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Total Handicapping: Don't Force "Recreational" Over/Under Bets in the World Cup

Jeff Fogle  

Normally we’ll be focusing on handicapping Over/Unders in the major U.S. betting sports in this weekly feature. Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter and spring. Baseball through the rest of the summer. This week, we’ll be focusing on a major “event” in a sport that the whole world loves to bet on.

Soccer’s World Cup begins Thursday with host Russia taking on Saudi Arabia. It will run for just over a month until the championship game is played on July 15. Germany and Brazil are currently co-favorites to win the world title. France, Spain, and Argentina are also very serious contenders. Unfortunately, the United States failed to qualify.

If you’re like many sports fans in the U.S., you don’t bet much soccer except when something special like the World Cup is happening. When you do bet, you like  taking Overs because it’s more fun to root for goals being scored than it is to root for defense. Plus, every shot seems like it’s a goal about to happen whenever you bet the Under in a sport like soccer or hockey. Betting Unders feels like you’re volunteering for an ulcer.

There are two problems here. First, it’s rarely smart to bet a sport you don’t follow. If you’re only betting for entertainment, you’re probably going to lose a little bit (at least), and that’s the price you pay to be entertained (like going to a movie or concert). Second, if you only take Overs, you’re betting into a market that shades against public sentiment. Casual fans across the world are betting Overs! You’re unlikely to find consistent value doing the same.

The good news is that sometimes the market trails reality. Goals were scored at a brisk pace in early action the last World Cup, played in Brazil in 2014. Here’s the number line count from low to high in scoring sums in the first two games every team played in group action (the third game played in each group may have influences that reduce scoring...if both teams are playing for a tie that would send each to the knockout round, or if a heavy favorite is resting key goal scorers because it’s already clinched the group title).

2014 Scoring Sums in First Two Games for All Teams

0-0-0-1-1-1-1-1-2-2-3-3-3-3-3-(3-3)-3-3-3-3-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-5-6-6-7

The medians are in parenthesis, a very sold three right in the middle of the tug-of war. The average was 2.94. While there were three scoreless ties and a five 1-0 games...fully 22 of 32 matchups in everybody’s “first two” saw three goals or more. Let’s hope 2018’s early games are just as entertaining! Of course, we just can’t assume 2014’s fireworks show will continue. Even though many of the same countries are represented, there are many new coaches and new players. A lot can change in four teams in terms of team style and attack. Here are some tactical keys to look for.

DON’T BET OVERS WHEN...

• The head coach is known for sitting on a lead in the second half by emphasizing ball possession and defense. You’ll hear the term “parking the bus” several times in the next few weeks. You don’t want a coach parking his bus in front of the net when you’re rooting for goals. Some bettors will think they’re “gaming the system” by NOT laying a big price on a favorite with a superstar goal scorer and just betting the Over because that superstar will score some goals. If a conservative coach is up 1-0 or 2-0 in the second half, he’s going to get his win while you lose your bet.

• Your team doesn’t have at least one truly lethal attacker at this level. Some entries are content to play for low scoring ties because that’s their only chance to advance to the knockout round. Don’t bet an Over “for entertainment” in one of these games. You probably won’t feel very entertained!

• A game with a lower Over/Under than the others is tempting you. The number is that low for a reason. The most important influences in the market are expecting a defensive struggle.

DO BET OVERS WHEN...

• One team has a soft defense that’s likely to exploited when facing a world class opponent. This was a big factor driving so many Overs in Brazil. In fact, it was the biggest factor in the eventual demise of Brazil! The hosts were very soft on overall defense, which is why Germany in the semifinals, and the Netherlands in the third-place game marched through them for easy wins.

• One team (ideally both) have an up-and-down style that greatly increases the number of attacking possessions. This is often the trademark of teams from Africa, but isn’t uncommon elsewhere. Depends on the philosophy of the head coach and the skill sets of his best players.  

• The head coach on a juggernaut will let his stars run up the score. Some coaches will let their players have fun in these early-round blowout scenarios. Others will essentially say “2-0 is enough, let’s lock it down now.” Study team previews to learn what you can about coaching and team philosophies.

This will probably be our only discussion of handicapping totals in the 2018 World Cup in this publication. But we will stay on top of this exciting betting event every weekday in VSiN City. That means monitoring the market and studying key stats after each game has been played. Hopefully we can find some advantages for you as storylines develop on sides and totals. If you’re not already a subscriber to this FREE email publication, you can register at vsin.com to receive the VSiN City newsletter every Monday-Friday.

Also, don’t forget that VSiN will broadcast a daily World Cup show (2-3 p.m. Pacific) through the final. Special guest analysts from all over the globe will provide insights and the news you need to win!

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