Next week’s World Cup will be the first competition to legalize widespread sports betting in the United States, so many bettors will be looking to bet on the world’s most popular sporting event for the first time.
Since soccer betting options and terminology are a little different than most American sports, let’s go over the basics and then look at a few World Cup specifics.
Three ways: It offers prices for (you guessed it) three different outcomes: either a team win or a draw. When the teams are tied, you can see the money on all three picks. For example, the United States-Wales game is currently listed at +160 for the USA to win, +195 for Wales to win and +195 for a draw. For those used to a two-way line, the three options take a while to work out, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Goal line: This line is a spread like you would find in the NFL or NHL, which is a closer reference. Because there are relatively few goals in soccer, you rarely see the -110 type of goal lines. Instead, the lines are usually skewed to one side or the other. In the USA-Wales example, the USA is currently favored by half a goal, but the price is +145, while Wales is +0.5 -185, as this bet will result in either a win or a draw for Wales. Some games will obviously have huge spreads, such as Argentina scoring a goal and a half against Saudi Arabia at -180.
Asian Handicap: Some books offer quarter-goal increments, which can be confusing for first-time football players who don’t see teams favored by 0.25 goals or points or whatever. A line containing 0.25 or 0.75 means you are splitting your bet between the two nearest half goal lines. Think of it as two and a half bets on two different lines. The easiest way to explain is with an example:
If you place a $10 bet on Argentina at -1.75 goals and Saudi Arabia at even money, you are placing two $5 bets on Argentina, one at -2 and the other 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 of your bet ($5 from the -1.5 part), and the remaining $5 to push to -2, giving you a $5 lead. If Argentina win or draw or lose by exactly one goal, you will lose your entire bet. Asian handicaps can be a good middle option with intermediate odds when you’re not sure which regular line to take. Above/below. It’s very simple, with fewer numbers than most sports. A typical starting point is 2.5 goals, usually with some juice by default. For reference, Premier League games have averaged 2.8 goals per game over the past two seasons. You can usually find alternative lines anywhere from 0.5 goals to at least 4.5 goals, all of which are weighted accordingly, and the default lines are usually 3.5 for the higher scoring teams. You can also find available/overs for each team, each half and combinations of the two.
Two teams to score (yes or no): It’s exactly what it sounds like: you’re betting that each team will score at least one goal, or that each team will not score a goal. This is similar to an over/under bet, but requires an exact result. And don’t get confused with your goals. Regardless of how the ball enters the goal, you are betting on each team to score in the goal column.
No bet: This option is based on a three-way result, meaning you are taking one team to win the match and a draw means the bet is returned. So the USA is +160 to win against Wales and the no line is -135. If the USA wins, you win less money, and if the game is tied, instead of pushing. There are other options for playing without a bet, but drawing a bet is the most common.
Double chance: This bet has several names (such as Team and X), but the game is ultimately the same: you are betting on two sides of a three-way line, usually one team to win or draw, which is the same as playing the game. team +0.5 goals.
Of course, there are dozens of other markets, most of which are similar to other sports. General team and game options include goals, kicks, corners and cards. Which team will score first, when the first goal is scored and much more. Similar choices exist for individual players, and there are countless combinations of these items.
I may have buried the lady here. If there’s one thing you’ll learn from this article, it’s how betting works in the knockout stages. As a general rule, all bets mentioned above in knockout games are settled for 90 minutes and stoppage time only. This means bets will be settled at the end of regulation regardless of what happens in overtime or penalties.
In most books, this rule applies to all bets placed on teams and players. So if you bet on Germany to win the 2014 World Cup final, you won’t win because Germany needed extra time to win 1-0. If you scored a goal anytime bet on Mario Götze, you didn’t cash that ticket when he calculated the winner.
Virtually everyone who bet on football (myself included) has made this mistake, leading to misplaced emotions in overtime and confusion when cashing a ticket or checking a bill. As always, know the rules of your book.
Having said all that, you can bet on which team will advance to the next round without the need for extra time or penalties. These options are usually called something like “avoid” or “qualify” or “lift the trophy” in the finals. You can also win in overtime, take the lead on penalties, etc. You’ll find separate options for specific scenarios like
World Cup Group Futures
In addition to single game betting, tournaments like the World Cup offer many futures opportunities. The simplest group options are to win the group or finish in the top two of the four teams and advance to the playoffs. Most teams have one or two heavy favorites, so you can find lower prices at good prices because soccer is a high variance sport where a goal, foul or bounce can change so much.
A tip if you are betting on the future of the group, there are better options than betting straight on a team to advance or win the group. For example, let’s say you like Mexico to get out of Group C, then Argentina are -1100 favorites and -275 to win the group. There may be more attractive picks than betting Mexico to advance at -135. Consider a double guess bet for both Argentina and Mexico to advance, or an outright Argentina/Mexico 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 seems like a simple game, but it’s important to know how your book determines the bet, whether it’s the actual Golden Boot winner or just the top goalscorer. The difference…
Golden Boot: Awarded by the tournament itself, usually by tiebreakers. At the World Cup, FIFA assisted the first tiebreaker and played the second tiebreaker for the least number of minutes. For example, in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Ellen White scored six goals each. Rapinoe and Morgan each had two assists, White’s goal absent, and Rapinoe was awarded the Golden Boot for playing fewer minutes than Morgan. Top Scorer: Counts the player(s) with the most goals, regardless of the competition’s award rules. In the event of a tie, the books will usually split bets on the number of winners. Meaning, if you bet 40-1 on the top goalscorer and he connects with another player, you will be paid 20-1. If all four players were tied, you would be paid 10-1, and so on.
That’s all: know what you’re betting on and how your book is paying off potential contacts. Also, don’t confuse the Golden Boot with the Ballon d’Or, an award given to the best player of the tournament by a committee selected before the finals. The winner doesn’t have to be a champion either, as six Ballon d’Or winners have not won the World Cup. These are just some of the many betting options available for soccer in general and the World Cup in particular. Enjoy the tournament!
Former ESPN Senior Researcher Paul Carr is Senior Director of Content for TruMedia and is covering his fourth Men’s World Cup.