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Mat's betting tips
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Mat's World Cup betting tips
9 June 2006
The domestic season is over but the football carries on this summer with the World Cup in Germany, as I'm sure you were only too aware. And the bookmakers have gone utterly mental this time round. Gambling is big business and the bookies are keen not to miss out on a single penny of it. I read the other day that Bet365 will offer 33 pre-match markets on each game along with 28 in-play markets. But that's nothing to the spread betting firms who will have over 500 markets to manage during the tournament. Overkill? Perhaps.
With so many markets available there have to be a few opportunities for a profit, as it's got to be nigh on impossible to keep them all on the go without making a mistake on at least one of them. But where are those opportunities? That's the catch, isn't it? You can bet that the market compilers will have crunched all the numbers from the qualifying campaigns and previous tournaments and come up with spreads that are pretty much spot on for the main markets. However, when it comes to the minority markets (number of players doing a somersault or backflip after scoring, for example) they could be way out.
But do you know any better? You might think you do, in which case you may want a flutter, as with spread betting the more right you are the more money you make - but on the flip side, the more wrong you are the more you lose. Spread betting can be a dangerous business and the spread firms know this, but they still manufacture all these markets in an attempt to find something for everyone. Cheeky buggers. That said, I do have a spread betting account and every now and then I have a sneaky peak at their markets to see what is on offer. It can be a very rewarding form of betting, if you're prepared to do your homework.
So we can bet on the normal stuff like who will win each group, which stage each team will be eliminated at, eventual winners, the top goalscorer and all that sort of guff - but where does the value lie? What's our best chance for making some money on the tournament? For that we need the betting exchanges such as Betfair and Betdaq. Except I don't really like Betdaq, so all the prices I quote from the exchanges will be taken solely from Betfair. It's the biggest exchange on the web and offers the best chance of getting your bet on at a decent price.
I'll tell you who won't win it this year...
But enough of where you can get your money on; what should you be betting on? Everyone knows Brazil are huge favourites to walk off with the trophy this summer and can be backed at a best price of 11/4 with the bookies. That's short odds for a team that needs to get through four knockout games as well as winning at least two group games in order to lift the cup. Ronaldo and co are only 1/4 to win their group, which means they are in effect less than 1/3 to win each of their knockout games. OK, they are a great team going forwards and have a number of truly great players in their squad, but would you back them to beat Italy in the final at 1/3? No, thought not. And that brings us to our first suggested bet: lay Brazil at 4.1 in Betfair's outright winner market. It's not that Brazil won't win it - they might - but the odds are far too short and they are a value lay.
Next up are good old England. Like me, you're probably in England at the minute and being constantly bombarded with news and views on the England squad along with the saga of Wayne Rooney's foot. The win over Jamaica proved one thing: the Jamaicans are crap. OK, we probably knew that before the match but it didn't test England really. But that's not stopped the English public piling into their local bookmakers to make a patriotic punt on England repeating the glory of 1966. Someone has even staked a hefty sum on us beating Germany 4-2 in the final, same as we did in 1966. Except we didn't. In the eyes of the bookies that game was a 2-2 draw. But all this patriotism has driven the price of an England victory down to the level where they too have become worth laying. You can lay England at 8.8 on Betfair at present and I think that's a bet worth having.
Incidentally, backing England in any international competition that attracts more than a few column inches in the papers is generally a poor bet if you use a UK bookmaker. They expect money to come in for England and so the price is set lower than the true odds so as to limit their liability, and rip the punters off really. If you really want to back England in such events look to the exchanges or even foreign bookmakers. In the days of the internet this is not as hard as it used to be. This applies also to things like backing British players at Wimbledon and so on.
So who will win it?
Having covered who (probably) won't win it I should really discuss who will lift the trophy on that Sunday evening in July, but the truth of the matter is that I haven't got a clue, and to a certain extent I don't care. There are a few ways of looking at the outright winner market. One would be to dutch a number of the teams such that you make the same profit regardless of which of them wins - as long as one of them does win, of course. My favoured approach is to trade the market. With Brazil being such strong favourites there is value to be found in other teams. Teams such as Argentina and Italy stand a good chance in my opinion but here I'm thinking of darker horses.
My plan is to look for teams who should qualify from their group easily enough and reach the knockout stages but who are at long odds to win the whole tournament. I'm talking about Ukraine, Mexico, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Ivory Coast. Back 'em at big odds before the tournament starts and then lay them off at lower odds when they reach the knockout stages, thus locking in a profit whether they win or lose. At least that's the plan. But in order to draw up a list of suitable teams we need to think about who will qualify from each group and so what the draw for the last 16 will look like. Let's preview each group and predict how the tourney will pan out.
I think it's pretty safe to assume that Poland and Germany will make it safely out of Group A and into the knockout stages; it's who will top the group that really interests me. Poland are 10/3 to top the group with the hosts at a diddy 2/5. I can see Costa Rica causing the Germans more problems in the opener than they will the Poles when they play them, so the Germans may have to settle for second in this group on goal difference behind Poland. There's a 60 per cent profit to be had by dutching Germany-Poland at 5/4 and Poland-Germany at 5/1 on the Group A forecast markets and that's something I will seriously consider.
Ecuador are fancied by some but their excellent qualification record was almost entirely due to their form at home, where they bagged 23 of their 28 points. But that's what happens when you play at altitude (their national stadium is 9,350 feet above sea level) and the opposition aren't used to it. The dark horses here are the Costa Ricans. Ranked only seven places below Germany in the FIFA rankings, and two spots above Poland, they have the potential to cause an upset and actually make the last 16 as they did in 1990. But a leaky backline and reliance on Paulo Wanchope up top will see them to third best in this group, and with it elimination.
Paraguay are a decent side and beat Argentina and Uruguay during their qualifying campaign. But then they also got thumped by Ecuador and in deepest, darkest Peru, so despite making the knockout stages three times before (1986, 1998 and 2002) I can't see it happening for them this time. Europe is not a happy hunting ground for South American sides and it ought to be England and Sweden who make their way through from Group B. There is no real value in the 1/4 for Trinidad & Tobago to finish at the foot of the group because this is cup football and the strangest things can happen, such as T&T picking up a sneaky point or three somewhere. It shouldn't happen but you can never really be sure, can you?
A 49 per cent profit can be had from dutching England-Sweden and Sweden-England in the forecast markets, and while it's pretty certain that one of those two will come in, there are better bets to be had in this World Cup. England's habit of doing just enough to beat an easy opponent will mean we are unlikely to score a bagful against Trinidad & Tobago whereas the Swedes may not be so easy on Dwight Yorke and co. Therefore there's a chance that with a draw likely in the England v Sweden game we will finish second and let the Swedes face the Germans in the last 16 with England facing the easier option of Poland. Of course, with Group A having been completed by the time we face Sweden, we will know what is required to face Poland or Germany as we choose.
I can see the Group of Death producing some cracking football. Two teams will survive and two will be eliminated, same as every group. But a big name will fall here, and I don't mean Serbia & Montenegro, who do have one of the biggest names in international football. I'm talking about Holland. They are going to struggle, I reckon and we will see Didier Drogba power Ivory Coast to an excellent second place in the group behind the Argentines. The Argies play fantastic football and in Messi and Riquelme they have truly exciting players, with Crespo a proven goalscorer.
The Dutch are in transition and will come good again soon but not right now. Every major tournament sees fighting in their team camp and I think unsettled players in the side will see them surrender the second qualifying place to Ivory Coast. The Africans have a great record in their own continental Cup of Nations (they were this year's losing finalists) and this is their first World Cup but they will be fired up and look a good shout for taking all three points off S&M and holding Holland to a draw. You can get 15/8 about the Ivory Coast qualifying which isn't a great price. But you can lay Holland at 1.53 for qualification. If I'm wrong and the Dutch go through then the price is low and you won't be stung for much. But if I am right a nice payout will come your way.
Portugal, Mexico, Iran and Angola tangle for the right to face the qualifiers from Group C. Portugal lack World Cup experience really (this is only their fourth appearance) but they have a side of eager and talented young bucks. OK, Pauleta and Luis Figo are getting on a bit now but they will line up alongside Maniche, Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo who can all be great to watch, if the latter can keep his temper in check and not pick up at least one dismissal in Germany. Mexico are fourth in the FIFA rankings and have been in the top ten for years now. Why? Because their qualification group for major tournaments such as this is a piece of piss, basically. This will be a tougher test for them but they look set for victories against Iran and Angola which would be enough to see them through to the next phase, and a likely clash with Argentina.
Portugal ought to top the group comfortably with Iran having enough experience to get one over on Angola. The Africans will be keen to put on a good show against Portugal, as Angola was once a Portuguese colony, but their high point will be scoring a goal as I can't see them doing any more than that. They will come on for the experience though. Incidentally a Portugal-Mexico forecast is only 6/4 and not worth having, in my opinion.
Ahh, the Italians. I do like to watch the Azzurri play, y'know. There is something beautifully and quintessentially European about their style of play with culture throughout the side rather than a few cloggers alongside the odd player who can control the football. Luca Toni has been making some big waves in Serie A this season (and made my fantasy World Cup side on that basis) and he will feature heavily in their campaign this year. But the Italians won't have it all their own way in this group as the Czech Republic are no pushovers, as they proved in Euro 2004. Currently ranked second in the world according to FIFA, the Czechs boast a magnificent keeper in Petr Cech and a good attacking line-up, led by Jan Koller and Milan Baros. If the Italians are slow to get going, these fellas could easily top this group.
I refuse to believe that the USA will do anything other than get a good dose of ass-whupping at SoccerBall 2006 or whatever they think it's called. A few names in the Yank line-up will be familiar so at least you'll know some of the players you will be mocking when they take a caning at the hands of Italy and the Czechs. God knows what Ghana will do when they get going, other than try and rack up as many bookings and sendings-off as possible. They can be a dirty bunch - hell, they have Michael Essien in their side. But he is their main man and he can't carry the team alone. For me the bets here have to be the dutch of Italy-Czech Republic at 15/8 and Czech Republic-Italy at 7/2 on the forecast market for a profit of 76 per cent, although at 2/1 to win the group the Czechs could be worth a few quid there too.
Brazil - they are going to walk the group. There, I've said it. Everyone else has already said it before me though, most saying it shortly after the groups were drawn. So forget who will win this group for now and concentrate on the amazing games this group is going to give us. The South American sportswear marketers start with a tough test, facing the mean defence of Croatia. It's not the Croatia of old, the ones that finished third back in France eight years ago, and going forward they are weak. Dado Prso and Bosko Balaban is not a strike force I would back, even against an iffy Brazilian backline.
But then we have what for me will be one of the games of the tournament: Brazil v Australia. Two sides who are great going forward and suspect at the back. Ageing defences on both sides combined with some attacking flair means we will see goals, and probably quite a lot of them. The Aussies will score, but Brazil will score more. Check for the under/over line and odds for this one and look to back over 2.5 goals, or even over 3 goals if you can get anything close to evens or 10/11 on it. Japan are the other side in this group and are Brazil's final match, but by then Ronaldinho and his mates will have qualified so could well ease off here. Not that that means Japan will get anything from the game, mind. But the Japanese could do Croatia this time round which means it'd be between the Japanese and Australians for second place. Guus Hiddink against Zico and it's hard to split these guys as both will drive their sides on. The winner of the game between these two should go through to the next round, but at this stage I wouldn't like to say who that will be.
They were utterly, utterly rubbish four years ago but things should be a bit different this time around for France. Cisse is out with a broken leg but they still have Henry and the enigmatic Trezeguet up front. Oh yeah, and some fella called Zidane has been drawn out of retirement to help get this side moving again and restore some glory to the national team. They have also blown the dust off Thuram and Makelele too, probably to help clear up after Boumsong. But even with that muppet in their side they should win this group at a canter, and the odds reflect that as they are a skinny 4/9 to top these four.
The Swiss and South Korea will battle it out for the second spot and the 56 per cent profit that comes from dutching forecasts on France-South Korea and France-Switzerland isn't a bad sum to pursue. The Koreans did well on home soil last time out but they are a bit goal-shy these days. With the Swiss really boring the arse off me with their approach to the game, the second qualification spot will probably go down to goal difference so if the Koreans can bang in a few goals against Togo they may get through all right. Oh yeah, Togo. They will really struggle but will have a great time on the big stage. You can get 8/13 about Togo finishing bottom of the pile and that's not a bad bet either.
The final four teams include perennial underachievers Spain. They always look so great in qualifying (although this time they were runners up to Serbia & Montenegro while blooding so many youngsters) and then disappoint in the finals. And they have been put with Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia this time around. I'm going to be bold here and say lay Spain at 1.66 to win the group as I think that honour will fall to World Cup debutants Ukraine. Sure, Raul and Torres are great strikers but Shevchenko is something else and he has decent attacking options around him too. There are goals in this Ukrainian side, enough to get at least six points from this group, probably seven and possibly the maximum nine depending on their opener with Spain.
Tunisia are blossoming into one of the African sides most likely to make future World Cups and they have the experience they need to finish above the unsettled Saudi side, who recently appointed a new coach. Saudi Arabia struggle against keen European sides and top spot in Group H may be decided by who sticks the most past Saudi Arabia; as I indicated before I have to go with Ukraine on that front. Besides, winning the group means a far easier draw in the next round, as it'll be Switzerland or South Korea.
Poland versus England and Sweden against Germany is what comes from the predicted outcomes of groups A and B. That sees England and Germany through safely enough. Argentina should see off Mexico with Portugal beating Ivory Coast. The Czech Republic will be too good for Australia (or Japan if they get through) but the game between Brazil and Italy is interesting. I can see Italy winning that one. France will eliminate Spain, with Ukraine strong enough up front to get past Switzerland or South Korea. England then lose to Argentina, albeit narrowly. France put out the Czechs, the hosts see off Portugal and Italy beat Ukraine. The Argies will defeat France and then face Italy in the final with Germany being eliminated in a tough semi-final. On 9 July Argentina will lift the trophy with Italy runners-up.
Show me the money
OK, you've told me how it's all going to pan out. Now how do I make any money from that? You could back the predicted outcome in each of the games, but I have been known to be wrong in the past. I suggest trading by initially backing the following teams in the outright market on Betfair: Czech Republic at 40, Mexico at 70, Ukraine at 75, Ivory Coast at 100 and Poland at 200. There is a case for leaving Ivory Coast out of that list and including both Switzerland (130) and South Korea (270) but I don't fancy that option myself.
What I will be looking to do with the five teams I will be backing is to trade out of the bet by laying them off at lower odds once the knockout stages begin. My hope is that the odds of each team will drop significantly once they get out of their group. You still won't see Poland come down to 10/1 or whatever but if the odds drop from 200 to, say, 150 or even 100 you can have a nice profit.
You back Poland for a tenner at 200 on Betfair. If they win the tournament you pocket a profit of £1,990; if they don't win you lose a tenner. But when their odds drop you lay them back and turn that potential profit into guaranteed profit. Poland's odds drop to 100 and you lay them at that price for a tenner. Now if Poland win the trophy you win £1,990 on the back and lose £990 on the lay for a nice round £1,000 profit. But if they don't win you win a tenner on the lay to replace the one you lose on the back.
But suppose you back them at 100 for £20 instead of £10. You will now win £10 regardless of how the Poles do. If they win: £1,990 (back win) - £1,980 (lay loss) = £10. If they don't win: £20 (lay win) - £10 (back loss) = £10. Easy enough really, innit? The idea is to do that for all five teams, laying at as low a price as possible to maximise profits, and then you will pick up a bit of cash regardless of who wins the World Cup.
This idea of trading on initially big-priced runners can also be applied to the top goalscorer market. A haul of six goals is normally enough to secure this award and it's an unusual event when the winning nation also takes the Golden Boot home with them. So on that basis I am looking to rule out the Argentine strikers. The shortlist here of players to trade on here is: Shevchenko at 27, Borgetti at 55, Drogba at 120 and Cristiano Ronaldo at 130. Look to these fellas to get a few in the group stages and for their price to drop, then lay them off to lock in the profit.
I suggest keeping stakes quite small on these trades and trying to pick up a few quid here and there on this World Cup. The bookies reckon around a billion quid will be punted this summer on this tournament and the papers will be full of big bets, big losses and big wins. I read the other day that someone has put £150,000 on England to win and they didn't even get the best odds on offer. Muppet. You'll also no doubt hear about some fella (or even a little old lady) who makes a fortune off a small accumulator this time round. But most punters will lose a few quid to their bookmaker so I suggest you stick to the steady profit approach of picking up sure profits through trades. By staking small on the trades you will lose less if I am wrong and the prices go out rather than in.
The start of a World Cup always seems to see a whole bunch of new rules from FIFA as to what deserves a booking or sending off and this one is no different. Referees will be clamping down on lunging, various acts of time-wasting (such as throwing the ball to a team-mate to take the throw-in), shirt-pulling and general bad behaviour. Wearing jewellery will get you booked too, so take that off. But keep your shirt on because taking that off is worth a yellow card. And of course we all know that football officials are power-hungry menaces to footballing society and that many of them want to make a name for themselves in Germany and they will do this by booking whoever so much as looks at them a bit funny during the group games. Then FIFA will realise that it's all gone a bit OTT and tell refs to chill a bit and ease up on the cautions. It happens every time and there is no reason to suggest this year is any different. Which is nice as trends like this mean money for us.
The spread on total number of yellow cards shown in the 64 games is now 270-280 and I suggest going high on this line (buying it, in spread parlance). When the rush of yellows comes in the opening group games the line will go up as the market reacts and punters think "oof, there could easily be more than 300 cards shown if they carry on at this rate." And that's the key: it won't carry on at that rate. So close the bet towards the end of the group stages (or before then if there are rumblings in the press that FIFA are about to tell refs to calm down) when the line is higher than it is presently by going low (selling) that spread. That will lock in the difference between the 280 you bought and the value you sold as profit. So if you can sell at 300 you will lock in 20 times your stake as pure profit regardless of the final total of bookings.
I don't really care what your name is. Oh, little 'r', OK. Nothing in this column will make you rich but it should hopefully net you a few quid throughout the tournament and that has to be better than losing. And it should pay for a few beers at least, as well as providing a bit of interest during the football because there will be several really awfully dull games and during such matches it is always nice to sit back and think "I don't care what happens here because my profit is already secure and guaranteed."
All prices quoted accurate and available at the time of writing. It pays to shop around as many bookies as possible looking for the best price so I suggest using Oddschecker to help on that front. Don't bet more than you can afford. And don't blame me if this all turns out to be a big bunch of arse.