BATE Borisov v H. Kiryat Shmona
It has been a fairy-tale 12 months for Hapoel Kiryat Shmona; after winning their first ever Israeli league title they have since gone on to progress through two Champions League qualifying rounds and are now on the verge of qualification for the Champions League group stages.
But if they are to complete the story then they’ll need to overcome a BATE Borisov side that have a growing European pedigree. Champions of Belarus for the last six seasons, BATE are now multiple Champions League group stagers having competed in the round-robin stage in 2008/09 and 2011/12 seasons.
Experience counts for a great deal at this juncture and on their home patch I fancy BATE to do the business at odds of 1.75.
AEL Limassol v Anderlecht
Unlikely Cypriot champions AEL Limassol have been impressive in Champions League qualification to this point, but face their toughest test yet when they come up against Anderlecht this evening.
Limassol have yet to concede a goal in four qualifying matches, but Anderlecht put 11 past FC Ekranas in their two qualifying games to reach this point.
The Belgians have won all three of their previous knockout ties against Cypriot opposition and have also made a positive start to their domestic campaign - they are unbeaten in four. At odds of 2.10 we’ll take our chances with the away win.
Dinamo Zagreb v Maribor
Dinamo Zagreb go into this game with history stacked heavily in their favour. The Croatians have won all five previous two-legged contests against Slovenian sides, including when these two teams met in the second qualifying round of the 2003/04 Champions League.
Dinamo have also won their last four home qualifying matches in UEFA competition, including two already this season to reach this stage of the Champions League. Maribor have not qualified for the group stages of the Champions League for 13 years now, and I certainly don’t expect that exile to end this year. Back Dinamo to win with a 1-goal handicap at odds of 2.65.
Malaga v Panathinaikos
After a summer of discontent during which a number of their big players left the club, Malaga make their debut in the Champions League. Manager Manuel Pellegrini will aim to do for Malaga what he did previously in the competition for Villarreal, but will need to see off a solid looking Panathinaikos team in order to progress to the group stages.
The Greek side were comfortable 5-0 winners over Motherwell in the third qualifying round, while Malaga were far from convincing in their opening day La Liga win against Celta Vigo at the weekend. The uncertainty surrounding the Spanish club throughout the summer must have had some sort of effect on the players leading me to think there is some value in opposing the home team. The draw is priced at 3.40 and looks to be the bet, while I wouldn’t put anyone off the 5.00 on an away win.
Braga v Udinese
Both Braga and Udinese go into this tie looking to qualify for the Champions League group stages for only the second time in their history. Braga can draw confidence from their 100% record against Italian opposition in two-legged ties, but manager Jose Peseiro will need to overcome the disappointment of losing out to Udinese at this stage of the competition two years ago when he was manager of Sporting.
In Antonio Di Natale Udinese have the clout to go to Portugal and take a smash-and-grab 1-0 win. That scoreline can be backed at odds of 8.25, but we’ll play it safe with a simpler bet on the Italians to win the match at odds of 3.60.