by Celso Chamochumbi - 4/24/2006
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The betting tendencies for soccer are similar enough to those that characterize other major sports.
Greg Jorssen, spokesperson for Bodog, observes that "in the World Cup, most of the action comes in on the most known teams, and usually those teams are the favorites." Furthermore, "customers generally bet the over in soccer, with the exception of the Italian leagues where the customers like to bet the under."
The familiar patterns notwithstanding, there are some intricacies behind betting the 'total' in World Cup soccer that merit closer scrutiny.
Jorssen explains that "a standard 2½ goals total is used by the industry, with a moneyline attached to it." The moneyline will move to reflect betting patterns, but never the amount of goals.
It is also important to note that when factoring totals numbers for World Cup games, particularly after the first round, the betting frame only includes the 90 minutes of regulation. Thus, the goals scored in the penalty-kick shootouts do not figure against the 'total' number. Since the World Cup format expanded to 32 teams in 1998, the average goals per game during tournament play was 2.67 and 2.52, in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, respectively.
In 1998, there were a total of 171 goals scored in the 64 games. A total of three or more goals was registered in 36 of the 64 games, making the 'over' a good wager 57 percent of the time.
During the first round of that competition, 25 of the 48 games featured three or more goals, making the 'over' register in 52.8 percent of the games. In the second, or elimination round, the high goal-scoring trend continued as nine of the 16 games recorded three or more goals. This made the 'over' good on 56.2 percent of the games.
On the other hand, in 2002, 161 goals were scored over course of 64 games. Notably, a total of three or more goals only occurred in 26 of the 64 matches, leading the 'over' to register in only 41 percent of the games.
Played in both Japan and Korea, only 21 of the 48 (43.7 percent) games of the first round tallied three or more goals. The trend continued during the tournament's last sixteen games, as only 5 of the 16 matches (31.2 percent) of the elimination phase reached the three-goal mark.
There are strategic considerations to take into account when thinking about the 'total' during group play. Specifically, the tie-breaking format privileges goal differential first, meaning that teams place particularly heavy emphasis on goals scored and goals allowed.
A top-tiered team, therefore, has added incentive to press forward, and pour it on during the initial round. A one-sided victory in a team's first or second games, especially, may signify a major step towards the second round.
A middle-tiered team with realistic aspirations for the second round, may, in turn, approach the group favorite with a modestly-offensive plan. To illustrate such scenario, let us consider Group F, for example.
In Group F, Brazil, Croatia, Australia and Japan will vie for the two spots to advance to the second round. Brazil, the traditional favorite, is expected to run the table. However, Brazil's first opponent, Croatia, is also expected to advance into the second round. Thus, will the Croats stake their chances in trying to upset Brazil; or does it seem more sensible to minimize the goals allowed versus Brazil and to take their stab against weaker foes like Australia and Japan?
The latter approach is quite common for the group phase, and may come into play during other first-round scenarios as well. Group G favorites, France and Switzerland, as well as Group G frontrunners Spain and Ukraine, square off against each other in their respective opening matches. Look for these four teams to approach their debut matches relatively more conservatively.
Additionally, injuries and accumulation of yellow cards are something to track during the first round. A player is suspended in their team's next game after accumulating their second yellow card of the tournament. If a team has already secured a pass to the next round, it is quite common for the coach to sit starters with a yellow card. Such line-up decisions are usually made public in advance to the match, and can also obviously affect the fate of the 'total'.
In short, the past two World Cups offer contrasting examples of goals per game tendencies. Keep in mind, though, that if a tournament featured a lot of goals during group play, that the elimination phase of the competition offered a correspondingly high number of games with the 'over' 2½. Similarly, as in 2002, when the goals per game average was lower, the elimination phase of the tournament registered a low number of 'over' games.