The below panel discussion is part of Matchbook’s World Cup eBook – a free 30+ eBook covering group analysis, tips, dark-horses, qualify selections, and a look at the Golden Boot market. It’s essential reading if you’re betting on the World Cup this summer.
How do you approach betting on the World Cup? What are the biggest opportunities for bettors?
Mark O’Haire: With reasonable caution. Unearthing hard and relevant evidence on each team involved can be tricky, but the World Cup can present many opportunities when looking outside the obvious candidates. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can reel off the starting XIs from France or Germany but there’s a lack of knowledge and awareness when encountering mid to lower ranked nations.
Mark Stinchcombe: The biggest opportunities are often to oppose lazy media narratives.
Always go with your own judgement and/or other impartial bettors. In the knockout stages, oppose goals. The average goals in World Cup matches this century is 2.44 (256 matches). This reduces to 1.94 in knockout matches – a 20% decay.
Nick Goff: Tournament football is a very different discipline to domestic betting. We see these teams play together so infrequently that there’s no doubt it’s harder to assess relative team strength for bookmakers, syndicates and individuals alike. But don’t be put off by it being harder, hard is good! If it’s hard, everyone will make mistakes and our aim is to capitalise on them. The trade off is that we’ll make plenty of mistakes ourselves – even the best bettors will in these tournaments – so focus on making more right decisions than wrong ones.
Brodders: For me, the best opportunities normally present themselves by going against teams that are overrated by the market because they are a big name or have got some well-known players, whereas some of the smaller nations may have some really good players that are less well known. In this World Cup I’ll be looking to be against Argentina and Belgium at every opportunity in the match betting.
Which group do you think may provide the best betting opportunities?
Nick Goff: The tightest looking group appears to be Group H which arguably makes it the most interesting betting wise.
Group H possibly contains a false favourite. I’m in no hurry to be with Colombia here at the prices, and it may make some sense to oppose them with Poland, who are a pretty solid and settled outfit, or even more interestingly at a bigger price, Senegal, who have solid Premier League quality throughout their side and the outstanding Koulibaly from Napoli leading from the back.
Mark O’Haire: Value-grabbers have already bled Group A dry but Group D and Group H are perhaps the two most open and well-balanced pools and can therefore throw up plenty of opportunities. The African nations in both groups appear underrated.
Brodders: Group D is going to be fascinating. I’ve mentioned before that I’m going to be against Argentina and this Group is a real Group of Death. I rate Nigeria very highly and this Group should have its share of “shocks” as well as games which could easily have a lot more or a lot less goals than might be expected.
Mark Stinchcombe: Argentina and Croatia look opposable – Argentina needed a Messi hat-trick on the last day of qualification to get here and Croatia often under-perform despite the talent available. Group H is my group of death and is reflected in the odds with by far the shortest range in prices to win the group.
Adam Chernoff: The top heavy groups, (B, E, and G). I say top heavy because the underdog pricing bias comes into play often during World Cup. Big favourites tend to be priced more accurately to their true number while underdogs eat up extra margin. There is little shame paying up in the World Cup. There are no style points in betting.
Which teams might prove a surprise package?
Brodders: I think this will be a breakout tournament for African football and I fully expect to see an African team in the Quarter Finals. I really like Nigeria, Senegal, and Egypt to do well.
Adam Chernoff: Serbia. They get a nice jump out of the gate against Costa Rica. Los Ticos surprised four years ago and many will back them to do the same but they are well out of shape.
With a big opening win, Serbia can play confidently and rely on their talented midfield to upend Switzerland, a team that enters the tournament over-priced and overvalued.
Nick Goff: I’d define “surprise package” as any team outside the top ten or so in the outright betting capable of making the last 16 and, on their day, having a decent chance at upsetting a seed in the first knockout game. Anyone succeeding in that is then at the quarter final stage, has already probably done far better than the majority expected of them, and is then just two one-off matches from a World Cup final. Denmark, Switzerland, Serbia and the aforementioned Senegal are all teams you could make a case for achieving this.
Mark Stinchcombe: Egypt are an organised and defensively strong outfit with star-man Mohamed Salah who can win games on his own. Peru lost just two of their last twelve qualifiers, including holding Argentina twice and have since beaten Croatia and Iceland on neutral ground both by more than one goal. And Senegal possesses a strong spine in Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gueye and Kalidou Koulibaly.
Mark O’Haire: Iran have the ability to frustrate more illustrious opposition in Group B; a knockout place might be beyond them but their defensive discipline could prove problematic for both Portugal and Spain so don’t be too surprised if there’s a major casualty. Elsewhere, I’m sweet on Senegal’s prospects in a finely-balanced Group H.
Who do you think presents the most and the least value in the current outright markets?
Mark O’Haire: Argentina are without a doubt poor value fifth outright favourites; three coaches, six tactical systems, a different starting XI in every qualifier and an overreliance on Lionel Messi means anything better than a quarter-final finish should be deemed a success. Uruguay are in the dark horses bracket and can substantially outperform their outright odds.
Brodders: Argentina at 11.0 are massively over-priced.
Best value I’d say would be any of the African sides I mention above – getting odds of 151.0 – 301.0 in places for them is insulting and far too high.
Adam Chernoff: I do not bet outright markets nor should anyone. Betting into a market that often gets priced up to 130% and is open for more than three years is a mistake. Rolling over wagers on a team will provide a much better payout that outright markets will in a World Cup.
Nick Goff: When you oppose Germany at these tournaments the ingredients are always there for it to become very expensive, but I have a few question marks over them this time and think they’re well under priced. I’m also going to be slightly against Brazil I think, so the top two in the outright betting will likely be bad results for me.
Mark Stinchcombe: It makes sense to concentrate on the favourites and Spain won three of the last five major tournaments and shouldn’t have any problems getting out of the group. Least value is probably Brazil with a reliance on Neymar and a lack of squad depth.
Which players are you looking forward to seeing and who will be absolutely key to their team’s performance?
Brodders: It will be fun to see how Salah translates his club form to the International stage and obviously is vital to Egypt.
Mark O’Haire: Gylfi Sigurdsson’s fitness for Iceland is critical for their chances but Denmark rely on Christian Eriksen’s invention and Mohamed Salah’s form is pivotal if Egypt are to oust hosts Russia from Group A.
I’m looking forward to seeing AZ Alkmaar winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh for Iran.
Mark Stinchcombe: I’m looking forward to seeing Leroy Sane* and Timo Werner for Germany, both just 22, both are absolute superstars in the making. In terms of absolutely key, it’s difficult to look past Neymar for Brazil, who it’s likely that not just his team-mates, but the whole nation will be relying on to take them to glory.
*Since this panel discussion was put together, Germany omitted Sane from its World Cup squad
What are England’s chances?
Mark Stinchcombe: It’s difficult to be too accurate with England’s overall ability, Gareth Southgate has only had 16 matches in charge and has recently changed to a back three system. But a quarter-final against Germany or Brazil looks as good as it gets.
Adam Chernoff: We will know after the first match. Belgium will win the group and Panama won’t win a match. If England does not get a win against a pesky Tunisia side, they won’t advance. England is a massive liability for books yet their price has drifted from 1.28 to 1.38. Bookmakers are taking a pretty telling position against early on…
Mark O’Haire: A kind draw has given the Three Lions a great opportunity to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2006 but that is likely to prove the glass ceiling for Gareth Southgate’s side.
Nick Goff: I think the days of England going off far too short at major tournaments are long behind us in the global betting environment we now live in, and….
…the lack of solid second tier sides like Italy and Holland at this World Cup means that if a few of the biggest guns did have terrible tournaments England are near the top of a pretty short list of teams likely to capitalise.
That said, we can all see where the first XI, never mind the squad, lacks some quality and I’d be in no rush to back them at the current price. It looks about right.
And finally…who is going to win the World Cup?
Mark Stinchcombe: Germany. They have six consecutive semi-finals at major tournaments, a favourable draw and a world class squad.
Adam Chernoff: Bettors should bet on Serbia in their opening match instead of wasting money on the outright winner.
Nick Goff: I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off joining me on a month long ride on the Spain Train.
Mark O’Haire: As always, it’s a fascinating puzzle but I’ve been in Brazil’s camp for the past 12 months and see little reason to walk away from them now.
Thanks for reading our Panel Discussion. We suggest you download Matchbook’s free 30 page World Cup Betting Guide for more insight and tips.