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A beginner's guide to betting soccer

By Nicholas Hennion  () 

Standing before the betting board at the South Point, I can’t help but think this will be the only time in my life I’ll see some of these sports on the big board. Australian rules football, KHL hockey and not one but two soccer leagues — the Russian Premier League and the Turkish Super League — feature prominently.

 

Maybe you’re looking for something — heck, anything — to bet on after the coronavirus sidelined every major professional U.S. sports league. Perhaps you’ve settled on soccer as your temporary sport. 

 

As someone who bets soccer exclusively, this guide will provide a brief education on the betting rules and what bettors can expect from the globe’s most popular sport. 

 

Option 1: The Moneyline

 

The aspect of soccer betting that distinguishes it from other major sports is the moneyline. Whereas football, basketball and hockey will have two options on the ML, soccer provides three. 

 

Not only do you have each team to win the game outright, a draw is its own outcome. Therefore, if you bet a team to win and the match finishes as a draw, you would lose your ML bet. 

 

The one advantage here is that if you’re brave enough to call a draw and the match finishes that way, bettors will always receive plus-money payouts, as a draw is the unlikeliest outcome of the three ML possibilities. 

 

The other two results on a soccer ML operate reasonably normally. One team will be the favorite, and one side will be the underdog. Very infrequently, you’ll encounter matches with all three outcomes listed at plus-money (another advantage in soccer betting), but these are rare.  

 

The important thing to recognize is that books grade bets for 90 minutes plus injury time. Outcomes could dramatically change because of this rule. For example, in last week’s Champions League second leg, Atletico Madrid beat Liverpool 3-2 in extra time, but Liverpool bettors would have cashed their ML bets because the Reds were ahead 1-0 at the end of 90 minutes plus injury time. 

 

Options 2 and 3: Double Chance and Draw, No Bet

 

The next option for soccer bettors isn’t as popular this side of the Atlantic but is still worth understanding in case your book offers it. 

 

Double Chance still offers three outcomes but differs from the ML because a draw is included in two prices. For double chance, the three outcomes bettors can wager on are:

— Team 1 to win or draw

— Team 2 to win or draw

— Team 1 or Team 2 to win

 

Essentially, Double Chance offers insurance to bettors for a game finishing as a draw, but for a higher premium. 

 

Draw, No Bet is a further variation of Double Chance. 

 

With Draw, No Bet, any match that finishes as a draw triggers an automatic refund to the bettor. However, given that only two outcomes exist for books to offer here — Team 1 to win or Team 2 to win — favorites will see their prices skyrocket, while underdogs will receive higher plus-money odds. 

 

Again, books grade these bets on 90 minutes plus injury time. 

 

Option 4: Goal Line

 

Similar to a point spread or puck/run lines, goal lines account for the difference in quality between the teams. 

 

Typically, sportsbooks will set goal lines in half-goal increments and for domestic competitions will go no higher than three goals. 

 

For a half-goal line, favorites must win outright to cover the GL, while underdogs can win or draw to cover. For a one-goal line, favorites must win by two to cover or one to push, while underdogs can win or draw to cash or lose by one to push. 

 

One matter of note for PK goal lines: If a bettor takes a team on a PK line, a win for that team cashes, while a draw pushes. 

 

Because soccer usually is low-scoring, very infrequently you will see goal lines that are whole numbers, as it increases the likelihood of a push. In the Premier League this season, games finished exactly on single-goal margins 33% of the time, while matches finished exactly on two-goal margins 22% of the time. 

 

That’s why in soccer you’re more likely to see half-goal, 1.5-goal or 2.5-goal margins on the goal line. 

 

Option 5: Totals

 

The final option for soccer bettors, totals, operates in the same fashion as totals for all other sports, just on a smaller level. 

 

Soccer totals, much like the goal-line spreads, are adjusted in half-goal increments and will often include a half-goal hook to encourage bets on both sides. Most commonly, bettors will see totals of 2.5 or 3.5 goals. The next most common total is three goals, followed by two goals for games featuring defensive-oriented teams.

 

I do my best to stay away from games with three-goal totals, as I consider it to be a dead number for bettors. In the EPL this season, almost a quarter of games finished exactly on three goals. The same goes for matches with two-goal totals. Unless you can find a clear trend that informs your bet, this is one of the rare occasions I would encourage bettors to seek totals with a hook. 

 

While this is less common in U.S. sportsbooks, bettors can encounter totals in increments of a quarter of a goal instead of a half (2.75 or 3.25, for example). Under these circumstances, a bettor will see half his bet placed on one number and the other half placed on another. 

 

Say you bet on Under 2.75 goals in a match. Half of your bet would be placed on Under 2.5 goals, and the other half would be placed on Under three goals. Therefore, if a game finishes 2-1, that bettor would lose his Under 2.5 goals bet and push Under three goals. 

 

Like all other bet types, totals are graded only on 90 minutes plus injury time and do not include extra time or penalties. Take that same Liverpool-Atletico match. The total was set at 2.5 goals and landed on 1-0 at the end of the 90 minutes, cashing Under 2.5 goals. Even though the game finished 3-2, the Under would be the winning bet.

 

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