SPORTS BETTING: Value-hunters find red is the colour

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The Independent Online
Red swamping blue has been the theme of recent weeks, but there will be a sudden swing in the opposite direction at Wembley next Saturday if the betting on the FA Cup final proves correct. Chelsea are as short as 4-7 to lift the trophy, and no bigger than 5-4 to do so in 90 minutes, with Middlesbrough all of 9-4 with Coral to win the Cup in normal time.

Middlesbrough's collective state of mind after being relegated yesterday is surely the key to this match. A match for the champions one day, bereft of technique and imagination the next, if they could be guaranteed to give of their best, Bryan Robson's side would be a very attractive bet indeed. In Juninho, they will have many people's idea of the best player on the pitch, while Ravanelli, even if he is short of peak fitness, would offer a constant and potent threat in a match which, according to recent statistics, is likely to be decided by a single goal.

Chelsea, too, have seemed to have two ways of playing in recent weeks, like relegation candidates on their travels but like contenders for Europe at Stamford Bridge and, significantly, in their Cup engagements. Ruud Gullit has also had the luxury of preparing his side for this match alone, so it will be a bitter disappointment if they fail to perform at, or very near, their best.

At the available odds, however, it is difficult to get too enthusiastic about the Londoners, and the choice for value-hunters must lie between Boro in 90 minutes or the draw (top-priced at 11-5 with Ladbrokes). In the belief that Juninho alone could turn the match with one moment of brilliance (Wembley free-kicks, you may recall, are also one of his specialities), the choice must be Middlesbrough at Coral's 9-4.

Match odds are as yet unavailable on the week's second big match, the European Cup-Winners' Cup final between Barcelona and Paris St-Germain, although the Spanish side are firm favourites in the outright betting and will be in excellent heart after Saturday's vital defeat of Real Madrid.

FA CUP FINAL (Saturday): Best odds: 5-4 Chelsea (Ladbrokes, Hills), 9- 4 Middlesbrough (Coral), 11-5 the draw (Ladbrokes).

CUP-WINNERS' CUP FINAL (Wednesday): Coral: 8-15 Barcelona, 11-8 Paris St-Germain.

FIRST DIVISION PLAY-OFFS: Hills: 5-4 Crystal Palace, 6-4 Ipswich, 6-1 Wolves, Sheffield United.

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