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Liverpool vs. Stoke City

The first English Premier League game of the season see’s Stoke City travel to Anfield to take on mighty Liverpool. Stoke City appointed Mark Hughes as their new manager during the off season and the former Manchester City manager has a tough opener with a trip to Anfield. Stoke City’s squad, though, is realtively unchanged and are a physically imposing team with a center half partnership of Huth and Shawcross being particularly impressive. Stoke with Peter Crouch up front and Johnaton Walters playing just off the big man will play a compact game when they dont have the ball and try to shut down Liverpool’s passing game with hard graft and lots of sweat. When they do have the ball, it will be a simple game plan of get it down the wings and try to use Crouch’s height. Set pieces will again be a vital part of Stoke City’s gameplan this year and their power in the air could trouble a Liverpool team that on paper appear outmatched physically.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers must be sick of answering questions about want away striker Luis Suarez, the Urugayian has again been involved in the newspaper headlines for the wrong reason as he tries to manouver a way out of Liverpool. Suarez is banned for the start of the season, having been suspended for 10 games for biting Chelsea’s Ivanovich at the end of last season. But moving on from Suarez, Liverpool have bought some good young players in this off season in Aspas and Alberto and they will join a squad of young players with a couple of aged pro’s in Toure and Gerrard. Rodgers plays a passing brand of football and, while it took time to implement the game at Anfield, it has to be said that by the end of last season Liverpool were playing some attractive football and getting the results as well. The only piece that may be missing, of course, is an out and out finisher. Sturridge is for my money not an out and out finisher and Borini has been too inconsistent and hasn’t had enough game time due to injuries and Suarez is missing. Philip Coutinho was very good at the end of last season and I think the young Brazilian could be the key to Liverpool’s success or failure this year.
Its great to have the Premier League back, but I would not be going overboard on the first weekend’s games. The problems, of course, are the same as with any start to a season, we cant be sure how the new players are going to fit into the team in a pressure cooker situation. I have a feeling that the value in this game may well lie with the away side on the handicap market as I think Stoke will be tough to play against all season and I think Mark Hughes will do well at the Britannia. Overall, Liverpool are still building and I’m not sure they have added enough quality to push on to the Champions League places. But for the opening game, I’m going with draw at halftime. I think Stoke will hold Liverpool for an hour or so and Liverpool may come away with a win in the end, but I think this will be alot tighter than the bookmakers are pricing it up at.

FC Porto vs. FC Barcelona

The winners of last seasons UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League get set to clash, as Spanish giants FC Barcelona take on Portuguese kings FC Porto in the annual UEFA Super Cup at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. 
   Barcelona come into this match fresh off their two-legged Spanish Super Cup triumph over rivals Real Madrid and are now looking to claim their second piece of silverware before their domestic campaign even kicks off, and with said domestic season currently on strike this team may not have full match sharpness. Barca have made some key signings in the transfer market, as coach Josep Guardiola has brought in Chilean superstar forward Alexis Sánchez as well as the long awaited and drawn out return of midfielder Cesc Fàbregas to the Catalan outfit. The team has also promoted youngsters Thiago Alcântara and Andreu Fontàs from the Barcelona B side, however this team still revolves around a player widely considered the best player on the planet in Forward Lionel Messi. Without even properly getting to mention the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa amongst others this team has some how gotten better, the hard part will be how coach Guardiola will fit everyone into what can only be described as a juggernaut.

As for Porto, they begin life without both their beloved manager and leading scorer, as both André Villas-Boas and Radamel Falcao have joined English and Spanish sides Chelsea FC and Atlético Madrid respectively. That being said the side that did the double last season winning both the league and European trophies is largely in tact, as new coach Vítor Pereira still has the likes of forward Hulk, midfielder Fredy Guarín and two defenders fresh off winning the Copa America with Uruguay in Jorge Fucile and Álvaro Pereira. In terms of new signings the club has brought in highly touted Belgian midfielder Steven Defour from Standard de Liège, this is a good young player at only 23 years of age and will add even more quality to a packed midfield. Porto is currently top of the Portuguese First Division after two matches and will be looking to repeat as league champions this time around, it will be interesting to see how this team copes without Falcao as the season progresses. It’s clear they have the collective group to move on without him but much of the finished product was catered around him hitting the back of the net, at the moment they seem to have made Hulk the main man and he has obliged with three league goals.

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Manchester United vs. Tottenham

Sir Alex Ferguson has a couple of injury problems this week with captain Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand ruled out through injury it will be United’s new boys Chris Smalling and Phil JOnes to take the center of the defence. With David De Gea new to united’s backline as well Tottenham couldnt ask for a better time to face United in Old Trafford. A new look Manchester United had the brilliance of Ashely Young and Wayne Rooney to thank for last weekends hard fought victory away to West Brom. Young in particular looks a superb buy from Villa and fitted into the side very well and looked a costant threat, with Nani on the other wing and the return of Chicarito Hernandez imminent, the future looks young and bright at Old Trafford.

Harry Redknapps men are coming off a five goal win against Hearts in a qualifying round for the Europa League, the reality probably is that Scottish football is  just that poor and although a good performance its hard to gage just how good Tottenham were. Also for Spurs there has been some distraction with Luka Modric looking for a transfer, the croatian playmaker sat out the win over Hearts with a groin strain but to me it seemed more like a tactic of not tying the player up for European football in case Chelsea do meet Tottenhams valuation. But with Rafael Van Der Vaart looking like a man rested and well up for it this Spurs side have some serious quality and will be looking for Champions League qualification at the least. Newly promoted Captain Michael Dawson has intimated in the preseason that the goal for all involved in Spurs is to crack the top four and this goal will be tested tonight in one of the toughest fixtures Spurs will face this season. Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavluchenko will need to get more goals this term if Spurs are to be a realistic title contender or even to break into the top four but they did look sharp in preseason and they face a youthful and inexperienced United back line.

I think we will see goals tonight. So I’m taking the over.


Over 2.5

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Mexico vs. United States

Mexico won the Gold Cup in emphatic style when beating the US by four goals to two back in June and since then a few things have happened for boths squads. Firstly the US dismissed Bob Bradley as coach and then hired the former German manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann had a brief tenure in Germany and took the team to the World Cup semi – final in 2006 where they were defeated by eventual winners Italy. Klinsmann has been living in America for 14 years and knows the MLS and the american system. To me it seems a good match but his ability as a manager has not really been proven as of yet as he took over a very talented German side that were playing at home in a World Cup and he only last six months with Bayern Munich before a fallign out with the board of directors cost him his job. The US have not named Clint Dempsey in the squad and the fulham man will be missed as he is a leader on the pitch. But with Klinsmann going for youth and home grown player with a mix of experience and internationaly based players ,I think the introduction of Rogers to the squad is a good thing for the player and the squad. Captain Tim Howard will be looking for another solid performance in goals and hope to lead the team to victory in Philadelphia.

Mexico won the Gold Cup and were impressive doing it Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez was superb finishing as top scorer and being a threat throughout the tournament. Chicarito as he is known has become a global icon and it is a pity he misses this match through a concussion picked up in training on United’s preseason tour of america. But Mexico have alot of attacking flair still in the squad and Giovani Dos Santos and Paulo Barrera scorers of three of the four goals in the Gold Cup final will be looking to add to their reputation.

This one is tough to pick both sides are missing important players and while I think the US might just get the victory for their new manager I think we’ll definitely see goals in this one so I say go over 2.5 goals.


Over 2.5

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United States vs. Japan

The final is set in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, as Japan looking to win their first trophy takes on two-time champions USA at Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany.

Japan comes into this match on a massive high, not only taking out the hosts and two-time defending champions Germany in the Quarterfinals but following it up with a dominating 3-1 win over Sweden. Before the tournament started most just glossed over Japan as a team that would get out of their group but probably go no further, this team flew under the radar until they beat Germany and even then weren’t expected to beat Sweden so convincingly. Prior to this tournament the farthest this team ever went was the Quarterfinal stages back in 1995, in fact it was the USA they meet in the Quarterfinal match, which ultimately ended in a 4-0 defeat. The other meeting they had in the World Cup was in 1991 where they lost 3-0, however this is a completely different side with a lot more talent and a lot less fear. Coach Norio Sasaki will obviously look to captain Homare Sawa for leadership and Aya Miyama to be the playmaker but will need goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori to be a central figure in this match, her ability to be a commanding presence and have proper communication with her defense will be vital.

As for USA, they have proven to possess a squad full of players that are of top quality in the women’s game and when called upon can do the job required. Having to go through Brazil in the Quarterfinals in the manner they did and then playing a French side that is one of the best in the tournament was a tough ask, however qualifying for the tournament was an ordeal in its self as they had to win a playoff against Italy. With all of that behind them it comes down to one match and whether they are good enough on the day, the favorable history over Japan doesn’t mean much and their two previous tittles mean even less at this point. Coach Pia Sundhage will look to the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Heather O’Reilly and Lauren Cheney, you know what to expect from Hope Solo and Abby Whambach but it’s these players that hold the key to success. The defense will also have to be 100% focused; as Japan have proven they can tear apart any back line with one perfect through ball and take advantage of poorly set offside traps.

This will be a fun match, personally I would love if Japan won their first title, capping off what was a great tournament for them and a defining moment beating hosts and two-time defending champions Germany on their home soil. However I’m going with the over in this one, as I think there will be goals in this game.


Over 2.5

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Sweden vs. France

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is coming to end with the final already set, however this match is the third place game between Sweden and France at Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim, Germany.

Sweden comes into this match off a 3-1 loss to Japan in the Quarterfinals, they managed to get the opening goal within the first ten minutes but were subsequently outplayed by the passing, movement and compact nature of the Asian outfit. The Swedes will face something similar in this match against France and will need to figure it out, taking advantage of set pieces, using their overwhelming size and making the match physical will be key for them. Coach Thomas Dennerby will need wingbacks Sara Thunebro and Sara Larsson to be on top of their game, as both will have the responsibility of marking wide players Gaëtane Thiney and Camille Abily as well as not leaving any gaps for chief playmaker Louisa Necib to exploit. If Sweden are to come away with the third place medal they will need to rely on forward Josefine Öqvist and midfielder Lisa Dahlkvist to score goals, as usual goal scoring threats Lotta Schelin and Jessica Landström have been largely ineffective over the course of the competition.

As for France, although they ultimately lost by the same 3-1 score line to USA they played them quite well for the majority of the match. Les Bleues were stringing passes together and creating good chances but completely fell apart in the last fifteen minutes to a team that kicked it into gear and showed a killer instinct. Coach Bruno Bini has to be proud of how far this French side has gone and will not want to come away empty handed, however in Sweden they play a team that can turn it on at any moment and have an edge about them that is dictated by their captain Caroline Seger. I expect impact substitutes Élodie Thomis and Eugénie Le Sommer to be major factors in this match, possibly with one of them getting a place in the starting XI. Regular starting forward Marie-Laure Delie had a good tournament early on but has faded a bit since and either one of these two could freshen up the attack.

I’ll take France in this one; something about this Swedish team makes me hesitant. Whether it be their inconsistency or something else entirely I think we know what we are getting with France and they will have motivation after making it the farthest they have ever gone to come away with a medal.

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United States vs. France

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is now down to the final four, the first Semifinal will see France take on USA at Borussia-Park in Monchengladbach, Germany for a place in the final with the loser resigned to the third place game.

France was very impressive in their Quarterfinal match against England, they dominated the majority of the match and even when they went down a goal Les Bleues fought back and leveled the match in stunning fashion through Élise Bussaglia. The game eventually went to penalties where France won 4-3 and are now one step from reaching the Women’s World Cup Final, after not qualifying for four of the six Women’s World Cups this is by far their best run. What makes this team so successful is their work in the midfield; the play of Louisa Necib, Camille Abily and forward/midfielder Gaëtane Thiney has been nothing short of impressive. It’s their passing and combination work that frustrated the teams they have played so far, man marking these players has proven futile and only helps spread defenses too thin and using double teams has also proven to be to the oppositions detriment. However what might give Coach Bruno Bini the edge is talent off the bench, the likes of Élodie Thomis and Eugénie Le Sommer bring pure speed and on ball control when needed and are serious impact players deep into matches. For this team to make it to their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup Final they will need to stay tighter defensively, at times their defense has mismanaged situations and at this point in the competition that will prove costly.

As for USA, they showed real heart and togetherness in a Quarterfinal match against Brazil. The Stars and Stripes has a red card and retaken penalty go against them and were one minute in extra time away from elimination, but traveled the length of the field where a cross from Megan Rapinoe and header from Abby Wambach sent the match to penalties where they won 5-3. This teams strength lays in their versatility, of the teams 7 goals they have come from 6 different players and Coach Pia Sundhage can pull anyone off the bench and find a perfect place for them in any situation. Although this team has talented players like Abby Wambach and Hope Solo there is more to this team, players like Heather O’Reilly, Lauren Cheney, Carli Lloyd and Lori Lindsey have all made impacts at one point or another in this tournament and will be counted on to continue adding depth.

This is a tough one to call, France can make a case for being the best team left in the tournament from a technical standpoint but USA are battle hardened are the best team left in terms of pedigree. I’m going with theover, this looks like it’s going to be a fun match to sit back and enjoy.


Over 2.5

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Japan vs. Sweden

The field has now been cut from eight to four, as the FIFA Women’s World Cup moves to the Semifinal stage. This match sees Japan and Sweden battle it out at Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany for a place in the Final, the loser will be relegated to the third place match.

Japan have turned themselves into something of a giant killer, defeating the hosts and two time defending champions Germany by a 1-0 score line in extra time. This team knew going into that match they were undersized but used their technique, passing and movement to level the playing field, they hung in with the spectators against them and in the 108 th min substitute Karina Maruyama scored what would be the winning goal. Coach Norio Sasaki will have liked the way his team played and will want them to emulate that performance against Sweden, who like Germany has a significant height and weight advantage. This team will go as far as their captain Homare Sawa will take them, but just as important will be the playmaking of Aya Miyama as well as the defensive solidity of Azusa Iwashimizu and Saki Kumagai. What works to Japan’s advantage is they never get rattled even if they go down a goal, their composure will once again be tested in this match and we’ll see if the pressure of possibly making it the farthest they have ever gone will get to them.

As for Sweden, they were the only nation to end their Quarterfinal match in regulation time and had the advantage of knowing who they would face going into their match with Australia. For the first time in the tournament this team showed they could finish their chances and not have to grind out a result, this will be a huge relief going into what is a tough match. However if history is anything to go by the Swedes may just favor this match, in their previous FIFA Women’s World Cup meetings the Scandinavians won twice, 8-0 in 1991 and 2-0 in 1995. Coach Thomas Dennerby will need one more big performance from the likes of captain Caroline Seger, Lisa Dahlkvist and Therese Sjögran. Although she plays the midfield Dahlkvist has seemed to replace Jessica Landström in the starting XI and is producing with three goals in her last four matches.

I haven’t been terribly convinced of Sweden till now and to be honest I still have some questions, however I think Japan will feel a bit drained having played what felt like a World Cup Final and have put so much energy into that match they may have nothing left to give. I’ll take Sweden in this match, they finally showed they could score and that might be the catalyst they need to finally get over the hump.

Sweden +120 Japan

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United States vs. Brazil

The last Quarterfinal match is arguably the most an anticipated one, as Brazil face off against USA at Glücksgas Stadium in Dresden, Germany.

Brazil comes into this match as winners of Group D and are in good form winning their last two matches by 3-0 score lines, they have scored seven goals without conceding and have looked better and better with every match. However this will be by far their biggest test in the competition so far and from this point forward the competition only gets more difficult, if Brazil want to make it to the final they will need similarly impressive and efficient performances. Coach Kleiton Lima will feel like his team is rounding into shape over the last two matches, Marta showed her skill and finishing ability in their match against Norway while “partner in crime” Cristiane was the focal point of their last match against Equatorial Guinea. However for all their firepower in front of goal they have been even more impressive defensively, the likes of Formiga, Rosana and Aline have been major parts of Brazil’s defensive record. If the Samba Queens are to finally get over the hump they just need to sustain their current level and stay mentally strong, knockout soccer is mostly about desire and “who wants it more” over ninety minutes.

As for USA, they were runners up in Group C and are coming of a disappointing 2-1 loss to Sweden. For all the talent they possess and the versatility that their squad provides they haven’t been a little disappointing, at this point in the competition they will need to step up and produce. Coach Pia Sundhage on the one hand will have liked the contribution of Lauren Cheney, Heather O’Reilly and Hope Solo so far, especially Solo as her only real bad game was out of her control. The two goals conceded in the match against Sweden were via a penalty and massive deflection, and was the fault of the players in front of her. If The Stars and Sripes are to make it to the final their usually strong defense will need to rebound and their forward partnership of Amy Rodriguez and Abby Wambach will have to make an impact.

I like Brazil in this match, they have raised their level from match to match and even when they faced challenges (the first half against Equatorial Guinea) they took command of the situation and imposed themselves. I’m just not convinced USA are able to do the same, while they have shown versatility they have also shown vulnerability.


Brazil +140 United States

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Sweden vs. Australia

The FIFA Women’s World Cup continues with the Quarterfinals, this match sees Sweden match up against Australia at the SGL Arena in Augsburg, Germany.

Sweden come into this match as winners of Group C and are on a high after beating USA 2-1 in their final group game, however taking a closer look at this team shows that they aren’t clinical enough in front of goal and don’t look as formidable as their reputation would suggest. The likes of Jessica Landström and Lotta Schelin have failed to impress and live up to their high standards as a forward partnership, so much so that in the last match Landström found the substitutes bench and was replaced by Josefine Öqvist. For all their offensive challenges Coach Thomas Dennerby will have liked his teams defensive play, if this team is to go any further they will need to stay defensively compact and guard against attacks down the wings. Sweden is one of the best sides in Europe, if there is any time to show their pedigree this is it.

As for Australia, they had a big come from behind victory over Norway by a 2-1 score line. The Aussies have proven to be a tough side during the group stages, playing Brazil very close in their first group match and managing a win over a very lively Equatorial Guinea squad despite a blown call by the referee. Coach Tom Sermanni will have liked his squads mental approach throughout the tournament and going into this match, with players like Heather Garriock, Lisa De Vanna and Melissa Barbieri leading the way they will feel confident they can reach the Semifinal stages for the first time in their history. However the Matildas will rely on young players like Emily Van Egmond, Tameka Butt and Caitlin Foord to provide energy and life for the whole match, these players have had good tournaments so far and play important roles to the overall success of the side.

Sweden may feel they go an easier match by winning their group but could be in for a big surprise, as Australia will be looking to pull off a Scandinavian “double”. In an upset I’m taking the Aussies in this one, they look the more complete team at this point and unlike Sweden have had an easier time of it in front of goal.


Australia +350 Sweden

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