Europa League: Celtic and Rangers face tough tests in round of 32
Celtic and Rangers are in Europa League action on an exciting night for Scottish football. Betfair's Frankie Monkhouse previews the double header...
The Europa League returns to our screens this midweek in the first appearance of 2020 for UEFA's second-string competition. There's a healthy British interest and followers can keep tabs on the action live on BT Sport on Thursday evening.
Two Scottish Premiership representatives are involved in the knockout round. Neil Lennon takes his Celtic side to Demark where they'll play a first leg tie against Superliga champions Copenhagen.
Steven Gerrard's Rangers are back at Ibrox when welcoming Sporting Braga to Glasgow later that evening. Both will be desperate to lay down an early marker.
Hosts snuck through Group B
FC Copenhagen v Celtic Thursday, 17:55 Live on BT Sport
Copenhagen secured their place at this stage of the Europa League by finishing second in Group B, a division won by Malmo. The locals ended with stats of two wins, three draws and one defeat, two points behind Malmo and two better than Dynamo Kyiv back in third. They did lose their last match but had already secured their place in the next round by that stage.
In the Danish Superliga, last season's champions have shown improved form of late but have a fight on their hands if they are to hold off the attention of main rivals FC Midtjylland. Ståle Solbakken's men failed to win a quarter of their opening 20 league games and that will give encouragement to their opponents at Telia Parken on Thursday. Copenhagen are 12/5 second favourites on the Betfair Sportsbook, the draw priced at 9/4.
Bhoys dominated Group E
Celtic made a mockery of what was expected to be a tough Europa League Group E. After being eliminated from the Champions League at the qualifying stage, The Hoops were dropped in against Lazio, Rennes and CFR Cluj. Critics predicted they'd be lucky to finish third but, in fact, Lennon's crew dominated the pile, collecting 13 points from a possible 18.
The Scottish champions won four, drew one and lost one, that defeat coming on matchday six when they had already cemented top spot. They scored 10 goals and conceded just six, doing the double over Lazio in Glasgow and Italy. Its little wonder traders have them picked to win again here and backers will find Celtic at 13/10.
Bears prepare for battle
Rangers v Sporting Braga Thursday, 20:00 Live on BT Sport
Rangers Europa League story so far has been an entertaining one. Under the watchful eye of ambitious young manager Steven Gerrard, Gers progressed from the first qualifying round through the group stages and into the knockout phase. It was obvious from their winning run in the qualifiers that Rangers shouldn't be involved so early.
The light blues have treated fans to some memorable nights in this competition already but know they take a step up in class when taking on Braga in the round of 32. To give themselves the best chance of getting through, Rangers must make home advantage count. Encouraged by a capacity crowd at Ibrox and that unique atmosphere, Rangers are 21/20 on the Betfair Sportsbook.
Braga back on track
Sporting Braga finished fourth in the Primeira Liga last season but hit the ground running in the Europa League. They won Group K by a point from Wolverhampton Wanderers, returning stats of four wins and two draws from their six games. Braga were one of only two sides who came through the group stages unbeaten, the other being KAA Gent.
In Portugal, Braga suffered a tough time of things towards the end of last year but Rúben Amorim has been able to steer them back on track. Improved form has driven Sporting towards the top four, but they have little chance of catching leaders Benfica and Porto who are battling for the title. Braga would surely see the value in an away draw and the level finish is available at 5/2 against an eye-catching 13/5 for Braga.