Next week’s World Cup will be the first where sports betting is rampant in the United States, so many first-time bettors will be coming to football to place a bet on the world’s most popular sporting event.
Since soccer betting options and terminology are a little different than most American sports, let’s go through the basics and then look at a few specifics for the World Cup itself.
lines before the game
three-way: This offers prizes for (you guessed it) the three different outcomes: a win for either team or a tie. If the teams are even, you may see plus money for all three options. For example, the USA-Wales game currently lists the USA at +160 to win, Wales at +195 to win and the tie at +195. For those used to two-way lines, three options will take a moment to process, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
goal line: This line is a spread just like you find in the NFL or NHL, which is a closer reference point. Since goals are relatively rare in soccer, you will rarely see -110 types of goal lines. Instead, the lines are usually slanted in one direction or another. In the US Wales example, USA are currently favored by half a goal but the price is +145 while Wales is +0.5 -185 as this bet would give you both a win for Wales and a draw. Some games will of course have larger margins, like Argentina at -180, putting a goal and a half against Saudi Arabia.
Asian Handicap: Some books offer lines in quarter-goal increments, which can be confusing for first-time football bettors who don’t typically see teams favored by 0.25 goals or points or anything else. A line containing 0.25 or 0.75 means you split your bet on the two nearest half goal lines. Think of it as two half bets on two different lines. The easiest way to explain it is with an example:
If you bet $10 Even Money on Argentina -1.75 goals vs Saudi Arabia, you are essentially placing two $5 bets on Argentina, one at -2 and one at -1.5. If Argentina wins by more than two goals, you win the entire $10. If Argentina wins by exactly two goals, you win half your bet ($5 from the -1.5 part) and the other $5 is a push to -2, giving you a $5 lead. If Argentina wins by exactly one goal, or draws, or loses, you lose your entire bet. Asian handicaps can be a good middle option with intermediate odds if you are not sure which regular variant to choose. over under. It’s pretty easy, just with lower numbers than most sports. The usual starting point for an over/under is 2.5 goals, usually by default with a bit of juice on the over. For reference, Premier League games have averaged 2.8 goals per game over the last two seasons. You can usually find alternative lines for 0.5 goals to at least 4.5 goals, all juiced accordingly, and default lines are often 3.5 for higher scoring teams. You will also find Over/Under available for each team individually, for each half and for combinations of both.
Both teams to score (yes or no): That’s exactly what it sounds like: you’re betting on each team to score at least one goal or no team to score. It is similar to betting on an over/under but requires a more accurate result. And don’t get confused by own goals. You are betting on each team to score a goal in their goal column regardless of how the ball enters the net.
Draw no bet: This option is based on three-way result, in the sense that you take a team to win the game and a tie means the bet is returned. So the US has +160 to win against Wales and the draw no bet line is -135. You will of course win less money if the US wins in exchange for a push if the game is a tie. There are other variants of the no-bet game, but a tie without a bet is the most common.
Double chance: This bet has a few different names (like Team and X), but the game is ultimately the same: you get two sides of the three-way line, usually a team to win or draw, which is the same as getting a play team +0.5 goals.
There are obviously dozens of other markets, most of which are similar to those you find in other sports. Common team and game options include goals, shots, corners and cards. There are teams to score first markets, when the first goal will be scored and much more. Similar choices exist for individual players, and there are countless combinations of all of these things.
Maybe I buried the lede here. If there’s one thing to learn from this article, it’s how knockout betting works. As a general rule, in elimination matches, all of the above bets apply to 90 minutes plus injury time only. This means that if a knockout game ends in a draw after regulation time, bets will be settled at the end of regulation time regardless of what happens in extra time or on penalties.
Most books apply this rule to all bets on teams and players. So if you bet on Germany to beat Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final, you probably didn’t win that bet as Germany needed extra time to win 1-0. And if you bet on Mario Gotze, who is a goalscorer all the time, you probably didn’t cash in that ticket when he picked the winner.
Virtually everyone who has ever bet on soccer (myself included) has made this mistake, resulting in misplaced emotions during overtime and confusion when redeeming a ticket or verifying an account. As always, know the rules of your book.
Aside from that, you can bet on which team will advance to the next round, regardless of whether they need extra time or a penalty shootout. These options are usually called something like “advance” or “qualify” or, in the case of a final, “take the trophy”. You’ll also find separate options for specific scenarios like winning overtime, advancing on penalties, etc.
WM group futures
In addition to single match betting, tournaments such as the World Cup offer many futures opportunities. The simplest group options are for a team to win the group or advance to the knockout stage by finishing in the top two of the four teams. Most groups have one or two big favourites, so you can find good value in underdogs as football is a high variance sport where a goal, foul or jump can change so much.
A tip when placing group futures bets is that there are often better ways than just placing a straight bet on a team to progress or win the group. For example, let’s say you want Mexico to get promoted from Group C, where Argentina are absolute favorites at -1100 to advance and -275 to win the group. There might be more appealing options than betting on Mexico to advance at -135. Consider a double prediction bet that both Argentina and Mexico will advance, or an Argentina/Mexico exact order bet, or a bet on Mexico finishing second in the group. The first two options are basically parlays, so the prices may or may not be worth it, but they’re always worth checking out.
One of the most popular futures in any competition is which player will score the most goals. It sounds like a simple game, but it’s important to understand how your book defines betting, whether on an actual Golden Boot winner or simply on top scorer. The distinction is…
Golden Shoe: awarded by the tournament itself, usually with tiebreakers. At the World Cup, FIFA has a first tiebreak with assists and a second tiebreak with fewest minutes played. At the 2019 Women’s World Cup, for example, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Ellen White each scored six goals. Rapinoe and Morgan each had two assists to White’s none, and Rapinoe won the Golden Boot for playing fewer minutes than Morgan. Top Goalscorer: Simply counts the player(s) with the most goals, regardless of a competition’s award rules. In the event of a tie, books usually pay out bets divided by the number of winners. This means if you bet on a top scorer at 40:1 and he is tied with another player, you will be paid out at 20:1. A four-player tie would pay you 10-1, and so on.
All that to say: know what you are betting and how your book pays out potential ties. Also, do not confuse the Golden Boot with the Golden Ball, an award given to the best player of the tournament as voted by a select committee before the final. The winner need not come from the champion either, as six consecutive Golden Ball winners have not won the World Championship. These are just a few of the many betting options available on football in general and the World Cup in particular. Have fun at the tournament!
Former ESPN Senior Researcher Paul Carr is Senior Director of Content for TruMedia covering his fourth Men’s World Championship.