Everything at the World Cup up to this point has just been just been a warmup – an appetizer for the great meal we are about to enjoy. Round robin play is now over, and the elimination rounds in the World Cup are about to get underway. Every game will have a winner, and every loser will be going home. Things are about to get really, really good.
The best part of this stage of the World Cup is the same as the best part of any sporting event – the betting, of course. These games offer an excellent opportunity for betting – desperate teams lead to interesting handicapping, and even bigger betting volumes lead to strong lines. We’re in for a treat with the games on tap, too. Only one of the eight games in the Round of 16 – Paraguay vs. Japan – isn’t particularly compelling, and even it could surprise. The rest all have good storylines, and some of them could be epic. They also set up the potential for some amazing quarterfinals – Netherlands vs Brazil or Argentina and England would both produce some serious fireworks.
If you have been betting on the World Cup so far then chances are pretty good that you’ve been caught on the wrong side of at least one of the many strange upsets we have seen in this tournament. In order to recoup those losses and make a tidy profit in the elimination rounds you have to adjust your thinking a little bit – the elimination rounds are very different from the round-robin, and you aren’t giving yourself the best possible edge if you treat both the same way. Here’s a look at three key ways that handicappers need to adjust their thinking for handicapping the elimination games:
No settling for the draw – Teams would obviously rather win than tie, but if you have watched any of the World Cup so far then you have likely seen teams that have played like they are more than willing to accept a draw. Sometimes that’s because they are outmatched by their opponent and know that a single point is more than they probably deserve. Other times a good team can make the decision that exerting the effort needed to come out on top just doesn’t make sense. 14 of the 48 games played in the round-robin wound up tied, but you can obviously be certain that there will be none that end up tied in the elimination rounds. If a game is tied after regulation time then they’ll play two 15 minute extra periods, and if that still hasn’t resolved anything then the winner will be decided by a penalty shootout. The fact that teams have to play for a win, and that it could take a while if teams are well matched, means that extra attention needs to be paid in this round to the depth, experience, and stamina of teams. A team that is talented and determined enough not to lose isn’t necessarily on that is talented and determined enough to win when they absolutely have to.
Penalty kicks are a major factor – Those penalty shootouts are a surprising common occurrence in World Cup play – probably because well matched teams playing at their best aren’t likely to make too many mistakes for their opponents to exploit. In the World Cup in 2006 four of the 15 elimination games, including the final, went to a penalty shootout, and two more needed extra time to find a winner. In 2002 penalty kicks decided two games, and three more went into extra time. When the teams are well matched and there is a good chance that a game is going to be close then it only makes sense to look at which team could have an edge in the shootout.
Round-robin records are meaningless – Using the number of points earned in the first round as a guide to a team’s quality and how they are playing is at best meaningless and at worst dangerous. There are so many factors that go into that record – the teams that they were in a group with, the order of the games they played, their status entering the third game, and so on – that it is impossible to compare one team’s record to that of a team from another group. On top of that, the sample size of just three games is meaningless. Instead of looking at the records you need to focus on things like how well the teams played compared to expectations, how much they were tested and how they responded, their health, and they style of play they seem to be favoring or the style they struggled against.