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14/09/2007 No.1
rendspotting Football
Kevin Pullein
Friday September 14, 2007

Teams who can go a long way at a big price in the Champions League are often the unfashionable clubs from fashionable countries. When this season's competition gets under way properly next week Sevilla and Valencia will fit that description.

The best teams in the Champions League are those from the richest national leagues of Spain, England and Italy. In the past eight seasons since the group stage expanded to 32, clubs from Spain, England and Italy have accounted for 34% of those in the last 32, 55% of the last 16, 72% of quarter-finalists and 81% of semi-finalists. The remaining semi-final places were filled by clubs from Germany, France, Holland and Portugal. Only one club - Dynamo Kiev in 1999 - from outside those seven countries has reached the Champions League semi-finals since 1996.

Gamblers, of course, are interested not so much in competitors who might do well as in those who might do better than the bookmakers anticipate. In practice, this means unfashionable competitors. England is nearly always represented by Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal while Italy tends to be represented be the equally glamorous trio of Milan, Internazionale and Juventus, the latter absent last season because of their involvement in domestic match-fixing.

The country with a track record of providing unfancied runners who go far is Spain. In the last eight seasons, Valencia have reached two finals while Deportivo La Coruña and Villarreal have each reached a semi-final. By top-level standards, these are unfashionable clubs.

Today, Sevilla and Valencia are slightly inferior to Barcelona and Real Madrid. The bookmakers, however, think they are dramatically inferior. You can get no more than 11-2 about Barcelona lifting the trophy, or 12-1 Real Madrid, but as much as 22...#8209;1 about Sevilla and 28-1 Valencia. In outright or match-by-match betting, they are the clubs who could yield a profit.

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