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UEFA Champions League Betting: The Final Four

A Champions League semi-final without Real Madrid, AC Milan or Arsenal? It just can't be the same without the perennial challengers, right? Wrong. And good riddance to all three of them. An utter lack of motivation and desire can explain the early exit of Real, Milan and Arsenal. (Not that Arsenal lacked it, mind you, but Chelsea just had way more) Milan were coming into their second leg against Deportivo with a 4-1 lead. They could have lost 2-0 or 3-1 and still advanced. Yet sheer complacency and overconfidence, together with a spectacular defensive collapse - this from the stingiest team in the competition, don't forget - allowed Deportivo to win 4-0. Monaco produced a similar stunning upset of Real Madrid with a 3-1 second leg win putting them through to the semi-finals on the away goals rule. Ironically, it was striker Fernando Morientes, on loan to Monaco from Real Madrid, who scored twice in the series. Real must be thrilled that a man on their payroll put them out of the competition. Of the four teams remaining, Monaco faces Chelsea in the semi-finals, while Deportivo takes on Porto.

Monaco (5:1) - It was a wonderful achievement for this team to see off Real Madrid in the quarter-finals. But can Monaco really hope to progress against the likes of Chelsea and Deportivo? They're notably more defensive in road matches, but Monaco plays very well at home and their dismantling of Real Madrid should not be seen as a complete shock. In the seven games they've played in the final round, Monaco has scored seven goals and conceded seven. They will likely have problems visiting Chelsea, but an away goal would be huge for them. It must be said, however, that it's hard to see them netting three or four goals in West London against Chelsea like did against Real in the Bernabeu. But, it they do manage to hold off Chelsea and reach the final, Monaco has as reasonable chance against Deportivo. 5:1 odds look about right.

Porto (4:1) - Last year's UEFA Cup champions will have a tough time progressing any further in the Champions League. They have a very defensive style in road games, and one slip up could cost them against Deportivo. In domestic play they own a perfect 14-0-0 home record, scoring 2.5 goals per game while allowing only five. But Porto have an agonizingly boring and uninspiring style of play. Frankly, they were lucky to have beaten a weakened Manchester United in the quarter finals. But Porto is always dangerous when playing at home; their stadium remains an intimidating place for visitors. If they can survive their visit to Deportivo without getting thrashed, Porto could pick up a 1-0 or 2-0 win in Lisbon and advance on the away goals rule. Still, they're underpriced at 4:1 and under no circumstances worth a bet.

Deportivo (9:4) - Of the final four, Deportivo is the only team with as much desire to win the Champions League as Chelsea. Overcoming a 4-1 first-leg deficit to destroy AC Milan - arguably the world's best team - was a remarkable achievement. Complacent teams don't win under those circumstances, and Deportivo is far from a pushover. Deportivo's weakness is their mediocre play on the road. They've allowed a ridiculous number of goals away from home, including an 8-3 pummeling by Monaco. Deportivo is definitely strong enough to see off Porto without too much difficulty. But the big question is if they can outplay Chelsea (or perhaps Monaco) in the final. Unlike earlier rounds, the final is a single game, played this year at Schalke's stadium in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Deportivo won't have the luxury of a home game in La Coruna. Since this is a neutral venue they'll face an uphill battle as the worst road team of the final four. Odds of 9:4 are a bit on the short side.

Chelsea (2:1) - Few predicted that Chelsea would defeat Arsenal in the Champions League. Yet this is a team with something to prove, and they've waited until late in the season to rally behind their coach. For over a month rumours have been swirling thick and fast that Claudio Ranieri would be out of job next season. The man himself acknowledged his sacking was a distinct possibility. But since then Chelsea has played flawlessly, unbeaten in their last six games. They're certainly capable of competing with Europe's best. Chelsea's defence is world class, which is what English teams traditionally lack when facing the tight defensive units of Italy and Spain. With only two home losses in domestic play, Chelsea's strength away from home is their strongest asset . Road ability is vital in cup competitions because of the value of away goals. (Monaco only advanced thanks to away goals against Lokomotiv and Real Madrid) Although they have the best road goal differential in the Premiership, a question mark for Chelsea is goal scoring. Chelsea need to win their home games decisively, and that means scoring more than one or two goals against Monaco at Stamford Bridge. If Chelsea reaches the final they have an excellent chance of winning it. At 2:1 they're definitely worth a bet. Remember, if Milan or Real Madrid were in the final four with Monaco, Porto and Deportivo as competition we'd be looking at odds of slightly better than even money for them to win the Champions League. The only reason Chelsea is at 2:1 is because they're an English team, and the perception remains that they can't play as well in Europe. But look closer and you'll see that Chelsea has the best of both worlds: the heart and grit of an English team along with the skill and patience of the best clubs in Europe. Indeed, Chelsea's roster comprises mainly foreigners, and their manager Claudio Ranieri ' an Italian ' is hardly the type to favour an English long ball offence.

Prediction: Chelsea to win the Champions League and Claudio Ranieri to keep his job as manager. Look for them to pick up an expensive striker over the summer and challenge Arsenal and Manchester United for the Premiership title next season.

Last week: Athletic Bilbao only managed a draw with coach-less Celta. But Newcastle and Chelsea both cashed for us. A 2-1 showing gave us a net profit of 90 units.

This week's picks:

Roma vs. Chievo: 2004-04-10 09:00 ET
Roma suffered a shock defeat to Bologna two weeks ago, and Chievo settled for a draw with Milan after leading for most of the game. That's why we can get Roma at -165 this weekend instead of the -250 they'd be ordinarily. They've still got the best defence in Italy, allowing only 13 goals in 27 games. And they've got the most powerful offence in the country too, scoring 59 goals in those 27 games. Chievo hasn't won in six games, and they'll be missing key players in this match. This game will be played a neutral site, which shouldn't pose any problems for Roma because they play well everywhere. Only a win will do for Roma, and with Milan's recent slip ups the wolves can smell blood. Play on Roma (-165)

Blackburn vs. Leeds: 2004-04-10 10:00 ET
There is ENORMOUS value in this line with Leeds. Blackburn is by far the worst team at home in the league with a 3-3-9 record in home games. They've taken only 5 points from a possible 21 in their last 7 games. Leeds is a team fighting to avoid relegation and have played impressively in recent games in order to survive. They are definitely capable of breaching Blackburn's awful defence and getting the win here. While this one could quite possibly end in a draw, you have to take these extremely generous odds. Play on Leeds (+275)

Birmingham vs. Man United: 2004-04-10 10:00 ET
Manchester United seems to be turning things around defensively with two shutouts in their last three games, and a defeat of Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final. They've won their last three games against Birmingham and they should make it four this weekend. It's amazing how good Birmingham looks on paper considering how poorly they've been playing. That explains why this line isn't tilted much further in Man United's favour. But don't be fooled. Seven of Birmingham's last nine games have been against bottom-table teams, and they haven?t won a single game against the top teams in the Premiership this season. Play on Manchester United (-120)

Other Articles About Soccer Betting:

 Soccer Wagering: Point Spread or Money Line?
 UEFA Champions League Prediction: Group Stage
 World Cup Qualifiers 2006: European Zone
 Carling Cup Prediction: Second Round Preview
 Italian Soccer Prediction: Serie A Preview 2004/2005
 French Soccer Prediction: Singing Les Bleus
 Spanish Soccer Prediction: Primera Liga Preview 2004
 German Soccer Prediction: Bundesliga Preview 2004
 English Premier League Prediction 2004/2005
 Olympics Soccer: Redemption Time
 Copa America Prediction: Samba or Last Tango in Peru?
 Asian Cup Prediction: Here We Go Again
 Copa America Betting: At the Copa...
 Betting Euro 2004: The Final Four
 Euro 2004 Gambling: Propaholics and Rooney-Mania
 Euro 2004 Predictions: Handicapping Secrets Revealed
 Euro 2004 Tips: Props - Part 1
 Euro 2004 Bets: Props - Part 2
 International Friendlies: How to Cash In
 Road Dogs and Big Profits: How to Find Both
 Uefa Champions League Betting Tips: The Final Four
 Man Utd v Arsenal Prediction: Clash of the Titans
 Premiership Predictions: EPL Roundup
 UK Bookmakers: Where the Action Is
 Legal Betting: A Gambler's Paradise
 Cup Competitions: Where the Money is
 Profit from Home Field Advantage

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