JK Nomme Kalju v Celtic, Tuesday 30th July 6pm
This should be a formality for Neil Lennon’s side who, barring a disaster, will meet either Maccabi Tel-Aviv or Cluj of Romania in the next qualifying round of Europe’s elite competition.
The Estonians were simply outclassed in the first leg, losing 5-0, and Celtic are as short as 6/4 to win to nil again on Tuesday. The hosts have only notched four goals in their last six games so shouldn’t pose much of a threat to Scott Bain and his back four. Meanwhile, The Bhoys have scored ten in their three European outings so far this summer, conceding only twice. The visitors may understandably take their foot off the pedal but we like the look of a 3-0 victory for the Scottish champions at a best price of 10/1.
Leigh Griffiths’ return in the first leg dominated the headlines and the striker marked his first Celtic start since December with a goal. He’d like to keep that momentum going and the 29-year-old is 3/1 to open the scoring in Estonia.
Qarabag v Dundalk, Wednesday 31st July 6pm
Talk about a game of two halves. Qarabag lead 1-0 at the interval at Oriel Park last Wednesday and the hosts Dundalk could count themselves fortunate to have nil. At that stage of proceedings it wasn’t a question of whether Dundalk would slump to a defeat, but how demoralising it would get.
Whatever Vinny Perth said at the break, though, worked. The League of Ireland champions, and current league leaders, were a team transformed in the second half and were left ruing a series of missed chances which would have secured what once looked like an improbable comeback win. Qarabag will certainly not underestimate their opponents in the return leg.
A 1-1 stalemate was a decent result for both teams and it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see a similar one on Wednesday at 13/2.
Several of Dundalk‘s most impressive results in recent European campaigns have come away from Oriel Park – whether that be in Tallaght or further afield. The league leaders are 14/5 to qualify for the next round and you wouldn’t put it past them going on to meet Sutjeska Nikšić or APOEL in a week’s time.
Patrick Hoban was The Lilywhites’ hero last week and the striker, who turned 28 on Sunday is available around 5/1 to mark his birthday with another goal in Baku.
However, there would be no shame in falling at this hurdle in Baku to the Azerbaijani champions and we fancy a home win and both teams to score at around 10/3.
A meeting with Kosovo’s Feronikeli or Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League third qualifying round is the consolation prize for the losing side.
This week’s other Champions League matches
*Prices taken from Betfred on 29/07
Maccabi Tel-Aviv 19/20 Draw 21/10 CFR Cluj 13/5
Apoel 1/9 Draw 6/1 FK Sutjeska 20/1
FC Basel 29/20 Draw 12/5 PSV Eindhoven 29/20
Dinamo Zagreb 1/11 Draw 15/2 FC Tbilisi 25/1
Valetta 4/1 Draw 3/1 Ferencvaros 8/15
Olympiacos 8/11 Draw 23/10 Viktoria Plzen 10/3
HJK Helsinki 11/4 Draw 12/5 Crvena Zvezda 4/5
Rosenborg 8/11 Draw 12/5 BATE Borisov 16/5
AIK 17/20 Draw 9/4 NK Maribor 11/4
FC Kobenhavn 1/12 Draw 15/2 The New Saints 28/1