betting on football tournamentsNothing beats the excitement of a pending World Cup or Euro championship, or the betting opportunities that the Champions League brings. Sprinkle the League Cup and FA Cup on top and it’s a feast that lasts all year.

Upsets and shock exits always happen, but some decent planning and research can help you score a goal or two against the bookmakers…

International Tournaments

The World Cup and the European Championships bring with them a bundle of games being played nearly every day, and some solid accumulator opportunities that you maybe don’t get each week with the domestic leagues.

The initial group stages are where the best opportunities lie. Away from match result betting there is usually a decent four or fivefold on offer by betting on the countries that are most likely to top their qualifying groups. In the 2010 World Cup you would have done well to back Argentina, Germany, Holland, Brazil and Spain to win their groups as none of them faced particularly strong group rivals (Argentina were pitched against South Korea, Greece and Nigeria for example). Usually, from the 8 groups, you can find the 4 or 5 teams that seem absolute bankers. Be disciplined though, it might look like there are 8 clear winners but don’t be greedy and focus on the 4 or 5 with the best chance. England looked likely to top their group against USA, Slovenia and Algeria, but it was close and they tied with USA. France lost their group, but with Uruguay and Mexico in there it was never a sure thing. Many people will have been tripped up by Italy, who lost their group against 3 lowly countries (in soccer terms) – Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.

In the first round of the knockout phase, you’d have done well if you backed those 5 aforementioned group winners, as Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Holland and Germany all won through.

Studying the group set ups is key to creating a betting plan for these international tournaments. You also need to then understand the possible fixtures that could occur in the matches after the groups have finished, and then the quarter finals, and so on. If you can see a fairly clear route to the last 16 or the semi finals for a team such as Brazil, Spain or Germany then you can start to consider whether their odds for winning the tournament are worth going after. You can also consider whether a team’s main striker is a likely candidate for the Golden Boot (tournament top scorer award). If Germany are playing 3 very second rate countries in their group then there is a chance that their main target man (Klose used to be a popular bet) could have 3 or 4 goals under his belt before the knockout stages begin, and that usually puts a striker in pole position.

Trying to pick a winning match results accumulator can be tricky through the initial group fixtures though. Many ‘certain’ results fail to materialise as players adjust to the climate, or are perhaps worn out after a long domestic season. A lot of accumulators can die quickly in the first couple of days of a tournament. Let us look at the 2014 World Cup as an example. In the opening few days it would not have been difficult to predict that the hosts Brazil would beat Croatia, or that Argentina would beat Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran; that France would beat Honduras, and Belgium could beat Algeria.

But how many punters would have lost or blown an accumulator because they expected Uruguay to beat Costa Rica in their first game (they lost), or Germany to beat Ghana in their second game (draw)? These tournaments are littered with such results, and unless you can call on so much international knowledge that means you can confidently call a match such as Iran vs. Nigeria, or Honduras vs. Ecuador, you’re likely to be shooting in the dark with large accumulators. Some discipline may be required and it might be better to go looking for trebles. Which are the three most likely results to stick your fiver on?

Based on us falling foul of this ourselves during Euro 2012 with Russia we have to recommend that you do not build your entire betting plan around one team! You need to have contingencies. We thought Russia were ready, but they didn’t even climb out of their group (against Czech Rep, Greece and Poland). Our group accumulator died, match accumulators died, top scorer bets died, outright winner each way bets died; it was a massacre and there were no alternative bets running. Halve your stakes if need be, but try and back two countries to go the distance rather than just the one; we’ll be doing the same next time too!

Try not to be led by other people and their opinions or bets; you can be easily distracted from your plan by hearing myths such as “group games are best for ‘both teams to score’ bets”; much better to do your own research into results at previous tournaments, and look at defensive and goal scoring records during the tournament qualification matches and make up your own mind. Often the myths are not backed up by facts. For example, in the 2010 World Cup the group matches, of which there were 48, only produced 19 games where both teams scored, so that’s less than 40%. In Euro 2012 it was a little bit more, but still less than 50%. By all means have fun with some very low stake accumulators, but don’t go lumping on as it really is a lottery.

It really is all about the research; you need to home in on your handful of fancied countries and then get to know the squads, and how well the key players have done during the previous season, how well prepared their opposition will be, and so on. It may be tempting to try and learn everything about every team, but you won’t manage, so stay focussed on the teams and form that will affect whether your bets will win or not.

Domestic Cup Competitions

The World Cup and The Euros only come around every 4 years, but domestic cup competitions such as the FA Cup and the Champions League are with us every year. Romance and drama ooze out of each round of fixtures in these competitions, but they also reek of myths and falsehoods too.

There is still a belief by many people that the FA Cup is the competition that allows the minnows to have their day in the Wembley sun. For this, I blame Coventry and Wimbledon winning in 1987 and 1988. Shock results, but since then…really? Have you seen the list of recent winners? Here you go, from 2000 to 2015:

2000 – Chelsea
2001 – Liverpool
2002 – Arsenal
2003 – Arsenal
2004 – Manchester United
2005 – Arsenal
2006 – Liverpool
2007 – Chelsea
2008 – Portsmouth
2009 – Chelsea
2010 – Chelsea
2011 – Manchester City
2012 – Chelsea
2013 – Wigan Athletic
2014 – Arsenal
2015 – Arsenal
2016 – Manchester United

Okay, Portsmouth was a bizarre one, but they were in the final with Cardiff so the whole competition had gone a bit haywire in the later rounds anyway – but there are no real shocks in the other twelve years. Wigan Athletic raises a few eyebrows, but they were a Premier League team at the time. Note the low impact of Manchester United in this competition; you’d be forgiven for expecting them to feature more than just once, especially when you see Chelsea and Arsenal winning it five times in the same period. Tottenham and Everton don’t feature at all.

Let’s look at the first rounds of the 2013/14 FA Cup, where Premier League teams enter; here are some of the odds that were offered:

Chelsea – 11/2
Man City – 11/2
Man United – 11/2
Arsenal – 9/1
Liverpool – 10/1
Tottenham – 10/1
Everton – 18/1
The rest are all 33/1 to 350/1 as listed on the Paddy Power website.

Wigan Athletic, the current holders, are 100/1! Because they were relegated from the Premier League and their win is quite rightly being seen as a flash in the pan, like Portsmouth in 2008, and Coventry in 1987.

Unless you are prepared to back 3 or 4 of the favourites as each way winners then you are betting blind, but that’s fine as long as you know that. There is nothing wrong with backing your own team, but unless you support one of the top 8 or 10 teams in the Premier League then you really are putting yourself in the hands of lady luck.

The opportunity here becomes more interesting if you are a Betfair customer. Backing your team early can mean you get really decent odds, and these are odds that will decrease the longer your team stays in the competition. Take Millwall as an example in the 2012/13 competition – they were semi finalists where they were beaten by Wigan Athletic, so only one game away from the final. On the morning of that semi final they were still 22/1 to lift the trophy. They were priced at 40/1 a couple of rounds back after they had come through the testing first 5 rounds. They are currently 250/1 to win the 2013/14 FA Cup with some high street bookmakers, and it is likely that they started off at around 150/1 or 200/1 last year. On Betfair Millwall are 449/1 currently for the 2014 FA Cup, and they would have been a similar price before the 2012/13 competition started. If Millwall were your team and you had backed them on Betfair when they were around 300/1 then by the time they hit the quarter or semi finals you would have been able to lay them off at much, much lower odds to guarantee a decent profit whether they went on to win or not. Read our introduction to Betfair if you haven’t used this betting exchange service before.

Aside from picking possible outright winners, the earlier rounds of the competition can produce some great opportunities for building combination bets such as trebles, fourfolds and other accumulators. There are usually 4 or 5 fixtures that look nailed on in the first few rounds, but as our mantra goes, do your research. If Arsenal are playing Leeds but turning out a second string team then don’t view them as a sure thing; move on and find a better match to add into your bet. Look for the Premier League or Championship team that will take the cup very seriously and are playing against a team from at least one division lower than them, check the team news and if they are putting a full strength first team out then they are serious and worth your money.

Sure, there will always be that shock result, but it can be avoided if you stick to your data and do your research. It was a shock when Leeds knocked Tottenham out of the FA Cup in 2013, but when you consider they had knocked Everton out of the League Cup just a few months earlier then maybe you could have said that they had form? Both matches were home games for Leeds, a win for Spurs was never nailed on.

Big accumulators are good fun, but keep the stakes really low; focus instead on finding that more guaranteed treble and have fun with a fiver. 3 wins is likely to return around £20 to £25, and that’s a night of drinks sorted out to celebrate, or it’s a bigger bank to bet with when the next round comes along.

Champions League / Europa League

These two European club tournaments are massive for bookmakers, and followed by football fans all over the world. Similar in format to the international tournaments, both of them start off with group stages before moving into a series of knockout rounds leading up to the final.

The principles we laid out at the top of this page for the world cup apply here, only with regard to the Europa League you are unlikely to have much knowledge or experience of over half the teams that are in it….Estoril? Maribor? Rubin? Anyone??

The Champions League is full of familiar names; and this is where giants such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus take the stage alongside our own domestic champions (and nearly champions) and fight it out over a number of months. The group stages give some good options for creating a decent treble with a chunk of games being played within a 48 hour period. It can be a good time for handicap betting too, as there is always the possibility that a Real Madrid or Barcelona performance can see them dish out 4 or more goals against much lower opposition.

During the knockout phases teams play each other twice, home and away. Now and again a decent chance to get a correct score bet can appear, where a strong team needs to win the second match by 2 goals then you can start to consider correct score bets such as 2-0 or 3-1 if the team you fancy is at full strength and the 1st match loss can be seen as temporary blip away from home, for example.

We’re sounding like a stuck record, but half the battle is in the research and the time you put into making sure your bets reflect the best data and information available at the time. The other half of the battle is made up of luck; there’s not much that can be done about that as football is football.