The Big Bet Manifesto: 20 rules to live by at the World Cup
Make the smart bets and avoid the silly ones with these gambling guidelines for this summer's tournament in Russia.
1. Go with an outsider to win the Golden Boot
Three of the five players to either win or tie for the Golden Boot during the last two World Cups were available at prices of 100/1 or more.
With an average winning price of 62/1 during the last five tournaments, don’t be afraid to look beyond the favourites.
2. Back a big name to win the Golden Ball
The panel tend to plump for stars when choosing their Player of the Tournament, with Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Romario winning the award in four of the last six World Cups.
So take your pick of Messi, Neymar or Antoine Griezmann this time around, who are all available at around 10/1.
3. Get behind the hosts
Five of the last six countries to host a World Cup progressed to the knock-out stages after winning their respective groups, including both Japan and South Korea in 2002.
In a weak group alongside Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Russia should be a safe bet to at least make it into the last 16.
4. Don’t fear the Group of Death
Costa Rica proved in 2014 that an unfancied side can still progress despite a seemingly disastrous draw.
Facing Spain and Portugal in Group B is a tricky task for Morocco, but that shouldn’t put you off backing one of the genuine dark horses of the tournament, who should earn a winnable tie in the next round if they do manage to progress.
5. Keep tabs on Mo Salah
Egypt’s hopes of progressing from Group A rest entirely on Salah’s recovery from his shoulder injury, and they could be the worst team in the tournament if the Liverpool forward isn’t close to his best.
The Pharaohs have scored one goal in their last four matches with Salah out of action, and that was in a 1-1 draw with Kuwait.
6. Ignore qualifying
Robert Lewandowski bagged a record-tying 13 goals for Poland in Euro 2016 qualifying, but went on to score just once in the actual tournament.
No player has ever top-scored in qualifying and gone on to win the Golden Boot at a World Cup, so don’t be surprised if the 29-year-old fails to once again fails to capitalise on his haul of 16 goals in the build-up to this tournament.
7. Bet on cards when Panama play
This summer’s happy-to-be-here team have no chance of advancing from Group G, but they do have plenty of experience – with five players over the age of 34, each with a century of caps – and a nasty streak.
This report from a March ‘friendly’ against Denmark suggests the Panamanians will make it a priority to rough up the more talented sides in their group.
8. Back the South Americans in the group stage
Five of the six South American sides qualified for the knockout rounds at the 2014 World Cup, and five of five progressed in 2010.
With favourable draws for Uruguay, Colombia and Peru to back up regular contenders Brazil and Argentina, the continent ought to enjoy similar success this time around.
9. Back the Europeans in the knockout stages
European sides have won nine of the 10 World Cups based in their own continent, with Brazil’s 1958 triumph in Sweden the only exception.
Six European nations made it to the quarter-finals at France 98, while Italy, France, Germany and Portugal all reached the semis of the 2006 finals in Germany.
10. Check the path to the final
It’s tempting to get behind England to reach the semi-finals, but a probable meeting with either Germany or Brazil in the quarters makes that an ill-advised move.
Instead, plump for sides such as Uruguay with more favourable draws to make it past the last 16, or even into the final four.
11. Go for draws in the dead rubbers
France v Ecuador and England v Costa Rica were both boring 0-0 draws in 2014, and that’s the scoreline to back every time two teams with nothing to play for meet in the final match of the group stage.
12. Don’t trust Argentina
Lionel Messi and co reached the final four years ago but were unconvincing in the group stage, grinding out narrow wins against Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia.
Having lost to Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia in qualifying before scraping through on the last day, they’re the most vulnerable of the sides at the top of the market.
13. Track travel distances
Travel had a real impact on team performance in Brazil four years ago, and it should do again in Russia.
Colombia, for example, should benefit from facing the shortest total round trip of any side in the group stage this time around.
14. Take advantage of Nigeria’s dodgy ‘keeper
The Super Eagles are almost certainly going to start 19-year-old Francis Uzoho in goal in Russia.
Based on this evidence, you should go ‘over’ on goals for Nigeria’s opponents if he’s between the sticks.
15. Know your refs
It pays to have a bit of knowledge about the men in black when betting on cards this summer.
New Zealand’s Matthew Conger averaged over six cards per match in qualifying – the most of any ref – while Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan doled out fewer than two bookings a game.
16. Always side with Germany on penalties
It’s not a myth – the world champions really are the best from the spot, winning all four of their World Cup shoot-outs to date.
17. Go BTTS: No in the knock-out stages
There’s plenty of value in backing against goals when sides tighten up in the later stages.
At the last three World Cups, both teams have scored in just 19 of 45 knockout matches (42 per cent), and only five of 21 games from the quarter-finals onwards (24 per cent).
18. Don’t be fooled by Belgian bullies
Belgium were the joint-highest scorers in UEFA qualifying, but 25 of their 43 goals came against Cyprus and Gibraltar. Only three came against Greece, who finished second in their group.
A 0-0 draw in a recent warm-up friendly against Portugal suggests Roberto Martinez’s side will be nowhere near as prolific against more competent sides.
19. Go big on goals in the third-place playoff
The third-place playoffs at the last four World Cups have finished 3-2, 3-1, 3-2 and 3-0. In fact, the last time under 2.5 goals were scored in the tournament’s least meaningful game was all the way back in 1974.
Teams always go for it in the one game in which they have nothing to lose, so you can afford to have some fun as well.
20. Don’t bet on England
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