Wales star Gareth Bale will have the opportunity to gun down Manchester City once again, with Real Madrid being drawn to face the English Premier League side in the Champions League Semi-Finals. It promises to be an intriguing and enthralling clash between two teams packed with quality, and although reaching this stage of the competition is a new club record for Manuel Pellegrini and his players, they have done so on merit and should not be under-estimated.
Bale, who has enjoyed another strong season in Spain and will play a big role in his country's first ever appearance at a European Championship this summer, remains the most expensive player in world football, having left Tottenham in 2013 for £86 million. He will be no stranger to Manchester City, having caused them numerous problems as his potential and quality became clear for all to see during his six-year spell at White Hart Lane. All eyes may be on Cristiano Ronaldo who could make the all important difference in the eyes of Coral who see Real Madrid as slight favourites to progress to the final, but sixteen goals in just twenty league appearances also makes Bale a player that could take the game away from Manchester City.
His superbly-taken goal against Getafe at the weekend took Bale's league tally for the season to sixteen, breaking his previous best of fifteen back in his first year in Spain in 2013/2014. Bale has also recently become the highest scoring British player in La Liga's history, having surpassed the record set by Gary Lineker during his time at Barcelona in the 1980s; adding goals to his game has made the 26-year-old more dangerous than ever before, with his considerable pace and wand of a left foot being utilised to great effect for both club and country. He may have been unable to find the back of the net during Real Madrid's quarter final clash against Wolfsburg, but while it is hotly debated whether their comeback from a 2-0 first-leg deficit to win 3-0 at the Bernabeu should be considered among the greatest in competition history, the latest Champions League odds with Coral would suggest that the Spanish giants have a great chance of reaching the final in Milan.
Chris Coleman and ardent Wales fans will all be watching the two-legged clash with Manchester City in the hope that Bale comes through unscathed and remains in prime condition ahead of Euro 2016. It will be a memorable summer across Wales as the national football team travel to France to compete in a major tournament, but Bale and his team-mates will not be going to make up the numbers; there is every chance that Wales can progress from a group which includes England, Russia and Slovakia, and if Bale continues the level of performances that he has put in for Real Madrid in recent weeks, then there is no reason why the Cardiff-born star add the achievement of reaching the latter stages with his country at Euro 2016 with another Champions League winners medal.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 April 2016 11:08
With The New Saints coasting towards the point where they are mathematically certain to retain their Dafabet Welsh Premier League title, many have wondered when - or indeed if - anyone will be able to dislodge the Oswestry club from their dominant position in domestic Welsh football. TNS will be the first club ever to win five consecutive titles, but as the club itself has said, nothing would please them more than if rival clubs could reach their levels of professionalism and pose a genuine challenge.
So what would it take for another Welsh Premier club to match TNS? One thing is certain, the league is a different place from its early days, when even well-run village clubs like Caersws, Ton Pentre and TNS's predecessors Llansantffraid could compete for top honours.
Some of the league's more successful clubs over its 23 year history have been bankrolled by businessmen (think of Cwmbran Town, Barry Town, Llanelli and Neath) but as these cases illustrate, this model is rarely sustainable long-term.
Look at the league table this season, and it's striking that four of the top five clubs in the Premier have forged strong business partnerships with companies in a range of modern industries - TNS in hi-tech, Airbus UK in aerospace manufacturing and now Gap Connah's Quay in and MBi Llandudno in service industries.
So it's interesting to learn of (unconfirmed) rumours which claim that one of our leading teams is in the final stages of a deal signing with a binary options broker named Binary Uno. No further details have been disclosed so far regarding the nature of the deal, but it seems to give further weight to the theory that astute business partnerships are the way to go for ambitious clubs in Wales.
Sustainability must be the goal, and here it's interesting to look at how the strongest clubs today are starting to build diverse revenue sources, to avoid the fates that befell the Welsh Premier champions of the past. Now gate receipts will never be very significant in domestic Welsh football, and clubs must look to sponsorship, stadium naming rights, and income generated by 3G facilities - and if that can build a budget sufficient to win league honours on a regular basis, then there will be further funds flowing in from the UEFA prize money pot. It's instructive to look at the UEFA Champions League prize monies enjoyed by TNS in recent years, and how that in turn helps to keep the Saints a step ahead of their rivals.
The Holy Grail for Welsh clubs would of course be to reach the group stages of the Champions League or Europa League, and unlock the associated revenues - not just a bigger share of prize funds but TV and sponsorship opportunities too. Last summer's Welsh performances in Europe raised hopes that this may not be impossible - TNS were unfortunate to go out in the Second Qualifying Round of the Champions League in extra time - but it's equally possible that the landscape of European club football will change in some way in the next few years. Welsh teams won't be involved in a 'super league', of course, but any change may bring new, unspecified opportunities. Only those clubs who have built strong foundations and positioned themselves at the pinnacle of the Welsh game will be in a position to seize those opportunities when they come.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 March 2016 15:04
The Euro 2016 finals are getting closer, and ever more real. We're into 2016, and the initial euphoria of just qualifying is past. Wales fans are now moving onto the next stage - actually anticipating and planning for the tournament.
As Gareth Davies discusses in our issue 187, there's the whole new experience for Wales supporters of collecting our own Panini stickers; and the tortuous experience of applying for tickets and making travel arrangements; there is also the question of who Chris Coleman will take to France - which means watching nervously as star players try to negotiate the remaining months without injury, and monitoring the fringe and forgotten Welsh players' form.
The Wales supporters themselves are of course assessing their heroes' prospects of qualifying from our group, of beating Russia, England and Slovakia in each of the group games, and of going further into the knock-out phase of the tournament. For many, it's about the football, though some will have a bet if only in the hope it might help cover the costs of the trip.
But the opportunity to bet on Welsh prospects in the finals tournament is by no means confined to Welsh fans. There is a bewildering range Euro 2016 odds, not just outright odds on winning the tournament, but individual games, top scorers, combination bets etc. Wales may be 50/1 or more outsiders to finish as tournament winners, but Coleman's men do seem to be emerging as favourites to qualify from the group along with England - the relatively forgiving format means first, second and most third-placed teams progress. How far can we go? Well, if the professionals are to be believed, we've a good chance of reaching the quarter-finals and a fair (8/1) chance of reaching the semi-finals.
Heady stuff for supporters of a nation that for so many decades has only dreamed of one day just being at a major tournament. And, whatever the odds available, for many of the travelling Welsh army, seeing that become a reality is what they still wake up every day and remember, even while they make their preparations for the actual experience in June.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 January 2016 08:18
It's mid-week, and thoughts are turning already to the weekend's fixtures. These days, the avid football fan (or punter) can get fixtures, odds and previews of upcoming matches in any country or league of his choice. But this week, nowhere has a round of matches quite as climactic and significant as our own Dafabet Welsh Premier League.
For, despite numerous postponements threatening to disrupt the Welsh Premier League's plans for its decisive 22nd matchday, Saturday 16th January does, after all, see the final six games in the league's first phase fixtures all scheduled to run simultaneously, kicking off at 5.15pm. And the hard line taken by the league on rescheduling of the delayed games has been rewarded, as the make-up of the two second-phase groups is still at stake, with all to play for in the six matches. So let's take a look at the action in store, and the possible outcomes.
The most significant battle at this point of the season always surrounds the middle of the table: for everyone would prefer to be in the top six when the league splits into two after this weekend, free from relegation concerns and able to concentrate instead on trying to secure a lucrative adventure in Europe in July. The reality is that two places in the top six are still up for grabs, with five clubs going into this match-day hoping to occupy one of them when the final whistles sound just after 7pm on Saturday.
The five clubs whose fates, for the next three months at least, will be decided by the final round of games are Gap Connah's Quay, Newtown, Carmarthen Town, Aberystwyth Town and Bangor City - and that's the order in which they currently stand.
For Gap Connah's Quay and Newtown, the task is clear: win on Saturday and they will finish 'above the line' and qualify for the top six 'Championship Conference'. In fact, depending on results elsewhere, a draw might be enough for one or both of these clubs.
But Gap Connah's Quay face the stiffest test of all this week, facing likely champions The New Saints, and may have to rely on other results if they are to get the desired outcome this week. TNS as ever are odds-on to win at the Deeside Stadium, but just a point will almost certainly do for the Nomads and the league sponsors are offering 17/4 on the draw here.
Newtown's visit to Park Avenue, Aberystwyth on Saturday, looks less daunting - Aber's recent home form is very poor - but the Robins themselves are on a bad run, with just one win in seven games, and just a two-goal victory for the Seasiders will be enough for the sides to swap places; the margins are indeed very tight.
Carmarthen Town, entertaining lowly Rhyl on Saturday, have every reason to hope they can profit from slip-ups by those above them and jump into the top six: they sit only two points behind Newtown and Gap Connah's Quay, and should both lose, the Old Gold will occupy fifth place in the table on Saturday evening. Carmarthen are expected to do what they need to, whether it proves tro be enough or not. But the odds on a home win here aren't particularly attractive.
Bangor City, like Aberystwyth Town, need everything to fall right for them if they are to leap from ninth into the top six. They have to beat bottom club Haverfordwest County for a start, and hope Gap Connah's Quay, Newtown and Carmarthen Town all lose. In fact, even that combination of results might not suffice - they may need the margins of victory and defeat to be large enough to give them a superior goal difference. But it's not inconceivable that Gap will concede a few goals to TNS, nor that Bangor can score a few against their west Wales visitors.
The two remaining games, also taking place on Saturday evening, will not have such an immediate and significant impact as the four that will decide who finishes above and below the line in the 'split' table, but the points on offer remain important for the four clubs involved in the longer term quest for honours, European places and survival this season:
Indeed, in any other week, the Bala Town v MBi Llandudno clash at Maes Tegid would have taken centre stage, involving as it does the clubs disputing second place in the table. A win for Alan Morgan's Llandudno side would see them leap-frog the Lakesiders into second place, but Bala held them 0-0 at Maesdu Park earlier in the season and are hard to beat on their own ground, as Haverfordwest found out last weekend. Llandudno, however, actually have a slightly better record away from their 3G pitch, with six wins from ten, and recently proved they can grind out results on heavy grass surfaces with a battling win at Carmarthen in December. Although Bala start favourites here, the odds on an honourable draw look more enticing.
The sixth match on Saturday won't actually see anybody move up or down in the table, but both Port Talbot Town and Airbus UK Broughton need the points on offer for very different reasons. Struggling Port Talbot need to put as much daylight as they can between themselves and the bottom two, but with only two wins from ten games at the GenQuip Stadium, and memories of a 2-0 defeat at the Airfield in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, confidence can't be high in the Steelmen's camp. However, they did end a miserable six-game winless run at Aberystwyth on Sunday and will hope to take the momentum into Saturday's game.
The Wingmakers need the three points to stay in touch with the top three, for Bala and Llandudno currently lead them by four and three points respectively. With just ten second phase games to come after this week, and no easy games in the top six, Airbus need three points from this fixture to boost their hopes of another European campaign in the Europa League this summer.
Of course, between now and the weekend games, everyone will be looking for their 'Bet of the Day'. It could be anywhere, but if forced to choose one in Wales, I might just go for the attractive odds on Gap Connahs Quay to get the point they need against TNS, and seal their place in the top six for the rest of the season.
With six intriguing games, riddled with question marks over current form, and with so many possible outcomes on Saturday night, the Welsh Premier League officials couldn't really have wished for a better finale to phase 1, could they ?
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 January 2016 10:23