The World Cup is to soccer wagering what the Kentucky Derby is to horse wagering. Tens of thousands of people who take no interest in the sport will test their betting acumen because of the enormity and importance of the event. Let’s explore three betting strategies for those who don’t bet soccer on a regular basis.
“The beautiful game” – as English commentator Stuart Hall described it – lends itself to advantageous in-game betting opportunities more than other sports because of the pace of play.
Our first two strategies involve live betting situations. Soccer is unique in that teams play shorthanded for long stretches after a player is disqualified from a match due to receiving a red card. But how can bettors take advantage of a red card being issued? There is one situation with two specific criteria that has proven to be a profitable angle. First, the team receiving the red card is the superior side. While superior is a subjective term, we will define it as a team that is favored by either 1 or 1.5 goals on the preflop two-way line. (Soccer is often booked three ways – with the draw as one of the three possible outcomes.) A two-way line includes a goals handicap. For example, in Group D on Nov. 22, Denmark is playing Tunisia. Denmark is -1 goal -125. Denmark fits our parameters for a “superior side.”
The second criteria that is that the superior side is leading in the match by one goal at the time of the red card. This situation calls for an in-play bet on the UNDER. The superior side, now being caught playing 10 against 11, will almost always modify its strategy to a much more defensive posture. The reason the one-goal lead is essential is that the superior side can guarantee three points if it can just maintain the current score. A bonus to this angle is that the in-game price will shift to the Over at the time of the red card as the imbalance would seem to suggest more goals would be scored. Hypothetically, Denmark leads Tunisia 1-0 and receives a red card in the 40th minute. Right before the red card, the price on the total might be Under 2.5 -115. The red card will shift the odds to around Under 2.5 +120. The red card creates a better price for the Under and in these situations conditions less likely for scoring.
The World Cup begins with group play. The 32 teams are placed into eight groups of four teams. Each team plays the three other teams in their group. Three points are awarded for a win and one point is awarded for a draw. The two teams with the most points in each group advance to the 16-team knockout phase. How does this structure create betting opportunities? Let’s focus on the final game in the group stage and identify profitable situations.
For this exercise, let’s use Group B, which has England, the United States, Wales and Iran. Suppose the following:
England beats Iran 3-0
The U.S. beats Wales 2-1
England beats the U.S. 2-0
Iran beats Wales 2-1
Going to the final two games on the last day of group, England has six points and will advance. Wales has zero points and is eliminated. The U.S. and Iran both have three points and play each other. In the 80th minute, the score is tied at 1. However, because of the better goal differential for the USA (-1) over Iran (-2), the Iranian side is eliminated with a draw. This means they must do everything they can to score a goal. The Iranians will send more players forward when they gain possession, leaving themselves vulnerable to a counter by the Americans. Iran is also likely to pull its goalkeeper and send him into the offensive box when it has a corner kick, creating an empty-net situation similar to hockey. The betting opportunity here is to play the OVER. The total in the 80th minute of the above scenario would likely be 2.5 over +140 or better. Be conscious that some books will not offer the in-game totals after the 85th minute, while other books will keep totals up into stoppage time.
Instant Gratification – Soccer Style
In recent years we have seen the rise of “instant gratification” bets. Baseball has the YRFI/NRFI (yes run first inning/no run first inning). Basketball has the first team to 15 or even 10. Football has yes/no score in the first six minutes. It took us years to get first-period hockey totals and today we have goal in the first 10 minutes and now first five minutes. The soccer version of this is “will there be a goal in the first X minutes.” Usually that can range from 22 minutes to 32 minutes depending on the match.
Here is what is unique about soccer: The clock always runs. No matter what. If there is an injury in football, basketball or hockey, or any other sport with a clock, it stops. Not soccer. Not for injuries or anything else — replay reviews (VAR), drones and smoke bombs have all caused delays in recent soccer matches. But delays where the clock continued to run. The adjustment is that the referee approximates the amount of time the match was delayed and adds it on to the end of each half.
If you bet no goal in the first x minutes, these delays all work to the advantage of that wager. Consider “no goal in the first” bets when teams are of similar strength. Conversely to our red card situation where we were looking for superior sides, identify matches that are a “pick” or where one team is favored by a half goal. The larger the gap in the quality of the teams, the more likely it is for goals to be scored.
Enjoy the World Cup and may all your bets be monetized!