World Cup Qualifying Futures
by Trevor Whenham - 03/06/2009
It seems hard to believe, but the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is just over a year away. That means that qualifying is underway. South Africa has a spot secured as host, leaving 31 more spots for the 199 teams that have entered the qualification process. The most qualifying spots - 13 - are allocated to teams from Europe. That only makes sense since that's where the biggest number of competitive teams are located.
There are 53 European teams competing for those 13 spots. Qualifying games are underway ad have been since the end of Euro 2008 last August. The teams are split into eight groups of six teams and one group of five teams. The nine group winners qualify automatically, while the eight best second place teams will play a home-and-home series for the four remaining spots. Each team plays each other team in its group twice, and the game against the worst team in each of the eight six team groups won't be considered to determine the best second place teams. Games will continue until October of this year.
No team has played more than five games, so there is a lot of soccer left to be played. Bodog has odds listed for each group, and the futures offer some interesting value. Here's a group-by-group look:
Group 1 - This is a tough group. Three teams - Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden - are all legitimate World Cup teams. Both Portugal and Sweden have faltered early with two draws each. Portugal is still the favorite at 7/5. Given their depth and experience on the international stage I still expect them to come through over the long haul. Of the other two, Denmark, the current group leader, has the best chance of winning it. They are at 3/2.
Group 2 - If Group 1 is among the toughest then this one is among the easiest. Greece is in the lead, and they are very likely to stay there. Their odds aren't particularly attractive at 10/11, but the price is fully justified.
Group 3 - Another one that isn't particularly competitive. The Czech Republic is by far the class of the field, and they are playing like it. They are at 2/3 in the future pool, and that's a fully justified price.
Group 4 - It would be nice to think that the Russians could pull off an upset. They are a feisty, talented team, and they are at a nice price at 9/4. Unfortunately, they drew into a group with Germany, the heavy 2/7 favorite. Germany is perhaps the best team in Europe right now, so that probably leaves Russia to win their spot in the second place playoff. I wouldn't touch Germany at that price, though.
Group 5 - There is just one possible explanation for this group - Spain bribed the people picking the groups. That's the only way that they could possibly have wound up in a group so easy. None of the other five teams - Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, and Estonia - stand anything resembling a reasonable chance of pulling off an upset. Spain is at 1/10 and they should be. The 10 percent payoff there is better than the interest your bank pays and about as secure.
Group 6 - England faces massive pressure this year. They were disappointing in the last World Cup, and the failed to qualify for Euro 2008. They have the talent to do better, and they are playing like they know they can't afford to fail again. They are at 1/5 and look secure in their position. That's bad news for Croatia and Ukraine - both are good enough to make the field, but only one will.
Group 7 - This is where things get interesting. As you would expect, France is the heavy favorite to win this group at 4/5. The problem, though, is that they have struggled in early qualifying. They are 1-1-1 in their first three games, and are behind both Serbia and Lithuania. Of those, the Serbians have by far the better chance of pulling off the shocking upset. They are at 11/4, and are certainly worth a look at that price.
Group 8 - Another one that is no contest. Italy is at 1/6 and should cruise. They are way ahead of the pack already, tied with Ireland. The Irish don't have nearly the depth or talent to stay there.
Group 9 - The Dutch are a classy team up against four badly outmatched teams. They are another very secure investment at 1/10.