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Tuley's Takes: He's back with Cup plays

Dave Tuley  
VSiN senior editor

Even though I coached my son’s 9U team to a winning record the past two seasons, I don’t consider myself a soccer expert, but I did spend my vacation at a Holiday Inn Express (that’s a joke as I spent it at my mother-in-law’s house in Hawaii).

I don’t bet a lot of soccer, but I’ve had a lot of success in the World Cup over the years by picking my spots. I’m mostly looking for live underdogs, but I also like betting draws (especially in cases where both teams could benefit from a tie later in the group stage) as well as over/unders. Since I couldn’t tell you a thing about most of the 32 teams a week ago, I mostly watch each team’s first game and take notes for future wagers, especially in regard to their remaining group opponents (note: it’s easier to do this in the second game of each group as we’ve already seen the other two teams while we’re flying blind in the first match of each group).

So, let’s take an overall look at the betting results as all teams had played their opening game by Tuesday. I’ll give my general thoughts, then I’ll share my notes on each of the opening games since the tournament started last Tuesday (some of those notes will lead to bets this upcoming week; I’m posting the others in case you’re able to mine some nuggets that lead to your own winning wagers), and then I’ll post what I feel are the best bets in the coming week. I also want to point out that, just like after NFL Week 1, there’s a tendency for people to overreact to what they just saw; so we’re careful to be cognizant of that fact while balancing what we saw with the overall strength of these teams as many underachieving teams will rebound (the key is figuring out which ones are more likely to repeat poor performances) while many overachieving teams will come back to Earth (or will they?).

The big story in the opening set of games was disappointing performances of the pre-tourney title favorites as defending champion Germany lost 1-0 to Mexico while Argentina and Brazil had to settle for draws with Iceland and Switzerland, respectively.

Despite all the talk about the struggles of the top teams, favorites started 9-2-3 (with Iran’s 1-0 win over Morocco joining Mexico as the only outright upset) before Japan and Senegal both pulled upsets in Group H on Tuesday to close out the first set of games with favorites leading 9-4-3. If you had bet all the faves in 3-way betting, you would be down 2.65 units in spite of that winning record.

The third draw was the Portugal-Spain 3-3 shootout, but betting the draws was also an overall losing proposition as they were 3-13, so that’s -13 units on the losses while the draws paid 235, 400 and 370 for a total of 10.05 and a net loss of 2.95 units. As mentioned above, we expect draws to fare better overall through the group stage, though again we’ll be looking to pick our spots and not betting all draws blindly.

Unders finished the Game 1s at 8-7-1. That was very streaky as overs actually started 3-2, but then unders went on a 6-0-1 run before overs hit on the last four games. There can be quite a discrepancy in over/under prices between books (especially when some books have o/u 2 with heavy juice on the over while others might go with 2.5 and juice the under), but I have unders at 0.45 units.

OK, let’s run through my notes on the openers:

THURSDAY, JUNE 14

Russia 5, Saudi Arabia 0:

Host Russia was given easy opener and it dominated in a blowout win. Don’t feel I gained anything from this game except to not bet Saudi Arabia.

FRIDAY, JUNE 15

Uruguay 1, Egypt 0:

Uruguay dominated 14-8 in shots on goal and 5-0 on corner kicks, but needed late goal to win. Egypt would have had a great chance to win this, but it was without Mohamed Salah.

Iran 1, Morocco 0:

Morocco failed as the favorite, though mostly outplayed Iran and was unlucky in defeat. I would upgrade Morocco, but not enough to trust vs. Portugal or Spain.

Portugal 3, Spain 3:

Ronaldo was the star with a hat trick in earning draw with favored Spain. Both trail Iran in Group B, but I still expect both to sweep Iran and Morocco and advance.

SATURDAY, JUNE 16

France 2, Australia 1:

Valiant effort by Aussies but France dominated and class prevailed. Don’t fade France rest of group stage; Australia has a shot vs. Denmark and especially Peru.

Argentina 1, Iceland 1:

Argentina had huge edge on the stat sheet but had to settle for tie. A lot is being made about Messi missing a penalty kick, but reports of Messi’s demise are premature. Fade Argentina at your own risk (I won’t until knockout stage).

Denmark 1, Peru 0:

Peru outshot Denmark but unable to covert. Both should lose to France and could be vulnerable against Aussies. Croatia 2, Nigeria 0: This was a lot closer than the score indicates as Croatia prevailed with a goal on a penalty kick and an own goal. I don’t upgrade Croatia any (and not taking vs. Argentina in next game) and see Nigeria as an under-the-radar live underdog.

SUNDAY, JUNE 17

Serbia 1, Costa Rica 0:

This could have gone either way. Serbia prevailed as short fave and faces key game vs. Switzerland on Friday. Call me crazy, but Costa Rica might warrant a play vs. Brazil. Mexico 1, Germany 0: This was the biggest upset of the opening games as the defending champs lost to Mexico. This should be a wake-up call for Germany, which outshot Mexico and is not likely to get shut out again. Mexico could be fadeable, though looking at the under in next two games as they could go into conservative mode.

Switzerland 1, Brazil 1:

The Swiss army pulled out the hack-a-Neymar tool and pulled out a draw that seemed like a major upset. Brazil has the talent and actually might be better without the hobbled Neymar at this point. Do we upgrade Switzerland, or assume everyone else will be overrating them off this result?

Sweden 1, South Korea 0:

Sweden only won by the single goal but mostly dominated. I’m interested to see the odds against Mexico when they meet next week. South Korea should be overmatched the rest of the way, but look to Unders.

Belgium 3, Panama 0:

Belgium dominated first half despite being held to scoreless tie at intermission, but then pulled away in second half. Panama might be worth a look at the Over (especially against England, which should generate a ton of scoring opportunities).

England 2, Tunisia 1:

England was looking at disappointing draw until Harry Kane’s header in the first minute of stoppage time proved the difference. The Brits mostly dominated, but kept thinking I’d love to fade them with Belgium (but we can wait for next week’s PSW for that matchup).

MONDAY, JUNE 19

Japan 2, Colombia 1:

Japan’s first goal seemed to stun Colombia, and despite Colombia evening the score, Japan pulled out 2-1 win. Unlike most upsets, Japan outshot Colombia 14-8 and keeps me from calling it a fluke.

Senegal 2, Poland 1:

Second straight upset of the day. Many will discredit Senegal’s victory due to an own goal by Poland and the controversial breakaway goal from a substitute being allowed to come in while the ball was in play. However, I thought Senegal was creative throughout in creating scoring opportunities. The Senegal-Japan and Colombia-Poland matchups on Sunday take on a whole different meaning than anyone thought coming in the tournament.

Russia 3, Egypt 1:

This was actually first Game 2 as Russia easily won for second time, making the most of its home-country advantage. Assuming Uruguay beats Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, Russia and Uruguay will only be playing next Thursday for knockout-round seeding.

OK, now let’s put on our handicapping cap for this week’s games (lines are from William Hill as of Tuesday afternoon):

THURSDAY, JUNE 21

Group C: Denmark vs. Australia

3-way betting: Denmark -120, Australia 355, Draw 250

2-way betting: Denmark -0.5 -120, Australia 0.5 100 (EVEN)

Over/under: Over 2.5 145, Under 2.5 -165

Tuley’s Take: After what looks like a chalky Wednesday, I like underdog Australia in the early Thursday game on FS1 (8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT). Denmark’s 1-0 win over Peru and Australia’s 2-1 loss to France puts Denmark in the driver’s seat to advance out of Group C along with France, so it could actually benefit from a draw. I’m tempted to make that bet, but the better wager is taking 0.5 at even money (where we cash if the Aussies pull off the upset but also win if it does end in a draw).

Best Bet: Australia 0.5 100.

FRIDAY, JUNE 22

Group E: Brazil vs. Costa Rica

3-way betting: Brazil -570, Costa Rica 1600,Draw 575

2-way betting: Brazil -2 110, Costa Rica 2 -130

Over/Under: Over 3 125, Under 3 -145

Tuley’s Take: Everyone is expecting Brazil to bounce back from its 1-1 tie with Australia and that’s reflected in the odds, but I didn’t see Brazil playing as a team. And as mentioned above, Neymar is less than 100% and more of a liability out there. Everyone is assuming the refs won’t let Costa Rica get away from manhandling Neymar like the Aussies did, but what if they do? Now, I’m not calling for an outright upset (that might come when Serbia plays Brazil next Wednesday) as Brazil has far superior talent, but if Costa Rica can keep from getting blown out early, they have a chance to cover. Best Bet: Costa Rica 2 -130 (note: we’re using the William Hill lines here, but instead of laying the heavier juice, I’m leaning toward taking the 1.5 offered at some books, such as the 1.5 125 at Caesars Palace as of Tuesday).

Group D: Iceland vs. Nigeria

3-way betting: Iceland 160, Nigeria 190,Draw 210

2-way betting: Iceland PK -120, Nigeria 105

Over/Under: Over 2 -120, Under 2 100 (EVEN)

Tuley’s Take: Nigeria and Iceland have been rated pretty close by a lot of so-called experts as well as Group future odds, etc., yet Iceland is now favored (albeit not by a wide margin) in this matchup. After watching both play, I believe Nigeria has been downgraded too much. It’s tempting to take the 105 in 2-way betting with the added insurance that we get a refund if it ends in a draw; however, when I’m right, I like to be rewarded so I believe the better betting value is in the 3-way wagering. Best Bet: Nigeria 190 to win outright (draw is a loss).

SATURDAY, JUNE 23

Group F: Mexico vs. South Korea

3-way betting: Mexico -200, South Korea 525,Draw 290

2-way betting: Mexico -1 100 (EVEN), South Korea 1 -120

Over/under: Over 2.5 115, Under 2.5 -135

Tuley’s Take: It’s tempting to fade Mexico after its earth-shaking 1-0 upset of Germany, but I’m not confident enough that South Korea can generate enough offense to get the job done. Combine that with my earlier comment about Mexico being an under team as it can go into conservative mode and the Under 2.5 is the logical play. South Korea held Sweden to just 1 goal, and could do the same here (and even a second Mexico goal is OK as long as Mexico is able to pitch another shutout).

Best Bet: Under 2.5 -135.

SUNDAY, JUNE 24

Group G: England vs. Panama

3-way betting: England -635, Panama plus 2085,Draw 600

2-way betting: England -2 110 (EVEN), Panama plus 2 -120

Over/Under: Over 2.5 -135, Under 2.5 plus 115

Tuley’s Take: I’m (pleasantly) surprised this over/ under wasn’t set at 3. Panama gave up 3 goals to Belgium and it could have been more; and while England only scored 2 on Tunisia (and needed stoppage time to get the second and winning goal), it should be peppering the Panama goal from start to finish. I’m almost tempted to bet England -2 at plus money, but feel the Over is the safer play (and will keep at an eye out for Over 3 at plus money). Best Bet: Over 2.5 -135. Note: Game 3s of the group stage start Monday; if I come up with plays I like before next week’s Point Spread Weekly, I’ll post those on the VSiN.com and have a notice sent out to subscribers.

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