European Championships are about as exciting as any sporting event can be – both as a fan and a bettor. The Olympic soccer tournament intentionally doesn’t compete with those events, and is far less entertaining or prestigious as a result. Like baseball when it was an Olympic sport, the soccer on display in the Olympics is a far cry from the best of the international events, but there are still opportunities for success. Here are six tips to help Olympic handicappers find that success:
Understand the format – The Olympics is different from major world events like the World Cup in one key way – all but three players on the roster must be under 23 years old. This means that the rosters in the Olympics bear very little resemblance to other major international tournaments. It also means that teams that aren’t particularly relevant in major International soccer can have Olympic success – Nigeria won gold in 1996 and Cameroon did the same in 2000. On the flip side, some teams that are dominant internationally don’t have nearly the same level of success in the Olympics. The powerhouse teams from Brazil, for example, has long been a major force in world soccer, but didn’t even qualify for the Olympics in 1992 or 2004. When you are handicapping the Olympic soccer tournament, you should essentially forget everything you know about international soccer and start from scratch. It is far too easy to be biased by what the country is capable of on the bigger stage when that has no bearing on what will really happen.
Who are the older players? – Teams will take different approaches to the selection of the three older players. Some will choose players who just barely miss the cutoff. Others will take top level players who are available and can provide a huge boost for the team. Still others will select older players who have had success internationally in the past and can act as leaders and mentors – essentially playing coaches – for the young players on the field. By understanding who the older players are you can not only assess their impact on the game, but also get a sense of the general approach to the tournament that the country seems to be taking. As a sports bettor, you can also get a sense of how active those players are likely to be during the tournament, and whether they could potentially be a distraction for the team.
Where are the players playing? – Teams that don’t have the international reputation for success can gain a big advantage in this tournament if their players play together a lot are are very familiar with each other. Most of the young players in the Olympics aren’t yet fully established pros . Some will be developing internationally while others will be at home playing and training regularly with their national squad. The more a team plays together the more dangerous they can be, and that’s a big part of the reason why more obscure countries have been able to enjoy unlikely success in this tournament. Bettors can also get a sense of how serious a country is about succeeding in this tournament by the investment they put into that success. Did they just throw together a team in time to qualify for the Olympics, or have they been crafting and honing a squad for years?
How has the program done at this level in the past? – As we talked about you can’t always assume that the success or failure of a program at the under-23 level will be obvious. Some high levels soccer countries don’t care about the Olympics, or just can’t find the right formula for success. Some otherwise obscure soccer nations seem to shine at this tournament. The field in the Olympics looks very different than a typical field at the World Cup, so the more you can understand who the teams are, how they got there, and what they have to offer the better.
Where will public perceptions be inaccurate? – Once you have looked at the earlier factors you will have a good sense of where the public isn’t likely to have a particularly accurate picture of the teams. In some cases they will give a country too much credit because of their reputation. In others that reputation will cause them to get too little credit. In either case, the more of a sense you have as a sports bettor of where the public perception and reality are most likely to be different, the easier it will be for you to seek out value and cash in.
Don’t forget about the women – For the most part the world of women’s soccer between Olympics is a tale of successful World Cups and failed professional leagues. In the Olympics, though, it is at least as interesting to bet on as the men’s tournament – and often more so. It gets less public attention, the teams typically play together more often, and results are often more predictable. If the men’s tournament isn’t doing it for you as a handicapper then it is well worthwhile to look to the ladies.