Betting on football/soccer

Football. Soccer. The world game. The beautiful game.

You can call it what you like and it is widely known it is the most popular sport on the planet, with some 3.5 billion people classed as fans. That’s roughly half the world’s population with an interest in the game.

It ranks as the No.1 sport in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Only in North America and Australia is soccer outshone by other sports, and even there it is growing rapidly in popularity and participation numbers.

Less well known is the dominant position it holds when it comes to sports wagering.

The overall turnover on sports betting is impossible to calculate. Some estimates place it between $US700 billion and $US1 trillion annually.

Football turnover is believed to account for up to 70 per cent of the total amount, so it would be remiss of the World Gambling List not to give our followers an insight into the game and a run-down of the best leagues to bet on and best bookmakers to use.

But first, what is football, why is it so popular and where did it all begin?

Quick guide to football and its history

Part of the mass appeal of the round-ball code lies in its simplicity. All you need is a ball, a little open space and a few willing participants and it’s game on.

In its organized form it is played on a rectangular field with 11 players per side and goals at either end guarded by the goalkeeper. Typically, matches have 45-minute halves, with stoppage time played at the end of each half.

The field players are either forwards, midfielders or defenders, though there are no restrictions placed on where a player can run on the field. Indeed, it’s not unknown for a goalkeeper to be sent forward and join in outfield play when situations become dire.

The keeper is the only player permitted to handle the ball, and then only in the penalty area. An exception comes when players restart play with a throw-in from the sidelines.

Basically, the aim of the game is to score more goals than the opposition, by propelling the ball through the goal by foot or by head or even your arm if, like Argentinian legend Diego Maradona, you can get away with it.

The team which scores the most goals wins, though draws are frequent. In knockout competitions, extra time is often played and if this does not settle the match, a penalty shootout may ensue.

The offside rule is probably the most important rule in the sport. In short it means the attacking players cannot move ahead of the final defending player (excluding the goalkeeper) unless in possession of the ball or in pursuit of a pass from a teammate.

Brief history of football

People have been kicking animal-skin balls around for at least a couple of millennia.

In ancient China, Cuju (or Tsu’chu) involved kicking a ball into a net, with no hands, while similar games in Greece and Rome were held along similar lines.

But England can lay claim to carving out the rules that set the foundations for the game we know and love today. In 1863 the Football Association set out the standards after a series of meetings between clubs in London. They set out 13 rules though there are 17 laws in the modern-day Laws of the Game which apply to all levels of football.

Today the game is run internationally by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
FIFA is responsible for organising the World Cup, the biggest event in the sport and arguably the second-biggest event in all sports behind the Olympics.

The World Cup is held every four years, with the next edition scheduled for Russia in 2018.

Quick guide to types of football bets

Win, lose or draw (match result): The simplest and most common type of bet on football. There are three possible results in any match: home team wins, draw and away team wins. Just make your selection and if you get it right you will collect.

Draw no bet: Back a team under these conditions and if your team wins, you win. If it is a draw you get your money back.

Asian Handicap: As the name suggests, this format is extremely popular in Asia. It takes the draw out of the equation by handicapping teams according to form. A typical handicap may by the favourites -0.5 goals and the underdogs +0.5 goals. Under this handicap, those betting on the underdogs would win in the event of a draw.

Half-time/full-time double: Bet on the match status at half-time (team A leads, draw, team B leads) and then full-time. You must be right on both counts to collect.

Correct score: Simply pick the exact score at the end of regulation time! Sounds tricky and it can be, though sometimes you highly suspect certain matches will finish 1-0, with defences holding sway for much of a contest.

Total match goals: Wager on how many goals you think will be scored in a given match. Betting is often set at under/over lines such as 1.5 goals, 2.5 goals, 3.5 goals etc. Can be a good option if you are not sure which team will win but expect a high- or low-scoring contest.

Goal-scorer markets: Gamble on a particular player to score the opening goal, or the last goal of the match. Or even bet on your player or players to score at any stage during a match. Some sportsbook offer the option of backing a player to score a hat-trick, though we must advise against this option, as it is exceedingly rare. For example, there were 10 hat-tricks scored in the 380 English Premier League matches in the 2014-15 season.

Scorecast (first goal scorer/correct score): A type of combination bet in which you attempt to get the opening scorer as well as the right score at 90 minutes. Great odds can be secured but this is one for luckier or much more astute punters than us.

Long-range/season bets: Bet on outcomes such as which team will win a certain title, which player will top the league’s goal-scoring lists etc. These are often used in multiple bets which can mean huge sums potentially collected for moderate outlays. Be sure to shop around for these markets as they can vary markedly, usually far more than for single-match odds.

Miscellaneous: There are many more bet types available than those above, and these will depend largely on which bookmaker you are using. These could include betting on the number of corners in a match, the number of fouls or red or yellow cards. You can even bet on when the first goal will be scored. We see most of these types of bets as novelties rather than something the serious bettor would pursue.

The biggest events in international football

World Cup: The top 32 teams in the world square off in the FIFA World Cup finals, with two teams advancing from each of eight pools of four into the knockout stages. Germany won the title in Brazil in 2014, while overall the most successful country is Brazil with five titles from the 20 editions to date. The women’s World Cup finals usually feature 24 teams, with the next tournament to be held in France in 2019. Qualifying for the next World Cup finals begins worldwide not that long after the world champions are crowned.

European Cup: The finals feature 24 teams from around Europe. Spain will be the two-time defending champions when the event is next held in France in 2016, having triumphed in Austria/Switzerland in 2008 and in Poland and the Ukraine in 2012.

Copa America: Translates simply as America Cup and is the championship of South America, the spiritual home of the game. It is held every four years and 12 teams compete in the finals which last about a month. To be next held in Brazil in 2019, with Chile as defending champions. This is the oldest continental championship, with the first edition played in 1916.

Asian Cup: Held every four years, this event has ridden the explosion in popularity of the game in the Asia to become an important event on the world stage. Australia joined the Asian confederation from Oceania in 2006 and broke through to win the latest Asian Cup on home soil in 2015. Japan have been the most successful team with four titles.

Confederations Cup: Brings together the holders of the six FIFA confederations championships. Simply this means the champions from Europe, South America, North America, Asia, Africa and the Oceania. The World Cup champions and host nation also compete to make it an eight-team tournament. Typically held in the year before a World Cup year.

The biggest events in club football

UEFA Champions League: The continental club championship of Europe is held annually and attracts an enormous following. Given many of the world’s best players ply their trade at the mega-rich clubs of Europe, that is no surprise. Many fans would rather watch this tournament than almost any international contest. The top clubs from each nation qualify, though it depends on the strength of the league. The English Premier League top four gain a start, for example.

Copa Libertadores: The club championship of South America is another spectacular event, with so many young stars emerging in the tournament before treading the well-worn path to the riches of Europe and elsewhere. Independiente of Argentina have been the most successful club with seven titles.

FA Cup: The Football Association Cup (first held 1871-72) is the oldest tournament in world football and is a knockout event open to all British teams. Throws up some incredible stories and against-all-odds triumphs, though generally the cream rises to the top and the final at Wembley Stadium is contested between Premier League clubs. Arsenal and Manchester United are the most successful clubs in this unique event.

Best leagues for betting on soccer

English Premier League

The world’s most-watched league. The Premier League is all about massive TV rights and has the financial clout to attract some of the best players in the world. While many would argue the Spanish and Italian leagues are superior in terms of quality, this is the go-to betting medium for most punters.

Season: August to May.

Teams: 20 with the bottom three relegated to the Football League Championship. Each team plays 38 matches.
Contenders: Since 2000, only four clubs been crowned champions in the EPL: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Liverpool are the only other team to have come close in that time.

La Liga, Spain

The Spanish top division is rated by many as the world’s best. Given Spain’s success on the world stage in recent years, it is hard to argue. Top clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid attract superstars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and many more and have also dominated on the European club stage.

Season: August to May.
Teams: 20 with the bottom three relegated to the Segunda Division. Each team plays 38 matches.
Contenders: Barcelona and Real Madrid are perennial powerhouses, though Atletica Madrid broke their stranglehold by winning the title in 2013-14.

Serie A, Italy

Technically a wonderful league. This does not always make for the greatest viewing as it can sometimes make for painstaking build-ups, far removed from the generally action-packed EPL. This is a league for the football aficionado. Serie A is still rebuilding its credibility given the match-fixing scandals it has faced in the past decade or so.

Season: August to May.
Teams: 20 with the bottom three relegated to the Segunda Division. Each team plays 38 matches.

Contenders: The Italian league is generally dominated by its three super-clubs: Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan. One of the trio has won every title since Roma triumped in 2000-01. Those three are often in the mix in the latter stages of the European Champions League as well.

Bundesliga, Germany

Germans certainly love watching their teams: This national league has the highest average attendance of any football league in the world. The league is highly regarded, and is backed up by the performances of the German national team: Die Mannschaft, which translates simply as “the team’’. Germany are the World Cup holders and the No.1-ranked team as at September 2015.

Season: August to May.

Teams: 18 with the bottom two automatically relegated to the 2. Bundesliga. The third-bottom team must play the third-placed team in 2. Bundesliga in a two-legged play-off to decide which team is in the top league the following season. Each team in the top division plays 34 league matches per season.

Contenders: Bayern Munich are the biggest club in Germany and have won more than twice as many titles as the second-most-successful club, FC Nurenberg. Borussia Dortmund have been Bayern’s biggest threat in the modern era.

Major League Soccer, United States

The competition has grown in stature markedly in the past decade with a succession of world stars joining the competition, though they are generally towards the end of their careers. The MSL started only in 1996, and came after America’s successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

Season: March to October.

Teams: 20 (17 in the United States and three in Canada) with no relegation. Each team plays 34 matches. This league differs from the norm in that it has a 12-team play-off series to decide the MLS Cup.

Contenders: The Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United have been the most successful clubs, but the league is evolving quickly, so there is scope for other powerhouses to emerge.

A-League, Australia

A relative newcomer in the world of football but has started to attract big-name players as marquee signings and is making rapid progress.

Season: October to May.

Teams: 10 teams (nine in Australia, one in New Zealand) with no relegation. Each team plays 27 matches. The leaders after the round-robin matches are crowned minor premiers, while there is a finals series contested between the top six to decide the major premiers.

Contenders: Melbourne Victory have emerged as arguably the most powerful club in the league, though Sydney FC would argue the toss. Western Sydney Wanderers incredibly won the Asian Champions League after only being founded in 2012.

Best of the rest

There are countless other leagues worthy of mention here but The World Gambling List believes the leagues mentioned above rate most highly for wagering purposes. They are all covered extensively in the media and matches are readily available to watch in most jurisdictions.

Other leading leagues you might indulge include: Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, the top league in Brazil; the Primera División of Argentina; France’s Ligue 1; the Dutch Eredivisie; the Russian Premier League; the J-League of Japan.

The World Gambling List website remains a work in progress and as the site matures we will cover many of these leagues in greater detail.