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

Juventus underdog against Real Madrid in Champions League Final

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While being champions of Europe in back-to-back years would be unprecedented in modern times, Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo will face the toughest backline they have seen all season against Juventus.

Real Madrid is listed a -120 betting favorite against +100 Juventus with a 2.0 total in their Champions League final matchup for Saturday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. On the three-way moneyline for Saturday’s match in Cardiff, Wales, Real Madrid is offering +155 to Juventus’ +183 with the draw going off at +101, indicating that most sharps see this being a tight match. Six of the last 16 Champions League finals have required extra time.

Juventus, under Massimiliano Allegri, has been a well-oiled machine throughout the competition with only three goals allowed in 12 matches. The Italian squad, which just won a sixth consecutive league title in Serie A, will likely try to contain Ronaldo with a back four that includes the excellent centre-back combo of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chellini.

Juventus should get a boost at midfield now that Sami Khedira is healthy and can pair with Miralem Pjanic as a passer.

Forward Gonzalo Higuain (+900), who is due to deliver in a final and will be facing his former club, has the highest odds of any Juve player to score two or more goals on the Champions League final betting props. Dybala (+1200) offers a better price, though.

Real Madrid comes in with more a pedigree, having won the Champions League in two of the past three years. With Gareth Bale (ankle) admitting he’s not ready to start, Real manager Zinedine Zidane might have to turn to attacking midfielder Isco to complement Ronaldo up front. Real Madrid’s likelihood of controlling the pace likely hinges on its midfield, where Luka Modric has been excellent during their run.

Ronaldo (+550), not surprisingly, has top odds to score at least two goals. Alvaro Morata (+900) is high on the board, although how much of a factor he’ll be with an off-season transfer upcoming is anyone’s guess.

Real Madrid is listed at +300 to score a goal in each half, with Juventus listed at +350. It’s in Real Madrid’s interest to push for an early tally, lest Juventus be able to settle into a defensive shell.

On the first goal scorer board, Ronaldo (+350) and Higuain (+400) are the usual suspects. Real midfielder Toni Kroos (+2000) has also had a hot boot of late, with two goals in his last three La Liga starts.

There is a -115 yes/no prop on whether both teams will score in the game. Only two of the last 12 finals have ended with a shutout.

UEFA Champions League Semifinals Betting: Second Leg Odds and Analysis

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Lopsided semifinal first legs might make a Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid seem inevitable, but there is ample betting fodder within that reality.

Both  carry big leads into the semifinal second leg this week. Reigning champion Real Madrid is now a -125 favorite on the Champions League futures board, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Juventus is listed at even money, while their respective opponents, Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco, are each darkhorses at +400.

Juventus, which leads 2-0, is a -165 favorite against AS Monaco (+450) with a 2.5 total for their match on Tuesday in Italy. The draw on the three-way moneyline is listed at +295. Juventus, which can lose the match by one goal and still advance, will likely try to pack it in around its goal, something its done well in European play (two goals allowed in 11 matches).

Juventus also comes in healthy and relatively rested, having rotated their lineup during a league match against Torino last Saturday.

Monaco should have everyone fresh, including teen phenom Kylian Mbappe, but the odds of pushing two away goals past Juventus would seem to be remote. The draw seems like a cagey play.

With the former carrying over a 3-0 lead from the first leg, Real Madrid (+155) and host Atletico Madrid (+160) are in a toss-up game with a 2.5 total in their betting matchup on Wednesday. The draw pays +245 on the three-way moneyline.

Real, led on the pitch by Cristiano Ronaldo, has not been shut out in more than a year. Scoring an away goal would all but seal the win on aggregate (road goals are the first tiebreaker). Atletico, which needs to win by at least three goals, has also had a collective struggle with creating opportunities that forwards Kévin Gamiero and Antoine Grieznmann can put away.

This could be a good match for in-game bettors to track, since Real knows an early goal would force Atletico into a desperate style of game to which it is unaccustomed.

The Champions League final – which is a one-game showdown – will take place at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, on June 3.