2010 World Cup Props Predictions: First Player to Three Goals
by Trevor Whenham - 5/26/2010
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Sports Interaction has a World Cup prop bet available which is perhaps the most interesting of any on the entire tournament - who is going to be the first player to score three goals? This is a very different bet than betting on the Golden Boot for the tournament's top scorer (which I have already looked at) because there is so much more involved, and so much more strategy to consider. Besides the obvious - players that are capable of scoring a lot of goals - you have to look closely at at least three other factors in order to succeed with this bet:
Timing of games - The bet isn't how many games it will take players to score goals, but rather who will be the first one to record three goals. That means that the timing of the games is crucial. A team in Group A or B will have a several day head start on teams in Group G or H in every round of the round robin, so they would have an obvious advantage. That doesn't mean that a winner can't come from a later group, but it does mean that you have to consider that and make sure that the odds properly reflect the difficulty of winning from a later round.
Opponents - The teams that a player faces and the order in which he faces them is just as important as when the games are played. For example, a player in Group F is going to find it much easier to score goals against New Zealand than it will be when they face Italy. If an early game is a shootout then a top player might be able to get all or most of his three goals at once.
Likely team strategy – It's crucial for teams to not relax too much in early games because they can't risk not making it through. It's very possible, though, that teams will pace themselves once things go their way. For example, Spain has a very easy qualifying path ahead of them, and are likely to get the lead fairly early in all three of their games. They have several players who are capable of scoring a lot of goals, but once they get up by a goal or two they may be inclined to slow down the pace and concentrate on defense to ensure that they still have a lot left on the plate when their games really matter. It's also possible that a coach will rest his offensive stars for part of early games once the lead is fairly secure so that they are fresh for big games.
With all of that in mind, here's a look at how the bet breaks down:
Lionel Messi, Argentina (6/1) - His favoritism is sound - he's the best offensive talent in the world, and he plays in Group B so his games come early. Nigeria, the first opponent, played sound defense in qualifying, but are inexperienced and likely vulnerable against a potent attack like Messi can unleash. South Korea and Greece aren't exactly brick walls, either. Messi stands a good chance of pulling this off.
Wayne Rooney, England (6/1) - Rooney is in Group C, so he'll be a day behind Messi in his second and third games. His first game is against the U.S., and we've seen several occasions in the last year or so in which the Americans have gotten lax on defense. Algeria and Slovenia will be vulnerable as well. Rooney should be motivated to make up for his frustrating World Cup in 2006, and the team should be flying high. He does have some nagging injury issues that make me a bit nervous, though.
Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina (7/1) - I'm surprised the odds are so low here. Higuain took his time deciding whether he would play for France or Argentina, so he didn't make his debut with the national team in a recognized game until last October. He has only played a small handful of games, and has only scored twice. Messi is likely to get the first-level opportunities for the team, so Higuain is more of a risk than this price warrants.
David Villa, Spain (9/1) - If Villa was in a different group he'd be a great bet. He's stuck in Group H, though, so every other sniper in the field will get their shot before he does. Still, you can't ignore him. He's the favorite to win the Golden Boot for the tournament's top goal scorer, and he's got a very favorable group which should allow him to thrive. I'm not sure if I could back him here, but the price does seem reasonably fair.
Luis Fabiano, Brazil (11/1) - This is a very intriguing and attractive option. Fabiano will be handicapped by playing late like Villa is - he's in Group G. He's worth a look for one big reason, though - he's playing North Korea first. Little is known about North Korea because most of their players play in domestic leagues, but it's hard to imagine that they are anywhere near where they need to be to compete with Brazil. The Brazilians enjoy humiliating teams when they can, and Luis Fabiano would benefit from a loose early game. Their second game against Ivory Coast isn't likely to be a defensive clinic, either.
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