in Europe and it's never easy for a
visiting team. Climate plays a big role too. Teams from
southern Europe aren't used to playing soccer in two inches of
snow with below-freezing temperatures. Because of climactic
variations, national leagues in several countries start and
end at different times of the year. This can result in a team
that hasn't played for three months matched against one which
is fit and in-form.
Some teams take these competitions more seriously than others.
Fourth-placed teams with no hope of winning their national
leagues will want at least some silverware during the season.
Conversely, if there’s a tight race for a national
championship you often see watered-down squads fielded for a
cup match. Even if a team plays at full strength they often won’t
try very hard for fear of picking up injuries.
Draws are very common in cup competitions because of the
somewhat perverse scoring system used. Usually two teams will play each
other twice, so each team plays one game at home. But the
winner is determined by the total goal difference or
“aggregate” of those two games put together. To make
things even more bewildering, away goals are worth
more than home goals for tiebreaking situations. The
end result is that home teams play a lot more defensively,
because they don’t want to let in a goal that could prove costly in the second leg. And visiting teams sometimes care more about scoring than
winning, because they can put the round away if they score a
few goals in their road game.
All of these factors create value, often in the home team.
This Wednesday’s UEFA cup match between Barcelona and
Brondby is a good example. Barcelona are fourth in the Spanish
league, owning a mediocre 5-5-3 record at home. Brondby are
first in the Danish league and they boast an impressive 8-2-0
record away from home. But the Spanish league is one of the
strongest in Europe, and Brondby would find it difficult to
compete with even the worst teams in La Liga. Barcelona take
the UEFA Cup very seriously and will field a full team.
Brondby are out of shape; their league ended three months ago.
This one looks like a comfortable home win.