Champions League play-offs HT report: Who we want in group stage

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At the halfway point of the Champions League play-off stage things are delicately poised, as no team enjoys anything more than a one-goal lead going into the second legs.

Other than routing for the two British sides, Arsenal and Celtic, there are a number of teams we’d like to see safely navigate a path to the group stage:

Bayer Leverkusen – 5/23 to beat FC Copenhagen

For the simple fact that goals seem to go hand in hand with the German outfit, Leverkusen have to make it through to the group stage this season.

Having had only two of their eight matches in last term’s edition contain under three goals, Leverkusen continued in that vein with five in their first leg tussle against the Danes, taking a slim 3-2 advantage back to the BayArena.

Athletic Bilbao – 11/10 to beat Napoli

A 1-1 draw with the Serie A side leaves the Basque club on tenterhooks for the next stage of European football’s elite competition.

Bilbao last made the tournament’s group stage in the 1998/99 season and their defiance against more fancied opponents in the first leg, along with their giant-killing run to the Europa League final three seasons ago, indicates they are ready for a crack at the big time.

Standard Liege – 10/1 to beat Zenit

With a trip to Russia and a one-goal deficit to overcome, the Belgian outfit certainly have a full plate in front of them when it comes to Champions League group-stage qualification.

However, after a season in which they lost just three times in the Belgian league to gain a spot in the competition, qualifying for their first group stage since 2010 would be a fitting reward.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.