Soccer Picks for Benfica vs. PAOK

Nila Amerova

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 7:10 PM GMT

Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 7:10 PM GMT

Benfica take on PAOK in midweek UEFA Europa League R32. Join us as we breakdown this clash and deliver our soccer betting verdict. Take a look at our handicapper's top soccer picks for this match-up.

SL Benfica fancied to thrive

SL Benfica ran away 1-0 winners in the first leg of their R32 tie at Stadio Toumba, Salonika, courtesy of Lima’s 59th minute strike that nudged the Portuguese side into pole position for a R16 berth. Now the Portuguese are in the driver’s seat, tipped at -225 soccer odds to win outright the second leg of their tie.

Last year’s runners up to Chelsea in the competition, Benfica returned to second-tier European action last week. An unfortunate turn in Champions League where they drew level on points with Olympiacos FC only to finish third in Group C on goal differential saw the Portuguese re-enter UEFA Europa League for a second bite at the cherry in as many seasons. Although they’ll face stiff competition if sports-betting markets were any indication, the likes of Juventus, Napoli and Tottenham (amongst several others) competing for the coveted prize.

As things currently stand, Benfica are listed sixth in the pecking order for the title at +1400 to win outright at Bet365. To all intents and purposes Benfica are enjoying a rather good season in European competition and have managed to turn an unfortunate exit from Champions League into positive motivation across all competitions.

Since their 1-0 defeat to Olympiacos in Champions League, Benfica have gone 20 matches (home and away) undefeated across all competitions, including a surprise 2-1 victory over Paris St. Germain to wrap up their top-flight account in Europe. Incredibly, 13 of those 20 matches were clean sheets.  Even more incredible is the fact that 12 of their last 13 were clean sheets.

PAOK at the disadvantage

PAOK are at the disadvantage literally and figuratively. They go into this clash needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit on the away, a feat that according to odds makers can be matched at +700 or thereabouts depending on your sportsbook of choice.

In most cases a goal deficit isn’t an insurmountable obstacle by any stretch of the imagination. But given that the Greek’s boast rather suspect form of late – they have four defeats in their last seven fixtures across all competitions – while the hosts are enjoying formidable form and are defending with brutal efficiency, on balance it would seem an insurmountable obstacle. Indeed, the Greeks will have all to do to breakdown Benfica’s defence in order to get those all-important goals needed to win this tie.

Another aspect that goes against the Greeks is their lacklustre performance in continental action. More specifically, when taking their measure against quality opponents, they are left wanting. They failed to advance out of the playoffs for a spot in Champions League, losing to better opponents such as Ajax and Schalke 04. And while they have advanced into the R32 of UEFA Europa League, they did so against lesser opponents such as Maccabi Haifa, Shakhtar Karagandy and AZ.

Soccer Betting Verdict: On paper (and in theory as well) this is a home banker through and through with Benfica practically leaping off the page as the smart soccer pick at -225 to win outright. That said the Portuguese mustn’t take anything for granted. PAOK are down by just a goal in this tie, which is hardly a mountain to climb.

Football – just as any other sport – is a funny game, prone to lucky strikes and bounces. So while the matchup tips the scale towards the hosts, luck could swing the balance in favour of the visitors. Speculating about so-called ‘What ifs’ and ‘fate’ are not enough to prompt us to recommend a bet on PAOK and their long +700 soccer odds at Bet365. However, knowing that they could happen means it wouldn’t be a shocker if the tables did turn in this tie somehow.

Soccer Free Picks: Benfica to win outright at -225; Under 2.5 -125

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