Euro Soccer Primer
by Trevor Whenham - 06/05/2008
Euro 2008 gets under way this weekend. Outside of the World Cup, this tournament, which takes place every four years, is the biggest and most important soccer tournament in the world. If you are a North American sports bettor then chances are pretty good that you don't spend much time, effort or money betting on soccer. That's understandable, but this is one of those times when you really should. The structure of the tournament and the amount of attention the world will be paying to it means that betting opportunities abound. Bodog and several other books have not only lines on all of the games available, but also dozens of props on the action. If you haven't been paying attention to the seemingly endless build up for this tournament, this will help you get up to speed with the basics of Euro soccer betting.
First, the basics of the tournament. There are 16 teams participating, and they have been broken down into four groups of four teams. Each team will play the other three teams in its group, and the two teams with the most points in each group will move onto the single-elimination round that will lead to the winner. The favorite to win it all is Germany, with Spain, Italy and Portugal behind them. Austria, the co-hosts with Switzerland, are the longest shots in the field, and oddsmakers don't give Poland and Turkey much of a chance, either.
If you want to get into betting this tournament here are seven things you'll want to keep in mind:
Don't fear the draw - North Americans are unaccustomed to thinking that a game could end in a tie. When it's an all-star game it's deeply offensive. The draw is a major component of soccer, though, and that makes it a betting opportunity. In the elimination round the teams will break ties with extra time and then penalty kicks, but not in the group round. In the last tournament in 2004 there were 24 games played, and eight of them were draws. If you take out the seven or so games that were total mismatches then almost half of the competitive games were a draw. Since the payoff on a draw is almost always better than even money, and often significantly so, they are obviously work a look.
Upsets happen - It can be easy to be seduced by the heavy favorites and tradition-rich teams. In a tournament like this, though, teams can and do come from nowhere to upset the major powers. As proof you need to look no further than 2004. Greece was an 80/1 longshot entering the tournament, but they knocked off France and other powers and were the only ones standing at the end. If there is a longshot that suits your fancy, follow them without fear.
Monitor key injuries - Major injuries can have a significant impact on the fate of a team. Italy is highly viewed coming into the tournament, but they had a major setback when captain Fabio Cannavaro had ankle surgery that will keep him out of the tournament. Don't bet on a team based on what you may have heard about it until you make sure that the lineup is intact. An injury doesn't mean you shouldn't bet on a team. You just need to be aware of the circumstances when you make a pick.
Don't get seduced by depth - It can be easy to become impressed by a team with a 23-man roster full of stars. It doesn't really matter. Teams start 11 players and can only make three substitutions, so depth is overrated. If your time is limited don't waste your time looking beyond the starting lineups.
Consider rivalries - Rivalries are a big deal in sports, but they can be especially significant in soccer. Hundreds of years of history and tension can play itself out on the soccer field. Teams will get up for their big rivalry games, and the lesser team can often play beyond themselves. Poland and Germany is a classic example - Germany is the clearly superior team, but Poland was able to play them tough in the World Cup.
Look for clashing styles - Opportunities can abound in North American sports when an offensive team meets a defensive one. If you guess which style will be dominant and you are correct then you will usually be able to do well betting both the lines and the totals. The same thing is true in soccer. By looking at the way the teams played in Euro qualifying and in their exhibition matches since then you can see which teams are particularly explosive or stingy.
Read desperation levels - Because a team only needs to finish in the top two to make it through to the second round it is quite common that they can have clinched a spot after just two of their three games. In those cases they won't be inspired to play as hard as they otherwise might, and they may give bench players some playing time. On the other hand, a team that needs to win or be eliminated can play better than we are used to.