The first World Cup I traded on Betfair was back in 2006. This will be my fifth, there was one more in Betfair’s history back in 2002, but I don’t have enough data from that tournament.
However, excluding odds data, we can use more general statistics to look for trends.
Let’s start with an important note. You shouldn’t use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost for support rather than illumination.
With that in mind, I will take an objective look at the key statistics at previous World Cups and see what they have taught us.
How to profit before a ball has been kicked
Before we dive into the statistics, our first opportunity occurs before a ball has been kicked. Team news is as relevant at the World Cup as it is during the domestic season.
In 2018 we had two stand-out moments that presented excellent trading opportunities.
James Rodriguez looked like he was going to be sidelined with an injury during the competition, something we are likely to see more of this year.
As a result, even before the match started, the odds-on Columbia began to drift significantly. Laying Columbia before the start of the game and hitting the cash-out button just before kick-out would have netted you a very tidy profit.
In more hilarious and unexpected circumstances. The Egyptian FA accidentally release a team sheet for their game against Saudi Arabia without Mo Salah in it.
The response from the betting market was brutal, and Egypt’s odds shot out on the news.
Only to shoot back in again when a new team sheet was issued ten minutes later confirming that, in fact, Mo Salah was playing. It’s one of the most unique opportunities I’ve seen on pre-off trading at such a high-profile tournament!
Keep an eye on team news, injuries and future match odds to take advantage of these opportunities at this World Cup.
How goals vary across different stages
Since 1966 the average number of goals at a tournament has averaged 2.58 and fluctuates from year to year, hitting a low for Italia’90.
But it’s important to note that there is a bias towards the group stages as far as goals are concerned. That makes sense, as you would expect the most significant mismatches to occur in the group stages between seeded and non-seeded teams.
If you have a betting or trading strategy looking for many goals, you should look at the group stages. If your betting or trading strategy doesn’t want any goals, then the knockout stages are where you will find those opportunities.
Again, this makes sense as you can get away with a bad result in the group stages, but the in the knockout phase, the incentive to not concede a goal is high.
If you are looking to bet or trade on under 2.5 goals, the World cup follows a similar pattern to that we have seen in other tournaments.
The first round of group matches are cautious and tends to create lower-scoring matches. Since 1982 an average of 2.42 goals have been scored in the first group round. But the second and third round sees an increased rate of goals, closer to 2.60 on average. This can be explained by teams needing to get a result and the pressure growing as the tournament progresses.
I’ve seen a tendency for this not to be reflected in the market immediately, and if you want to take advantage of that, betting on the next fixture as a match unfolds can be a really smart way to beat the closing line.
As we move into the group stages, the average number of goals drops as teams are more worried about conceding. Defences indeed win knockout tournaments.
Of course, this will be fixture-dependent, so you can look at the group stages and pick groups likely to produce more or fewer goals.
Currently, simulations suggest groups C & D will produce the most goals, while Groups E & A the lowest.
An interesting aspect of the 2018 World Cup was the introduction of VAR. To summarise, what we saw was different; were more penalties and fewer offsides. We also saw more goals scored from set pieces. This is likely to be the case again in 2022.
Keeping an eye on injuries and team news is a great way to profit before a ball has even been kicked.
Initial group games are typically tense and cagey, and fewer goals are scored. This means that the chance of shock results is higher.
Focus on bets or trades that benefit from fewer goals or ‘weaker’ teams doing better than expected.
As the group stages progress, the incentive to score will increase, and more goals will be scored on average. You should look for those opportunities, especially in the final group games.