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Betting on the World Cup?

15 May 2002

The best soccer teams in the world descend on Japan and South Korea next month for the World Cup. Ironically, the event generates more betting action than any other, but finding any genuine value in the propositions offered on the tournament is tougher than almost any other.

The reason is partly vigorish. Bookies typically take 9% profit on the result of a soccer match.

That is almost twice as much as the vigorish on American football. When you look at the usurous take on some of the more exotic propositions, such as the 50% take on correct score bets, or the 150% on first goal scorer, you see why there are not many stories about successful soccer handicappers.

Another reason is that the bookmakers know the odds on these games extremely well. The players in this tournament are internationally famous and extensive analysis is available on every aspect of their performance. There is a lot of soccer around these days and bookmakers handicap it on a daily basis, since a soccer match is almost always being played somewhere in the world.

Analysis of past World Cups suggest that backing an outsider as outright tournament winner is not a good idea--that is, the bookmakers rarely get things wrong. The tournament winner comes from a select group of nations, invariably Argentina, Brazil, and Italy. France also have enjoyed a purple patch after winning the World and European Cups and are serious contenders here. Germany are generally considered to be in the elite club of nations considered capable of winning, but a 5-1 demolition by England during last year's qualification has damaged morale and they are unlikely to be serious contenders.

Analysis of individual matches will not fare much better for the same reasons mentioned above in the qualification stages.

However, an intriguing betting possibility exists in the knockout, post-qualification of the tournament. There is a non-linear but clear and observable negative correlation between the goals scored in a match and the skill level of the players. If you examine data in the domestic football leagues you see that the average number of goals scored rises the higher you go up the divisions. Naturally, the World Cup brings together more skilled players than any domestic league. The average number of goals scored in the qualification stages is skewed because the qualification system is designed to encourage teams to go for a win, but in the post-qualification stage avoiding defeat is more important than achieving success. Naturally, with fewer goals scored the greater the possibility of a draw, leading to occasional value arising on draw betting.

An analysis of recent World and European Cups at the post-qualification stage tends to bear this theory out. A higher number of matches have ended in stalemate with the result decided on penalties than the bookmakers expected, who mostly assess draw odds around a relatively static figure of 31%.

My recommendation would therefore be to look closely at the draw odds offered in the post-qualification stage. Look especially closely at www.ukbetting.com and planetpinnacle.com, both of whom take only 5% vigorish instead of the standard 9%. Use betbrain.com to determine the consensus on the probability of a draw. If you can establish one bookmaker is out of line then jump on them.

John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

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John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May