The Afghanistan Women’s National Team

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Modern football is a funny thing. Players are brands. Coaches are heads of state. And a club in China is willing to spend $64 million on Oscar. As Dickens said, portending that Oscar transfer specifically… Best of Times. Worst of Times.

Last week, we spoke with Haley Carter, goalkeeping coach and assistant manager for the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team. Carter also happens to be a United States Naval Academy Graduate, two-time Iraq veteran, former NWSL goalkeeper for the Houston Dash, and, as she proudly points out, a mother and wife. While the conversation left us feeling even more inadequate than usual, the story she told was one that drove home our long standing belief that football is often the least important, most important part of life. Or as Haley put it so beautifully, “This little speck of optimism in a really chaotic world.”

After our interview, we produced a short digital video about the Afghanistan WNT, its history, the challenges players face, and the hope it provides for women across that nation. WATCH IT HERE.

As Haley says in the video, “The bottom line here is we’re talking life and death to be able to play this game.”

The team’s players are scattered around the globe with roughly a third coming from Afghanistan itself, a third coming from Europe and a third from North America. Despite what Haley called tremendous support from the Afghanistan Football Federation, funding for the team is tight, and they can rarely afford to get together for training camps. As a result, they rely heavily on funding from outside sources. The team has partnered with Soccer Without Borders in an effort to raise money. CLICK HERE for more on how you can help, and more on the team’s story. #Courage

Manchester City, PSG Champions League favorites entering Round of 16

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Manchester City is the slight favorite in Champions League futures, but Paris Saint-Germain can do the field a solid by bouncing two-time defending champion Real Madrid.

With the Round of 16 beginning next week, Manchester City and Kevin De Bruyne are a +350 favorite on the odds to win the Champions League, followed by Paris Saint-Germain at +400, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The next tier down includes Bayern Munich (+550), Barcelona (+600) and Real Madrid (+800) before a plunge to Manchester United (+1400), Liverpool (+1400), Juventus (+1800) and Tottenham Hotspur (+2200).

The tried-and-true sorting method of fading teams that are focused on winning league titles doesn’t apply. The top four teams on the board all lead by healthy margins. Juventus, running second in Italy’s Serie A, is the only high-on-the-board offering that fits this description.

The injury bug that Manchester City is fighting shouldn’t be a factor as it starts the knockout stage at FC Basel (+50000), the lowest team on the board, on Tuesday. The favorable draw buys Manchester City a little time as it embarks upon trying to be the first English team to make it to March extant in four competitions (EPL, Champions League, F.A. Cup and League Cup).

The matchup between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid is more the calibre of a semifinal, but the timing might be in favour of the French club. Real Madrid, which hosts the first leg on Wednesday, has been in a funk and has conceded goals in seven of its last eight games – hardly a promising sign ahead of a game against a team with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. In other words, one who thinks Paris Saint-Germain has the goods to be the first French team in 25 years to win the Champions League likely shouldn’t hesitate, since its price will probably be halved (and then some) if it advances.

Suffice to say, the guarantee that either the defending champs or a ballyhooed contender will be out should be a boon to the rest of the field.

Bayern Munich simply does not get enough of a push in the German Bundesliga to be a threat in Champions League, which it last won in 2013. Barcelona offers a great price that might owe to facing an EPL team, Chelsea, in the last-16 as well as lacking major signing Philippe Coutinho for this competition. However, with attacking midfielders Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, they are dangerous. Barcelona will not have defender Gerald Pique in this round, however.

Manchester United (+1400), with its penchant for defense, is a credible darkhorse play since the Champions League format does lend itself to trying to wring out an ugly tie in road legs. Liverpool, who starts away at FC Porto (+10000), should advance but might be too offense-oriented to make a run at European supremacy. Tottenham and Harry Kane, who start away at Juventus, might not be deep enough to juggle top-flight European competition with a race for a top-four spot in the EPL.

The first legs of the Round of 16 take place over the next two weeks. The return legs are slated for March 6-7 and March 13-14.

For more odds info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

EPL Betting Preview: Liverpool hosts Tottenham to headline Matchweek 26

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Matchweek 26 in the English Premier League dovetails nicely with the two futures boards that still offer value – namely, who will join frontrunners Manchester City and Manchester United in the  top four and who will be relegated.

City, 12 points clear of United, offers minuscule minus value as a -50000 favorite to be the outright EPL champion, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Manchester United (-1000) and Chelsea (-700) are also fairly deep into minus money in top-four futures, but Liverpool (-350) needs a result against Tottenham Hotspur (+150) at Anfield Stadium on Sunday to keep its position. The result of that match will factor into the final standings.

The time is probably now to jump on Huddersfield Town (-175) in relegation futures as the Terriers’ six-match winless skid has put them on the cusp of the three-team “drop zone.” The prices on Swansea City (+110), West Bromwich Albion (-110), and Stoke City (+250) have risen due to the bottom feeders’ recent surprise results.

As noted, Liverpool (even) hosts Tottenham Hotspur (+235, +270 draw) in a Sunday matchup between teams that are second and third in EPL scoring. Liverpool had more recovery time than Tottenham after their midweek games and has yet to lose a home game this season, but when the Spurs and Harry Kane (+125 to score) are in peak form, they can break down defenses that are much tauter than Liverpool’s. The over on the 3.0 total is very attainable and it’s worth noting a tie, the more plausible outcome, pays out more than a Tottenham win.

Speaking of Manchester United (-700) it should be able to wear down Huddersfield Town (+1900, +650 draw), even though newcomer Alexis Sanchez hasn’t settled into his new surroundings. The under on the 3.0 total pays -115, which is enticing since United seldom extends itself against lower-placed competition.

Burnley (+1100) is on a nine-match winless streak and Manchester City (-425, +475 draw) is coming in on a four-win streak and nary a care about spotting stars such as Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne due to its light February schedule. Goal lines can be gut-wrenching for bettors but Manchester City pays -120 to cover minus-1.5 goals.

Brighton & Hove Albion (+125) hosts West Ham United (+255, +200 draw) in a matchup with the week’s only 2.0 total. Brighton has scored only five goals in its last 13 home games and West Ham is unbeaten in its last four away games, so there is a case for taking the tie on the three-way moneyline.

Crystal Palace (even) has won or tied eight of its last nine home games, while Newcastle United (+290, +235 draw) limps into the Sunday matchup with only two wins in its last 16 league games. Midfielder Luke Milivojevic should help Crystal Palace grind out a win. The form says low-scoring game, but the over on the 2.5 total pays +115.

Watford (+475), now under new manager Javi Gracia, is winless in six tries against Chelsea (-170, +295 draw), who should come into the Monday matchup with something to prove after a midweek loss against Bournemouth. Alvaro Morata (back) is likely out for Chelsea, so bettors should check the price on newcomer Olivier Giroud to score a goal.

For more odds info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.