Betting on World Cup Teams After They Have No Chance to Advance
As I write this, we are only four games into the second round of the round robin for the 2018 World Cup, and already three teams have been knocked out of contention for the elimination round. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been eliminated in Group A, and Morocco is out in Group B. They all have a game left to play, and there will be several more teams that join them before the second round is done. This creates a situation that is interesting for bettors - teams playing a game with nothing left to play for. Most of those teams are winless going into their final game as well. It would seem obvious to bet against these teams, but that isn't always the case. Here are five things to consider when betting these eliminated teams in their final game:
Who are they playing?: This seems like an obvious question, but it can be easy to overlook - or at least downplay. In Group A, for example, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the two eliminated, winless teams, and both play each other. Needless to say, then, both teams won't stay pointless. On the other hand, eliminated Morocco has to face a Spanish squad that is fighting for first place in the group, so they will be in a tough position. As is so often the case in the World Cup, the fate of a team in a given game has everything to do with their opponent and the circumstances of the game.
What is on the line for the opponent?: We touched on this above, but it is worth a closer look. It would be easy to assume that a strong team advancing to the elimination rounds would be in very good shape against an eliminated team that hasn't had much going for them in the tournament. While that can often be the case, it isn't always. Does the better team need the win? Sometimes that just isn't the case. Spain and Portugal both want to win Group B for bragging rights over their bitter rival, but it doesn't really make any difference if they are going to finish first or second. They will play Russia or Uruguay in the next round regardless, and it doesn't really make much of a difference. Neither of these teams can be certain to play at a high level. They may think it makes more sense to rest themselves to be readier for a game that really matters. If the stakes for a team are more significant, though - like if a win means avoiding a much tougher opponent in the next round - then their effort will be stronger, and the eliminated team is in much worse shape.
Have they been bad or unlucky?: Egypt is a team that has had some rough luck, and probably deserved better. In their opener against Uruguay they gave up the only goal of the game 89 minutes in. And Russia took the lead on a goal that Egypt scored on themselves. Egypt is a dangerous team going into their final game. Morocco, on the other hand, wasn't a particularly good team coming in, so that they have lost both of their games to date is far from a surprise - though they probably should have beaten Iran. Because of the relative quality of the teams bettors need to perceive them very differently.
What were expectations coming in?: I thought Egypt had a good chance of advancing. So, likely, did most of the citizens of Egypt. Teams like that could be disillusioned and frustrated and may not be at their best. Or they could be eager to show that they are better than they have looked - even if it won't mean anything. On the other hand, teams like South Korea, Australia and Costa Rica weren't given much respect or chances of success coming in, so if they go into their final games with no chance of advancing they would be pretty much exactly where they should be.
What is the public perception?: Because the betting public isn't generally very sophisticated, and in an event like this they can be very influenced by reputations, bandwagons and national loyalties, there can be real opportunities for value in these spots. If the betting action is heavily tilted towards the favorite in a game but that favorite isn't likely to be fully motivated, or if the underdog is better than people are likely to think, there can be some nice value. Most bettors won't spend the time really evaluating these eliminated teams - they'll just be lazy and make assumptions. The more work you do, then, the bigger your advantage is.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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