The world’s most popular sport, played by kids, amateur adults, and professionals in every country in the world, is soccer. Bettors from outside the US may not realize it, but the game they call football goes by a different moniker in the US. Because Americans use the word “football” to refer to the gridiron game played in the NFL, a new word was needed. Casual sports fans in the US know the European game of football as “soccer,” after college student slang for rugby.
Estimates of the number of soccer players worldwide vary; FIFA, the governing body of international soccer competition, estimates that 5% of the world’s population is playing a game of soccer at any given moment. That’s a massive number, in the hundreds of millions. While the majority of soccer games are casual competitions between friends, professional leagues exist the world over. Gamblers who like soccer can take their pick from dozens of major pro leagues, including FIFA, the largest and most-organized of all. 206 countries currently participate in FIFA competition, making it the largest pro sports organization in the world.
All of those stats and figures add up to one conclusion – football (or, if you’re from the US, soccer) is the most-played, most-watched, and most beloved of all modern sports. Sports bettors can wager on football contests year round, and a big chunk of the money gamblers bet on sports each year comes from soccer/football wagers.
Handicapping & Soccer Betting
One of the troubles facing people who want to handicap games in this sport is the size of the pool of games available for betting. Between FIFA, country-specific leagues, and even amateur and collegiate games, it would be impossible to fully comprehend the world of football. Handicappers tend to be at their best in niche sports, where they can study a small number of players and use that inside info to out-research the oddsmakers.
One way to improve your handicapping skills for this particular sport is to focus on one big league, rather than spreading your wagers (and your research) across a massive number of rosters, teams, and individual stats. The FIFA World Cup, played every four years, is a good example of a soccer competition that’s easier to handicap; with just thirty-two teams (each with a roster of 23 players), you only have a little over 700 total players to look into.
Compared to American college basketball, for just one example, handicapping the entirety of all World Cup teams is eight times easier in terms of pure research.
But handicapping should not be the only aspect of your football betting strategy – because the sport is popular all over the world, it’s easy to find different lines and odds. That means it’s easy to shop for the best possible value. Finding the differences between odds at different books and placing bets based on the potential return for your investment is more important than gaining an all-inclusive understanding of every player in a given league.
How to Read Soccer Odds
Different books will show soccer odds in different ways, usually depending on what part of the world they’re in. No matter how they represent the odds, they’ll be listed next to a team’s name. Everything you need to know to make a football wager is in that string of numbers.
Fractional Odds in Soccer Betting
Because of the popularity of football betting in the UK, fractional odds are the most common. Outside of horse racing, few sports use fractional odds as their go-to format. A fractional odd is something like 2/3, 6/1, or 5/4. Sports bettors may be more familiar with decimal point odds, like 2.5 or 3.75, but it’s easy enough to turn a fractional odd into a more familiar decimal one, especially since the world’s best online sportsbooks have built-in calculators that let you see the odds in any format you’d like.
The biggest difference between soccer and other sports oddsmakers work on is the way the wager is shown on the game board. A quick and dirty example of fractional odds follows:
Barcelona vs. Arsenal
#1 : 1.8 / #X : 3.2 / #2: 3.7
That string of digits looks complex at first, but once you’ve placed your first bet, you’ll be able to easily decipher the game’s odds. The team listed first (in this case, Barcelona) will always be the home team, with the visitor listed second. The number 1 in our example refers to Barcelona, while the number 2 represents Aresenal. The letter X signifies the odds of a draw.
For the sake of making these wagers easy to understand, let’s imagine a bettor placing a $10 wager on this contest. A $10 bet on Barcelona would pay off the decimal odds (1.8, or 0.8/1 in fractional form) multiplied by your bet ($10), for a payout of $18 should that wager win. The same bet on Arsenal (at 3.7 decimal odds, or 2.7/1 as a fraction) means you’d win $37 (3.7 times 10, your original wager) if Arsenal wins.
Betting on the draw is another feature not common in most of the world’s sports – in the example above, a $10 bet on the draw gets multiplied by the book’s odds of a draw happening (3.2 or 11/5 in fractional form) for a payout of $32.
1x, 2x, and ½ Bets in Soccer Gambling
Soccer gambling is further complicated by most books offerings’ of 1X, 2X, and 1/2 bets. These wagers won’t pay off as much if they win, but are generally safer bets, and often good opportunities for high-value investments for gamblers who think long-term.
A 1X bet is a wager that the home team will win or the game will end in a draw. Using our example above, a 1X bet would pay off if Barcelona beats Arsenal OR if the teams tie.
A 2X bet is a wager on the visiting team to win or for the game to end in a tie. Using our above example, a 2X bet means you think Arsenal will pull off the upset road win OR the teams will end the game in a draw.
A 1/2 bet is a wager that either team will win. The only way to lose on a ½ bet in soccer is if the game ends in a tie. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter which side wins; as long as there is a clear winner, your bet pays off.
Totals Betting in Soccer
Over/Under bets are common in sports gambling; wagers on the total number of goals scored in a given match. If you don’t think your handicapping skills are enough to pick a winner, you can instead bet that the book’s points total is too low (meaning you bet the over) or that the book predicts a final score that’s too high (meaning you bet the under).
Making Soccer Picks
Because so many leagues, players, and rule differences exist between the world’s soccer leagues, it may seem impossible to develop any sort of strategy for picking soccer winners. But if you practice safe gambling strategy (not wagering more than 1 or 2% of your bankroll on any one event) and know how to shop for the best lines, you’ve got something of an edge against the book.
Remember when placing soccer bets that most books, especially those outside the United States, are a thousand times more familiar with the game, the teams involved, and the intangible factors that affect game outcomes than you are. Stick to your budget, shop for the best lines, and you’ll be on your way to making smart soccer bets.