Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich to see Guardiola turn pragmatist

Pep Guardiola returns to the Camp Nou. There’s little else to be said that will inflate the sense of event. Four ultra-successful years he spent managing his boyhood club, and now he’s back. Back in attempt to silence the Colosseum that he had always dreamed of igniting.

 

He still loves Catalunya and misses it from his Munich base, but his intended legacy requires that Bayern approach this tie with no sentiment whatsoever. With stars in the form of Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Franck Ribery all missing for tomorrow night’s game, a positive result will irrevocably take pride over place. Though he may be renowned as a serial perfectionist, he is a serial winner who will do whatever it takes to progress at this point.

The 44-year-old failed by his own admittance last year. Real Madrid blitzed Bayern in the semi-final, in a game he later describe as the ‘biggest mistake’ of his career. For his German escapade to have been worthwhile to this date, he can’t afford to not leave his mark on the Champions League for a successive season. It’s an almost incomprehensible reality for him. Barcelona must be stopped.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 7/4

Real Madrid 2/1

Bayern Munich 5/2

Juventus 15/2

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

On Monday, Sport newspaper headlined ‘Obsesionado con Messi’. It was in reference to Guardiola’s on-going plans to stop the Argentine, which have no doubt occupied his mind ever since Bayern’s ball was pulled out of the hat in Nyon. He has seen Messi trample on teams at this stage of the tournament before, more often than not from the Camp Nou touchline. Guardiola stood slack-jawed like the rest of us when Messi demolished Bayern back in 2009.

Reports from the city suggest that his initial plan to combat him would have been a man-marking job done by David Alaba; a player he considers athletic and intelligent enough to have put the brakes on Messi. With the Austrian unavailable for selection through injury, however, it’s now anyone’s guess as to how they will go about it.

And as much as he knows the damage Messi can cause, he will also know that Barcelona still have the ability to serve him up a taste of his own medicine. Despite the front three of Neymar, Suárez and Messi taking the plaudits in 2015, Luis Enrique’s midfield area in particular have demonstrated a renewed ability to control and alter the tempo of games in their favour. In fact, many have said the current team is the closest model to Guardiola’s that we’ve seen since he left in 2012. “This Barça presses more, defends better and now they have Suárez too,” Javi Martínez said earlier in the week.

 

The Catalans have been in superb form over the past few months. Their preparation could hardly have gone better. They remain in the ascendency in La Liga, their strike trio are undoubtedly the finest in Europe at present, and unlike their rivals, their team doctor might have one of the easiest jobs in the city.

Elsewhere, Bayern may have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, but they come into the game on the back of two consecutive losses. A defeat in the German Cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund has been followed by a 2-0 slip against Bayer Leverkusen; a game which ex-midfielder Owen Hargreaves described as ‘the worst you will see [Bayern] play’. It may only be two games, but momentum shouldn’t be taken for granted when the stakes are so high.

 

With the Germans’ injury record, it appears to be advantage Barcelona ahead of tomorrow night. The timing of the meeting is undoubtedly favouring the first leg hosts but they should be wary. Guardiola failed last year and is back again – sharper, hungrier and desperate to right his wrongs. His affinity for Barcelona will not stand in his way of stepping on them. And regardless of that, his legacy demands that he does. But be sure in the fact that Luis Enrique is equally hungry to chop down his friend in the name of building his own.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Barcelona to win the first leg with both teams to score is 2.89 with Intertops.eu

jamie k avatar JAMIE KEMP is a Freelance Football Writer and the Senior Editor at Inside La Liga. Follow Jamie on Twitter.

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Bayern Munich facing elimination in Champions League Quarter Finals

 

Few observers predicted any surprises when the Champions League quarter final draw was made last month, but after last week’s first legs one of the bookies’ favourites, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, are facing premature elimination.

Three of the four ties are delicately poised, Barcelona should sail through after their convincing 3-1 win in Paris last week, but it is the prospect of FC Porto defeating the Bundesliga runaway leaders that has gripped the neutrals.

 

Champions League Outright Betting Odds:

Barcelona 27/20

Real Madrid 7/2

Bayern Munich 7/2

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The Portuguese club, winners in 2004, were outstanding in victory last Wednesday, with the rejuvenated Ricardo Quaresma scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes, before Jackson Martinez extended their lead in the second half after Thiago Alcantara’s away goal. For all of Porto’s quality, Bayern were generous in defeat, gifting away all three goals through glaring individual errors from Xabi Alonso, Dante and Jerome Boateng.

The 2013 champions have been one of the form sides in this season’s competition, with Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk both on the wrong end of seven goal thrashings from the Bavarians, but they must win by at least a two goal margin to progress to a fourth consecutive semi final appearance. It says much about the expectations in modern football that two seasons without a Champions League trophy is unthinkable for a coach as feted as Guardiola.

 

With a mounting injury list that includes Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Javi Martinez and Mehdi Benatia, this could prove one uphill struggle too far for Pep. With Barcelona overwhelming favourites to finish the job against Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday night at the Nou Camp, attention turns to Wednesday’s two fixtures where there remains everything to play for.

Atletico and Real Madrid played out a tense goalless draw at the Calderon last week, and will line up at the Bernabeu for their eighth meeting this season. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and that was certainly the case given the needle on show between the two Madrid clubs last week. Real’s failure to score an away goal could cost them more than Atletico’s failure to ram home the home advantage, especially with Luka Modric and Gareth Bale likely to miss out through injury.

 

Atletico have shown they are the masters of the two-leg format under Diego Simeone, beating Real twice in this scenario already this season in both the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup. They have form, too, for turning a 0-0 first leg at home into a two-legged victory, as their 3-1 semi final win at Stamford Bridge last year so ruthlessly demonstrated.

Last season’s Final defeat in Lisbon remains Atletico’s only loss in their last 10 European matches against Spanish rivals and, in Antoine Griezmann, they have one of Europe’s most in-form players; the French international has six goals in his last five games. With history against Real in their bid to become the first side to retain the Champions League, Atletico look a good prospect to upset their city rivals once again.

 

In the final quarter final clash, Juventus have a single goal lead to defend in Monaco thanks to Arturo Vidal’s penalty in Turin last week, though the winning margin should have been higher given the wastefulness of Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata. The Serie A leaders are the stronger side on paper, and with the principality club required to open up at home in pursuit of goals, they will be easier to pick off than the side that came to defend in Italy. As Arsenal showed in their 2-0 win there in the Last 16, when the onus is on the Ligue 1 club at home they can become vulnerable, despite their excellent defensive record at the Stade Louis II.

With three results still all to play for, this week’s second legs clashes remain on a knife edge. The prospect of seeing this season’s Big Four – Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Real – in the semi finals remains a very real prospect, but nothing can be taken for granted.

 

Betting Instinct tip – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all to win their home legs is 3.26 with Intertops.eu

JamesDutton JAMES DUTTON is a freelance journalist who has written for The Mirror, The Guardian and The Times. James helps to  run The False Nine football website, contributes to The Anfield Wrap and is a columnist for uMAXit Football. Follow him on Twitter.

Champions League: Returning Ronaldo can give Real first-leg lead

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Can Cristiano Ronaldo add to his 14 goals in 8 Champions League games this season?

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to return for the first leg of Real Madrid’s semifinal match against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The 29-year who missed the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona has been suffering from an apparent hamstring injury but returned to full training a few days ago. Gareth Bale, the hero of the final against Barcelona, was reported earlier this week to be suffering from the effects of the flu, but he has also seemingly recovered in time to welcome Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich to the Bernabeu.

 

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich Betting Odds:

Real Madrid win – 2.38

Bayern Munich win – 2.74

Draw – 3.30

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Real Madrid enter the game aiming for their first Champions League final berth in 12 years, though they have famously won the trophy nine times so far. History is not on the side of Los Blancos as they have lost four out of the last five semi-final matches against Bayern and Guardiola was also responsible for breaking the stranglehold of Real Madrid in Spain –not losing in any of six visits to the Bernabeu– during his time at Barcelona. Though most of the team is healthy for Madrid, Marcelo is set to miss out, leaving Fabio Coentrao to start in his place and Álvaro Arbeloa’s injury woes means that Daniel Carvajal will retain his starting spot. These issues leave Real Madrid vulnerable in Bayern’s strongest position, the wings, where Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry ply their trade.

Real Madrid’s last match in the Champions League suggests that they will have a hard time dealing with the pace of Bayern, as they were exploited by Borussia Dortmund’s pace numerous times as they went on to lose 2-0 to the Germans in the second leg of their quarter-final. While they were able to hold on and progress, the loss against Dortmund was a shock as they were able to dispatch their opponents very easily during the first leg, and in the second leg, completely collapsed as Dortmund threatened throughout, with only the width of the post preventing them from forcing extra-time.

Bayern are to all intents and purposes a better team than Dortmund, and have more weapons while retaining the same intense pace. Ronaldo’s return and Bale’s good health will be welcome news for Real but the more important factor will be if their defence can stand up against their German opponents.

 

Bayern are also welcoming back a talisman of their own in the form of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was serving a suspension for a red card offense in the last round. The Germans were held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United in the first leg of the quarterfinals before coming from behind to eventually run out 3-1 winners in the second leg. They wrapped up the Bundesliga title in record time but have become complacent in the league in recent weeks, suffering uncharacteristic losses to Augsburg and at home to Dortmund, though this seems to have been remedied by their most recent performances, winning 5-1 against Kaiserslautern and 2-0 against TSV Eintracht Braunschweig. This suggests that they are over there complacency issues and are back to their winning ways, something that should be concerning to Real Madrid fans everywhere.

If the Bavarians have a weakness it is their response to counter-attacking play, something that Dortmund feasted on as they ran out 3-0 winners recently, and something that has been a running problem in Guardiola teams. Their defenders push up very high and the fullbacks do a great deal of attacking, leaving them exposed if their opponents are able to form a quick, incisive counter. This plays into the hands of Real Madrid who are the best counter-attacking team in Europe, with the triple threat of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema. Angel Di Maria’s resurrection in the midfield will always be critical to the match-up, the energy of the Argentine is a big reason for Real’s effectiveness on the counter and his energy is essential for hassling midfielders and retrieving possession –all while he is still able to create chances with his dribbling skills.

 

Bayern will most likely dominate possession and with arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, will be bailed out a few times when they are caught on the break. Real Madrid however, will look to break quickly when Bayern do concede possession and with their ferocious attack, they should be able to muster a few clear cut chances and test Manuel Neuer. His opposite number Iker Casillas, meanwhile, is having a record-breaking season as the cup keeper for Madrid and will be on hand to thwart the efforts of the Germans who are always a safe bet to manage a few shots on goal.

The game will likely come down to which defense breaks first, with both teams having topped 100 goals this season in all competitions. If both teams’ attacks behave as they have for the season, the game will be a goal-fest and the winner might come down to whoever has the last shot on goal.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – With two of the most formidable forward-lines in world football going head-to-head, we can expect goals. More than 3.5 goals can be backed at 2.60 with GR88.com.

 

BdykNApCQAEQ_-t ZITO MADU (zitov2) is a writer for SBnation, and has written for Surreal Football, LiveBreatheFutbol,  and numerous other sports sites. Follow him on Twitter.

All set for a German Cup Clásico!

 

Are we set for a Bayern vs. Dortmund cup final in Germany?

Will Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer meet archrivals Dortmund in the German Cup final?

In Spain it’s all eyes on the final of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday when Barcelona and Real Madrid go toe to toe in what should be another epic contest, and German football fans are expecting a similar showdown when their national cup competition reaches its climax. The DFB Pokal semifinals this midweek see both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund as big favourites to move on and meet in a “German Clásico” in the final.

Tuesday sees Dortmund take on Wolfsburg at their Signal Iduna Park, buoyed by an impressive 3-0 win at Bayern in the Bundesliga on Saturday evening. While there is little doubt that the Bavarians have other things on their mind after clinching the title at the end of March, nothing can be taken away from a clinical performance by coach Jurgen Klopp’s team at the Allianz Arena. Things won’t be easy, however, against a Wolfsburg side that is challenging for fourth place in the Bundesliga (and Champions League qualification) and is capable of matching (almost) anyone on their day.

Bayern need to get back on track ahead of next week’s Champions League showdown with Real Madrid and should be able to enjoy a real confidence boost when second division Kaiserslautern come calling. Coach Pep Guardiola is keen to add the cup to the Bundesliga title and will no doubt field a strong team to get the job done with a minimum of fuss to set up what most German football fans want (well expect those from Wolfsburg and Lautern of course!) – a cup final battle between Bayern and BVB!

DFB Pokal semifinal odds

Borussia Dortmund         1.4
Draw                                   4.5
Wolfsburg                          6.75

Bayern Munich                 1.05
Draw                                   11.0
Kaiserslautern                  26.0

Odds provided by www.allyoubet.ag are correct of today, but are subject to change.

CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI.

Bayern set for real revenge on the Red Devils!

Bayern should get past united

Bayern are hot favourites to eliminate Manchester United!

May 26th 1999 is a date that anyone connected with Bayern Munich will never forget. Just minutes away from winning the Champions League crown in the final in Barcelona, the German record champions came unstuck to two late, late goals and gifted Manchester United the title. The memory of that defeat hurts to this day and so players, officials and fans alike will be delighted with the quarterfinal draw for this year’s competition which gives Bayern the chance to really rub in their current superiority.

At the time of writing Bayern are still unbeaten in the Bundesliga and running away to yet another title, in the semifinal of the DFB Cup competition and determined to rewrite the history books by retaining their Champions League title. All this is, of course, in stark contrast to a United side which has stood no chance in the Premier league, is long since out of domestic Cup contention and struggled to overcome Olympiacos in the last round of the Champions League. The draw has now paired the tournament’s favourite and the tournament’s underdog and there seems little doubt as to who will progress.

“We can’t allow Manchester United’s current position in the Premier League to affect our mindset for this game,” commented Bayern captain Philipp Lahm after the draw, all but admitting that he isn’t expecting much of a contest. There is little doubt though that Bayern coach Pep Guardiola will have his men focussed and ready to go when the two first meet at Old Trafford at the start of April. For Bayern, it will not only be a case of reaching the final four, but also eradicating the memory of Barcelona ’99 for good!

Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich, To Qualify

Manchester United                        4.3
Bayern Munich                               1.18

To Win The Champions League

Bayern Munich                               2.75
Manchester United                        29.0

Odd provided by www.allyoubet.ag are correct as of today, but subject to change.

_____________________________________________

chrisives-50CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI.

Barcelona v Valencia: They played for both

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

David Villa enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona and Valencia before moving to current club Atlético Madrid

On Saturday evening Barcelona will look to maintain their grip on La Liga’s top spot when Valencia visit the Camp Nou.

It was not so long ago that Los Ches were among Spain’s elite, dining at the same table as both Barça and Real Madrid.

Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side may currently sit 10th in the standings, but they still possess players that could potentially trouble what has not always been a water-tight Barca rearguard.

Ahead of the meeting, Betting Instinct has picked out five of the great talents who have played for both clubs.

 

Barcelona v Valencia Betting Odds

Barcelona to win – 1.13

Draw – 9.00

Valencia to win – 23.00

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Jordi Alba

Having honed his potential at Barça’s famous La Masia academy, full-back Alba was released as a youngster in 2005. He eventually found his way south to Valencia, for whom he made his debut in 2009. It was there where his rampaging runs down the left flank attracted the attention of Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, who included him in his squad for the 2012 European Championships.

With Barca looking for a long-term replacement for veteran defensive mainstay Eric Abidal, they turned to Alba, seven years after they had dispensed with his services. Still only 24, he went on to score five goals in all competitions as Barca regained the La Liga title during his first campaign as a senior player with the club.

David Villa

‘The Kid’ found goals relatively easily to come by with Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza, but it was the 2005 switch to Valencia that really saw his stock start to rise. He would go on to form a near telepathic understanding with David Silva and Juan Mata and it was that trio that helped Valencia topple Barça en route to success in the 2008 Copa del Rey.

By 2010, Pep Guardiola needed a new attacker. Thierry Henry was heading for New York, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic wanted to share the spotlight with Lionel Messi. Guardiola wanted a player that would sacrifice himself for the team and Messi – an offer which Villa duly accepted. He won eight trophies during his three-year spell with Barça, but he found it difficult to rediscover his touch after suffering a broken leg in a Club World Cup clash in December 2011. Last summer he was sold to Atlético Madrid, and his 10 league goals this season have helped Diego Simeone’s side mount a serious title challenge.

Gaizka Mendieta

Having risen through the ranks at the Mestalla, Mendieta was regarded as Valencia’s blue-eyed boy. Indeed, having forged himself a reputation as a free-scoring midfielder, the Spanish international was a key cog as Valencia won the Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and reached two Champions League finals in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

Such form earned him a big-money switch to Lazio, who were seeking a replacement for Manchester United-bound Juan Sebastian Veron, in 2001. One year was enough in Italy, though, and he returned to Spain 12 months later on a loan basis with Barça. Despite being a regular with the Catalans, their sixth-placed finish meant that Blaugrana could not afford to fund a permanent return and he eventually ended up joining Middlesbrough on loan.

Patrick Kluivert

Following goal-laden spells with Ajax and AC Milan, Kluivert was reunited with his former mentor Louis van Gaal at Barcelona in 1998. Forming an instantly profitable partnership with Rivaldo, the pair fired their side to the La Liga title. However, despite 120 goals for the club in 255 outings, that would be only the trophy that he lifted before he was released and headed for Newcastle United in 2004.

The spell on Tyneside lasted just one year, with a return to Spain and Valencia sealed in 2005. Fitness, weight and attitude problems were all said to have contributed to an unsuccessful time with the club, scoring just the one goal prior to his departure in 2006.

Oriol Romeu

To feature regularly in Barça’s midfield, you have to possess an extraordinary talent. Romeu, who arrived at La Masia in 2004, would, in time, discover that. Initially it appeared that he could force his way into Guardiola’s thinking when he was included in the squad for the 2009 Club World Cup, but he would ultimately make just two senior appearances in a red and blue shirt.

Chelsea came calling in 2011, but after a positive start to life at Stamford Bridge, a knee injury limited his playing time. Last summer he was loaned out to Valencia and despite suffering further injuries, he has impressed during his 13 outings.

Betting Instinct Tip Barcelona to repeat last year’s 1-0 home win is 8.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

liam_avatar   LIAM APICELLA (liamapicella88) has worked for a number of publications on a freelance basis, including Footy Matters, Football Italiano and the Ibiza Paper. He is currently the features editor and reporter for Sports Mole.

Little doubt that the Bundesliga title race is already all but over

German soccer fan

Bayern Munich travel to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday

The last of Europe’s major soccer leagues, the German Bundesliga, returns to action this weekend when defending champions and current table-toppers Bayern Munich travel to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday. A fantastic first-half to the season saw Bayern enter the month-long winter break unbeaten after 16 games (14 wins, two draws) with an extremely comfortable 7-point cushion over nearest rivals Bayer Leverkusen. There is little doubt amongst fans and pundits alike that the Bundesliga title race is already all but over, but that won’t stop Germany’s biggest club looking to continue to set new standards.

New coach Pep Guardiola, who had the unenviable task of succeeding triple-winner Jupp Heynckes in the summer, has made a huge impact at the club and won many friends throughout the country. His team play attractive attacking football, but also have a defensive record that is second to none in Europe after conceding just 8 goals in 16 games so far. A surprising 3-0 friendly game defeat at Salzburg on Saturday may have caused some negative headlines during the week, but there is no doubt that Guardiola will have his team focussed on the difficult job at hand against Gladbach.

The “Foals” will be motivated to the hilt after a superb first half of the season that saw them enjoy Christmas in third place in the Bundesliga table. Coach Lucien Favre has done a fantastic job installing both discipline and flair into his team and has made them almost unbeatable at home. With a record of 8 wins and one draw in 9 games in front of their own fans, they certainly won’t be fearful of a visit from the champions and with the national spotlight on the Bundesliga opener for 2014, they could well spring a surprise!

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich Odds

Mönchengladbach 7.5
Draw 4.75

Bayern Munich 1.36

(Odds supplied by www.allyoubet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

______________________________________________

chrisives-50CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI.

Raja Casablanca Chasing Fairytale Result Against Bayern Munich

Mario Götze is just one of the stars likely to be on show for Bayern

Mario Götze is just one of the stars likely to be on show for Bayern

The night of the 18th December will go down in footballing history, and for two reasons. Firstly, it saw Modibo Maïga, a goalscorer about as ‘natural’ as the triple-breasted mutant sex worker from Total Recall, score the winner for West Ham in a 2-1 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur. But it also saw Maïga’s old club, Raja Casablanca of Morocco, overcome second favourites Atlético Mineiro 3-1 to progress to the 2013 Club World Cup Final. There they’ll face the UEFA Champions League winners and all-round behemoth, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.

Raja Casablanca v Bayern Munich Betting Odds

Raja Casablanca win – 36.00

Draw – 11.50

Bayern Munich win – 1.08

(All odds provided by GEObet.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Raja were rank outsiders going into the tournament. That they’re playing at all isn’t down to victory in their continent’s premier club competition (they didn’t even qualify for the 2013 CAF Champions League), but because the Club World Cup is being held in their home country, of which they were domestic champions in the 2012-13 season. They boast no superstars, and indeed seem awed to be in such esteemed company as Atlético and Bayern; as the final whistle blew in yesterday evening’s win, Raja players swarmed around Ronaldinho, hugging and kissing the Brazilian as they jostled for his jersey and even his boots.

But their performances so far have proved that they deserve to be here. Whereas the European and South American entrants were seeded and thus entered at the semi-final stage, Raja had to beat Auckland City in a playoff and Monterrey in the quarters before they could share a stage with Ronaldinho and co. The Auckland result was an impressive 2-1 win. Against Monterrey, the same scoreline, though this time it took an extra-time header from Ivorian midfielder Kouko Guehi to secure their passage. And most impressive of all, that 3-1 win against Atlético, where two incisive breakaway goals and a converted penalty were enough to eclipse a trademark Ronaldinho free kick.

This wasn’t luck, nor was it a case of the Brazilians not taking things seriously; on the contrary, Galo have been preparing for the competition for months. Rather, it was an impressive and hard-working set of players driven to victory in large part by a vocal and fanatical home support. As Dear Leader Sepp Blatter pointed out on Twitter after the game, it’s great news that the first Club World Cup held in Africa will have an African team playing in the final (even if personal preference Al-Ahly, team of the retiring Mohamed Aboutrika, have failed so miserably).

Bayern’s route to the final, as the seeding system dictates, has been a tad less romantic. On Tuesday, they defeated Guangzhou Evergrande, managed by Marcello Lippi, captained by Zheng Zhi and powered by Darío Conca, 3-0. And that’s it. Guardiola, though, is taking the tournament at least semi-seriously. Ominously for Raja, the scorers that evening were Ribéry, Mandžukić and Götze, with no Dale Jennings-like youngsters in sight.

So, what should we expect from the final? Well, probably a battering. Though Raja have impressed so far, Auckland and Monterrey, it’s probably fair to say, represent an easier challenge than, y’know, the best team in the world. Even Atlético, though possessing a dynamic and extremely talented front three, were a defensive shambles in the semi-final. Raja will have the fans on side, and in all likelihood a set of players who’ll want the win more than their opponents. But they’ll also be facing, y’know, THE BEST TEAM IN THE WORLD.

Still, you never know, and with a potential centre back pairing of Jérôme Boateng and Daniel van Buyten, Raja at least have a fighting chance of nicking a goal. Striker Mouhcine Iajour, a Casablanca native and Morocco international, has been in good form during the tournament, picking up two goals so far. If he can nab a few more against Bayern, he’ll forever have a place in the history of Moroccan football as Raja Casablanca become Champions Of The World. And if not, maybe they could persuade Modibo Maïga to come back.

Betting Instinct Tip: Bayern Munich to win by 3 or more goals is 1.68 with Bulldog777.com

Kieran avatarKIERAN DODDS is a history student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others.

Ronaldinho’s Atlético Mineiro Could Upset Bayern Munich At Club World Cup

Ronaldinho

So, it’s here again: the competition that we all couldn’t care less about but the rest of the world seems to love. Yes, the Club World Cup is back, this year featuring the star-studded cast of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, the Ronaldinho-inspired Atlético Mineiro, and, erm, Raja Casablanca and Auckland City (among others). But what can we expect from the winter tournament, this year held in the not too wintry Morocco?

Club World Cup Betting Odds

Bayern Munich – 1.20

Atlético Mineiro – 6.00

Any other winner – 11.00

(Odds provided by Intertops Sportsbook are current as of today but subject to change.)

Bayern are obvious favourites; even with Guardiola pooh-poohing the tournament last week, and even with Arjen Robben possibly out with an injured knee (suffered in said match), it’s hard to look past a team four points clear in the Bundesliga and three points ahead of Manchester City in their Champions League group. Though Corinthians defeated Chelsea in last year’s final, Bayern have no hapless Torres equivalent. You can expect the trophy to head back to UEFA this time out, as it has for five of the last six Club World Cups.

Which is not to say there won’t be competition. Brazilian side and Copa Libertadores (or, as Mark Bright calls it, the ‘Libera Copertadores’) holders Atlético Mineiro will be Bayern’s most serious challengers, their attacking options a match for any side on their day. Though Bernard, a key player in that Libertadores winning side, has departed for Shakhtar Donetsk, the club can still call on the returning Ronaldinho (of which little more needs to be said), the rapid Diego Tardelli, and former Manchester City striker Jô, who, despite what you might have seen at City and Everton, is actually rather good. They’re also seeded and will enter at the semi-final stage, which helps.

And, if in need of a dark horse, look no further than the Egyptians Al-Ahly. Victory over South African side Orlando Pirates last month in Cairo meant an emotional African Champions League victory: their second since the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, the Port Said Stadium disaster in 2012, and the suspending of the domestic league. If one man sums up Al-Ahly, it’s Mohamed Aboutrika, one of Africa’s finest footballers and an icon in Egypt. Not only is he a star on the field, he’s one off it, too: when lifting the CAF trophy, he wore the number 72 on his shirt, a dedication to the 72 Al-Ahly fans killed in suspicious circumstances at Port Said. After a glittering career, he retires after this tournament. He’ll be looking to end on a high, and after five African Champions League titles, two Africa Cup of Nations trophies, and an African Footballer of the Year accolade, he is a man used to winning.

Completing the line-up, we have Guangzhou Evergrande, managed by Marcello Lippi and captained by former Charlton legend (maybe pushing it, there) Zheng Zhi; Monterrey, CONCACAF Champions League winners blessed with the presence of the ageless Humberto Suazo up front (he’s not ageless, he’s 32—though I figured much older since I’ve bought him in about each of the last 10 Football Manager games); Raja Casablanca, who gain entry by virtue of being league champions in the tournament’s host country; and Auckland City, coming back to the Club World Cup for the third time in a row and spearheaded by Adam Dickinson, a Scouse-born centre forward plucked from the Welsh league.

Perhaps most excitingly of all, however, FIFA say that that magic free kick spray stuff will be used to make sure defensive walls stay 10 yards back from the ball.

Welcome back, Club World Cup. Hello, revolution.

Betting Instinct Tip: Al-Ahly to shock Guangzhou Evergrande on Saturday is 4.60 with GR88.com

Kieran avatarKIERAN DODDS is a history student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others.