Coca-Cola Cup has sparkling appeal

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The quarter-final stage of any tournament can be of considerable interest to punters, particularly when a predetermined draw allows a careful estimate of an individual's or team's outright odds of winning.

In the French Open a few years ago, for example, the loss of an unusual number of seeds from one half of the draw produced outright betting in which the first four names were in the other half. It was 16-1 and upwards the outsiders, even though one was certain to make the final and an each- way bet on all four could, at worst, show only a minor loss. Such positions are rare, but still worth looking out for.

Even allowing for the vagaries of the draw, however, the prices for the winner of the Coca-Cola Cup are worth considering in advance of this week's quarter-finals. Surprisingly, perhaps, Newcastle are favourites to take the season's first major prize. The talent of the Premiership leaders is not in doubt, but their form away from St James' Park is far from overwhelming, and Wednesday's tie at Highbury will be a severe test.

Arsenal, though, are hardly a better price at 7-2, not least in view of their inability to dispatch Sheffield United in the FA Cup on Saturday. By contrast, both Leeds and Aston Villa have fairly straightforward tasks against Endsleigh League opponents, and those seeking value need look no further, since non-Premiership teams simply do not win major knock- out competitions anymore.

Leeds are another side whose current form is unconvincing, while the absence of Tony Yeboah and Brian Deane on Wednesday is also worrying. Villa are the team with class and consistency, and are crying out to be backed at 7-2 with William Coral.

COCA-COLA CUP: Best prices (C = Coral, H=William Hill, L=Ladbrokes): 11-4 Newcastle (C); 100-30 Leeds (H), 7-2 Arsenal (H/L), Aston Villa (C), 14-1 Norwich (L), 18-1 Birmingham (L), 33-1 Wolves (L), 50-1 Reading (H).