UEFA Cup Betting: Familiar foes target final
Ben Lyttleton believes that domestic distractions and an injury to their star striker puts Hamburg at a big disadvantage in the all-German semi-final. Meanwhile, will Shakhtar's European hunger make them the kings of Ukraine. Best Bets: Over 3.5 goals in Bremen-Hamburg @ [2.86]
If familiarity breeds contempt, there could be some tempestuous UEFA Cup semi-finals in store this week: not only do the two games feature clubs playing teams from their own country, but they come in the midst of domestic battles in which they also take each other on.
Hamburg, for example, played UEFA Cup favourites Werder Bremen, [3.25] to lift the trophy, in last week's German Cup semi-final, and they face them again in early-May in the Bundesliga. That's four games against each other in 19 days, so there will be nothing that Martin Jol and Thomas Schaaf won't know about each other's charges.
Schaaf will fancy his chances if this tie goes to a penalty shoot-out, given that Bremen only edged out Hamburg on spot-kicks in last week's first instalment. Tim Wiese was the Bremen hero, saving three penalties, but it should be noted that Hamburg started with playmaker Piotr Trochowski on the bench and played extra-time with 10 men after skipper David Jarolim was sent off. Jol is also unlikely to make the mistake of taking off his two main strikers, in this case Paolo Guerrero and Mladen Petric, in the event of another shoot-out.
Petric, though, will be missing for both European ties after injuring his shinbone against Bremen and, given that he is Hamburg's top scorer, and netted in the wins over Slavia Prague and Aston Villa, he will be a big loss for Hamburg, who go into the game only three points off the Bundesliga lead despite losing two of their last three games.
The contrast could not be greater with Bremen, who have saved their best performances for the Cup competitions: see their 5-2 German Cup quarter-final win over leaders Wolfsburg, their away-goals win over AC Milan in the Round of 32 and the 3-1 home blitzing of Udinese in the last eight.
This season, Bremen have been brilliant against Germany's top sides: they have beaten all of the top four, scoring five goals against Bayern (5-2), Hertha Berlin (5-1) and Hoffenheim (5-4) and four past Stuttgart (4-0).
And though Bremen lost their league game at Hamburg 2-1 back in November, their opponents' inconsistency, focus on the Bundesliga and lack of Petric are all reason enough to see value in Bremen¹s ([1.95]) price to win the first leg. As always when backing Bremen, overs are a good option and even with a Cup final at stake, the Over 2.5 goal price at [1.77] and the over 3.5 at [2.86] are both tempting.
The situation is similar in the other tie, as Ukrainian champions-elect Dynamo Kiev welcome Shakhtar Donetsk, currently 12 points back in second; but though the table suggests Dynamo are running away with it, don't be fooled: Shakhtar are paying for a terrible start to the season, with only one win in their first nine; but having won 11 of their last 12 league games, the come into the game in better form than the leaders.
The reason for their form can be put down to the news that coach Mircea Lucescu finally signed a two-year extension to his deal, just when it seemed like his five-year spell at the club was at an end. After selling the likes of Matuzalem, Anatoly Tymoschuk, Elano and Ciprian Marcia, the Romanian has been building a new side in Donetsk, but owner Rinat Akhmetov's aim remains the same: success in Europe.
Dynamo have had a slightly easier run to the last four - getting past Valencia (when none of their players were being paid), Metalist and an injury-hit PSG side - and though Oleksandr Aliyev and Artem Milevskiy have been superb in Europe this season, I can see them coming unstuck in this tie. Last week they ended a five-month unbeaten run with a surprise 2-1 loss at Kryvbas, and they followed that up with a poor performance in a 1-0 win over FC Kharkiv. Worryingly, though, Roman Eremenko (flu) and Artem Kravets (thigh injury) now look likely to miss out.
Shakhtar, on the other hand, have no injury problems after Lucescu declared Igor Dujaj and in-form striker Willian fit. That could be enough to give the Donetsk side an edge in this tie: the draw is a decent [3.45] price, with 1-1 at 7.2, while Shakhtar are [2.06] to qualify. The teams are also meeting in the Ukrainian Cup semi-finals and have a league meeting still to come. However, these two are the most important games, and Shakhtar¹s European desire could push them towards the final in Istanbul.