There may be no better sporting event on the planet than soccer’s World Cup. The event only comes around every four years, and most teams spend about two years just trying to qualify for one of the 32 spots. For the teams that get there, entire nations come to a standstill when their team plays.
We’re not quite to that point in the United States just yet, but for fans looking for a reason to get into the World Cup, betting on games is one way to do it. Betting on a sporting event that only comes around every four years requires some preparation and research. Fortunately, we’ve put together this guide on how to bet on the World Cup.
Before we discuss how to bet on the World Cup, we first need to talk about its format. The 32 teams competing in this soccer tournament are divided into four groups of eight teams. Months before the tournament begins, a draw is held to determine what teams will be grouped together. The 32 teams are divided into four pools based on their ranking in the FIFA World Rankings.
The host and the seven highest-ranked teams are in Pool 1. The next eight highest-ranked teams are in Pool 2, and so on. The draw process can be confusing. That's because organizers have to make sure that teams from the same region of the world aren’t in the same group.
Of course, the exception to this is Europe, which sends over a dozen teams to the World Cup. This means that some groups will have two European teams.
Regardless of how the draw shakes out, there are eight groups of four teams. Every team plays a round-robin within its own group, meaning every team plays at least three games.
During the Group Stage, a win is worth three points, and a tie is worth one point. After three games, the two highest teams in the group advance to the Knockout Stage. The bottom two teams are eliminated. If teams are tied on points, the tiebreaker is goal differential.
With two teams from each group advancing, the Knockout Stage begins with 16 teams and becomes single elimination. The bracket is predetermined based on the standings during the Group Stage.
For example, the winner of Group A will play the runner-up from Group B in the Round of 16. Meanwhile, the winner of Group C will play the runner-up from Group D. It’s predetermined that the winner of those two games will meet in the quarterfinals.
In other words, if you can accurately predict the winners and runners-up of each group, you can accurately project what teams will meet during the Knockout Stage.
Games during the Knockout Stage are the same as games during the Group Stage. The only difference is when the game ends in a draw. In that case, the teams play an extra 30 minutes of Extra Time over two 15-minute halves. If the game is still tied after those 30 minutes, the winner is determined by a penalty shootout.
The Knockout Stage continues until there are two teams left to participate in the finals. Also, the two losers of the semifinals play in a Third Place Playoff.
It’s also worth noting that the World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams for the 2026 World Cup. With this new format, there will be 16 groups of three teams each. That means teams will only play two games during the group stage. Two of the three teams in each group will advance to the Knockout Stage, which will begin with 32 teams.
Soccer has no shortage of markets for bettors to explore. With the World Cup, there are 64 individual games and therefore 64 opportunities to make any of the following bets.
Betting the moneyline on a World Cup game is the simplest and most common form of betting. Each team has a moneyline leading up to a game based on how the oddsmakers view each team’s chances of winning.
Teams with a negative moneyline or between +100 and +200 are usually favored in the game. Obvious underdogs receive much higher moneylines, perhaps +300 or higher. The difference with soccer games is that there is also a moneyline for if the match ends in a draw.
Sportsbooks also take bets on the exact score (or 'correct score') of a game. This requires you to predict how many goals each team will score in the match.
For example, in the 2018 World Cup, you could have bet that Belgium would beat Tunisia 5-2. In that case, you would have been right, and your bet would have been very profitable. But the higher odds offered for correct score bets indicate just how challenging the task is. There is no margin for error, so use modest stakes if you get involved.
Betting the total on a World Cup game is akin to betting the over/under of any sport. Rather than predicting the outcome of a game, you bet on the number of goals scored by both teams combined.
For most World Cup games, the total is set at 2.5 goals. However, that sometimes changes if there is a mismatch. Or if the two teams playing both have a reputation of being potent on offense but sluggish in defense.
Betting the spread of a World Cup game is no different from betting the spread in other sports. Essentially, you are betting that a team will win the game by a certain margin. Or that the underdog will make the game closer than anticipated.
If the spread is .5 and the game ends in a tie, the underdog will be the winner against the spread. Keep in mind that most World Cup games will have a spread of .5, especially during the Knockout Stage. That's because these games are expected to be competitive and decided by a single goal.
During the 2018 World Cup, 11 of the 16 Knockout Stage games were decided by one goal or were tied and required a penalty shootout. However, games during the Group Stage that feature traditional powerhouses like Brazil or Argentina against lesser teams will sometimes have a spread of 1.5 or 2.5, sometimes higher.
In addition to betting on the result of World Cup games, there is an endless number of prop bets available in any given game. Here are just a few of the things you can bet on:
World Cup bets can be placed on specific teams to achieve certain results during the tournament. Consider the following:
World Cup futures betting is how to bet on a specific team to win the tournament. Before the tournament begins, each team has a moneyline on winning the tournament, and that moneyline gets adjusted at each stage of the tournament as the field gets whittled down.
If you can correctly predict the winner of the World Cup before the tournament begins, there will likely be a considerable payout, even if you pick one of the favorites. You can continue to place bets during the tournament, although each team’s moneyline decreases once teams start to be eliminated, as does the potential payout.
If picking a winner before the tournament begins is too daunting a task, it’s also possible to make bets on the winner of each group during the Group Stage of the tournament. In addition to a moneyline to win the tournament, each team has a moneyline for winning its particular group. That gives you eight opportunities to pick a team that will finish in first place during the Group Stage.
For any of the 32 teams participating in the World Cup, it’s possible to make a pick before the tournament on where that team will end up. For any given team, there will be a moneyline available for getting eliminated during the Group Stage, losing in the Round of 16, losing in the Quarterfinals, losing in the Semifinals, losing in the Finals, or winning it all.
These moneylines will vary based on the strength of each team. However, there is a solid payout if you’re correct, especially if you accurately predict a team to advance further or get knocked out sooner than the oddsmakers project.
For example, Germany was the betting favorite to win the 2018 World Cup, but if you had correctly predicted they would be eliminated during the Group Stage, you’d have won a massive payout.
Betting on the World Cup can be intimidating, especially for bettors who aren’t familiar with soccer. Fortunately, the right techniques and strategies can make up for a lack of experience in soccer betting.
If you plan on betting on the World Cup, try to avoid making all of your bets before the tournament begins. It’s okay to take a hunch on a team you think will win the whole thing, but you don’t want to spend all of your money before a ball is kicked.
Crazy things tend to happen during the World Cup, and there’s usually one or two favorites who disappoint and get eliminated early. Once you watch every team play once, you should have a better idea of how games during the rest of the Group Stage will play out.
It also makes sense to wait until there are 16 teams left to pick your overall winner. The moneylines won’t be as lucrative as they were at the start of the tournament, but you’ll have a lot more information to guide your pick.
FIFA’s World Rankings are unbelievably flawed, so take them with a grain of salt before using them to pick the outcome of a World Cup game. The method used to calculate the rankings is a little convoluted and isn’t always an accurate representation of the overall talent and ability of a particular team. The rankings can be an initial guide but don’t rely on them to make picks.
It’s impossible to discount the location of a tournament when making World Cup predictions. Most of the world’s best soccer nations are from Europe, but European teams don’t always fare as well when they leave the continent.
For example, during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, 10 of the final 16 and six of the final eight teams were from Europe. When Germany hosted in 2006, 10 of the final 16 and six of the final eight teams were from Europe.
However, when the 2014 World Cup was held in Brazil, only six of the 16 teams in the Knockout Stage were from Europe, while three of the six teams representing South America made it to the quarterfinals on their home continent. History tells us that fewer European teams will make it out of the Group Stage and advance deep into the tournament if the World Cup is held outside of Europe, although that doesn’t always preclude a European team from winning it all.
During the World Cup, a scorecast means betting on the final score of the game as well as the player who scores the first goal. This is a tricky bet because there are usually multiple players who are realistic choices to score the first goal. However, the payout is lucrative if you choose correctly.
With World Cup betting, there are three possible outcomes to a match, as either team could win or it could end in a draw. A double-chance bet allows you to bet on two of the three outcomes. You could bet on a particular team winning or a draw, giving you some leeway.
You could also just bet on either team winning, meaning you’re essentially betting against the game ending in a draw. These are safer bets because you can win with two of the three possible outcomes, although the payouts are not as great as just betting on one of the outcomes.
During World Cup matches, some oddsmakers accept draw no bet picks. Essentially, this takes the possibility of a draw out of the equation. You simply pick one team or the other, and if the match ends in a draw, the bet is void, and your money is returned.
During the Knockout Stage of the World Cup, some games will be tied after 90 minutes, which requires an extra 30 minutes to be played. However, it’s important to know that all bets will be settled after regulation unless otherwise noted when you place the bet.
This means you can still bet on a World Cup Knockout Stage game to end in a draw, and anything that happens during the extra session won’t affect the outcome of your bet.
Photo credits: Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP