Melbourne often claims to be the centre of the sporting world, but this week, Australia’s second biggest city has added particular legitimacy to that claim when the world’s top two ranked soccer nations – Brazil and Argentina – battle it out in a friendly at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday night.
While there is plenty of star factor about the match, including Lionel Messi, the man most believe is the best player of his generation, this is known as one of the pre-eminent rivalries in world football, which means there’ll be nothing friendly about it.
The bookmakers are expecting a very even contest, with Argentina the slight favorite at $2.60 (+160) and Brazil at $2.70 (+170). This may be due to the absence of Messi’s Barcelona teammate, star forward Neymar.
While this match will be seen as entertainment for the vast majority of Australians, the World Cup qualifying match a night earlier between Australia and Saudi Arabia will be a white-knuckle ride.
Australia is sitting precariously in third position in its group, and must beat the second-placed Saudis in Adelaide to stay on track for a top-two finish and an automatic qualification place for Russia 2018.
The punters have flocked to the Socceroos, which has seen the green and gold come in at $1.40 (-250) for what would be an extremely valuable three points. The visitors are way out at $8.50 (+750), after suffering a couple of injuries to key players.
Following this match, the next fixture for the Aussies will be a friendly against Brazil at the MCG on Tuesday night, after which the team flies out to Russia for the Confederations Cup.
Not surprisingly, the Aussies are way out at $6 (+500) for that match against the five-time world champions. Brazil is at $1.44 (-227).
Of course, there is plenty of other sporting action taking place over the weekend, including another national team, our cricketers, who incidentally have won five World Cups in that sport, taking on the old-enemy England in a do-or-die contest in the Champions Trophy in the United Kingdom on Saturday.
Australia’s first two matches in this tournament have been washed out – good old English weather – so they now need to win this match to ensure they get through to the semifinals.
That win is priced at $1.93 (-108) with the in-form hosts at $1.83 (-120). This tournament has failed to hit the mark so far, mainly due to the inclement weather, and guess what, rain is forecast again for this one. Let’s hope it clears for Wimbledon.
The AFL has reached its halfway point, as Round 12 kicks off with a blockbuster Grand Final rematch in Sydney on Thursday night. The reigning Premiers – the Western Bulldogs – will go in as $2 (+100) outsiders, while the Sydney Swans are $1.81 (-123).
Interestingly, we’ll also see a Grand Final rematch on Thursday night in the NRL, when the Cronulla Sharks host the Melbourne Storm. The bookies are having trouble splitting these two at $1.91 (-110) apiece.
On the track, the Group One spotlight remains on Brisbane, with the running of the Stradbroke Handicap, the Queensland Derby and the JJ Atkins Stakes. The former is the carnival’s biggest race, with a total prize pool of $1.5 million.