Because next week’s World Cup will be the first with widely available legalized sports betting in the United States, many bettors will be visiting soccer for the first time, hoping to place a wager on the world’s most popular sporting event.
Because soccer betting options and terminology differ from those of most American sports, let’s go over the fundamentals before diving into the World Cup itself.
Lines for the Pregame
Three-way: This provides odds on three different outcomes: a win by either team or a draw. When teams are evenly matched, there may be plus-money on all three options. For example, in the United States-Wales game, the US is currently favored by +160, Wales by +195, and the draw by +195. Processing three options takes a moment for those used to two-way lines, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
Goal line: This line is a spread, just like in the NFL or NHL, for a more accurate comparison. Because goals are relatively scarce in soccer, -110 goal lines are uncommon. Instead, the lines are usually slanted in one direction or the other. In the US-Wales game, the US is currently favored by half a goal, but the price is +145, while Wales +0.5 is -185, because that bet gives you both a Wales win and a draw. Of course, some games will have larger spreads, such as Argentina at -180 laying a goal and a half against Saudi Arabia.
Asian handicap: Some sportsbooks offer lines in quarter-goal increments, which can be perplexing for first-time soccer bettors who aren’t used to seeing teams favored by 0.25 goals, points, or anything else. A line with 0.25 or 0.75 means you’re splitting your bet between the two nearest half-goal lines. Consider it two half-bets on two different lines. An example is the simplest way to explain:
If you place a $10 bet at even money on Argentina -1.75 goals vs. Saudi Arabia, you’re essentially placing two $5 bets on Argentina, one at -2 and one at -1.5. You win the entire $10 if Argentina wins by more than two goals. If Argentina wins by exactly two goals, you win half of your bet ($5 from the -1.5 part) and the other $5 is a push at -2, so you win $5. You lose your entire bet if Argentina wins by exactly one goal, draws, or loses. When you aren’t sure which regular line to take, Asian handicaps can be a good middle option with in-between odds. Over/under. This is fairly simple, albeit with lower numbers than most sports. The standard starting point for an over/under is 2.5 goals, with a little extra juice on the over by default. Over the last two seasons, Premier League games have averaged 2.8 goals per game. Alternate lines can usually be found for anywhere from 0.5 goals to at least 4.5 goals, all juiced appropriately, and default lines are often 3.5 for higher-scoring teams. Over/unders are also available for each team individually, for each half, and for combinations of the two.
Should both teams score (yes or no):
This is exactly what it sounds like: you’re betting on whether each team scores at least one goal or not. It’s similar to betting on an over/under, but with a more precise outcome. And don’t be misled by your own objectives. You’re betting that each team will score a goal, regardless of how the ball enters the net.
Draw no bet: This option is based on the three-way result, in that you’re betting on one team to win the match, and a draw means your bet is refunded. So the US is +160 to win against Wales, while the draw is -135. You’ll obviously win less money if the US wins, but you’ll get a push if the game is tied. There are other no bet variations, but the draw no bet is the most common.
Double chance: This bet goes by several different names (such as Team and X), but the play is the same: you’re getting two sides of the three-way line, usually one team to win or draw, which is the same as playing a team +0.5 goals.
There are undoubtedly dozens of other markets, the majority of which are similar to those found in other sports. Goals, shots, corners, and cards are common team and game options. There are markets for which team scores first, when the first goal is scored, and a variety of other outcomes. Individual players have similar options, and there are countless combinations of all of these things.
Stage of the Knockout
I think I buried the lede here. If you only remember one thing from this article, make it how bets work in the knockout stage. All of the above bets are typically for 90 minutes plus stoppage time in elimination games. This means that bets are graded at the end of regulation, regardless of what happens in overtime or penalties if a knockout game is tied after regulation.
This rule is generally applied to all bets on teams and players. So, if you bet on Germany to beat Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final, you probably didn’t win because Germany won 1-0 in extra time. And, if you had a bet on Mario Gotze to score anytime, you probably didn’t cash it when he did.
Almost everyone who has ever bet on soccer (including myself) has made this mistake, which results in misplaced emotion during extra time and confusion when cashing a ticket or checking an account. Know the rules of your book, as always.
Having said that, you can wager on which team advances to the next round, regardless of whether extra time or penalties are required. In the case of a final, these options are usually referred to as “advancing,” “qualifying,” or “lifting the trophy.” There are also separate options for specific scenarios such as winning in extra time, advancing on penalties, and so on.
Future World Cup Groups
In addition to single-game wagers, tournaments such as the World Cup provide numerous futures wagering opportunities. The most straightforward group options are for a team to win the group or advance to the knockout stage by finishing in the top two of the four teams. Because soccer is a high-variance sport in which one goal, foul, or bounce can change everything, most groups have one or two heavy favorites, so you can find plus-money prices on underdogs at good value.
If you’re betting on group futures, remember that there are often better options than just betting on one team to advance or win the group. Assume you want Mexico to win Group C, where Argentina is a massive -1100 favorite to advance and -275 to win the group. There might be more appealing options than betting on Mexico to win at -135. Consider a dual forecast bet on Argentina and Mexico advancing, an exact order bet on Argentina/Mexico, or a bet on Mexico finishing second in the group. The first two options are essentially parlays, so the prices may or may not be worthwhile, but they are always worth investigating.
The Golden Boot
Which player scores the most goals is one of the most popular futures bets in any competition. It may appear to be a simple play, but it is critical to understand how your book defines the bet, whether on an actual Golden Boot winner or simply the top goalscorer. The difference is…
The tournament itself awards the Golden Boot, usually through tiebreakers. FIFA has a first tiebreaker of assists and a second tiebreaker of minutes played in the World Cup. Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Ellen White each scored six goals in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Rapinoe and Morgan each had two assists to White’s one, and Rapinoe was awarded the Golden Boot despite playing fewer minutes. Top goalscorer: simply counts the player(s) with the most goals, regardless of the rules of the competition. In the event of a tie, books usually pay out bets divided by the number of winners. That is, if you bet 40-1 on a top goalscorer and he ties with one other player, you will be paid out at 20-1. If four players were tied, you’d be paid 10-1, and so on.
All of this to say, know what you’re betting on and how your book handles ties. Also, don’t confuse the Golden Boot with the Golden Ball, which is awarded to the tournament’s top player as determined by a select committee prior to the final. The winner does not have to come from the champion, as six consecutive Golden Ball winners did not win the World Cup. These are just a few of the numerous betting options for soccer in general, and the World Cup in particular. Have fun at the tournament!
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