There is a statistical argument for betting on under two and a half goals in each of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying play-offs first legs between teams from the UEFA region.
Greece against Romania, Iceland versus Croatia, Portugal against Sweden and Ukraine versus France are the two-legged ties that will determine the last four UEFA sides that will participate in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And history shows that one can bet with confidence on most of the first legs being cagey affairs in which goals are relatively scarce.
FIFA introduced two-legged play-offs to the UEFA region in 1997 to assist with the qualification process for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. There were four ties and three of them – the ones between Croatia and Ukraine, Ireland and Belgium and Russia and Italy – produced low-scoring first legs in which bets of under two and a half goals paid off. The exception to the rule was Yugoslavia’s away game against Hungary that the former won 7-1. The second leg was a blow-out as well.
Ahead of the 2002 FIFA World Cup there were four play-offs in the UEFA region. Again, three of them – Austria versus Turkey, Belgium against the Czech Republic and Ukraine versus Germany – rewarded first-leg backers of under two and a half goals, while Slovenia and Romania combined for three.
The race to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup from the UEFA region concluded with three play-offs. Two of them – Norway against the Czech Republic and Switzerland versus Turkey – went under two and a half goals in their first legs, while Spain spanked Slovakia 5-1 in Madrid.
And the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification process in the UEFA region ended with four play-offs. Three of them – Greece against Ukraine, Ireland versus France and Portugal against Bosnia and Herzegovina – had first legs featuring under two and a half goals, while Russia and Slovenia combined for three. Remarkably, Russia versus Slovenia in Moscow was the only leg, either home or away, out of the eight played in 2009 that went over two and a half goals.
So, in summary, there have been 15 FIFA World Cup play-offs first legs between UEFA teams and 11 of them have gone under two and a half goals, which equates to a percentage of 73.3% and betting odds of around 1.36. Even if one includes the play-offs to qualify for the UEFA European Championships, the percentage of first legs that have gone under two and a half goals only drops to 64.3% (18 out of 28), which equates to betting odds of around 1.56. Going low is the way to go.
When one tries to get cute with such bets is when one comes unstuck. Rather than trying to cherry pick the best bet of the four UEFA play-offs first legs, back all four. Bwin is offering odds of 1.50 that Greece and Romania go under two and a half goals in Piraeus. Unibet are offering odds of 1.58 that Ukraine and France go under two and a half goals in Kiev. Paddy Power is offering odds of 1.67 that Iceland and Croatia go under two and a half goals in Reykjavik. Finally, Bwin is offering odds of 1.78 that Portugal and Sweden go under two and a half goals in Lisbon.
If one really does not want to back all four then, perhaps, the most attractive play concerns the game between Ukraine and France. Ukraine has kept seven consecutive clean sheets, including five in a row at home. France has kept clean sheets in four of its last five matches and all bar one of its 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification road games went under two and a half goals. So Unibet can expect to do a fair bit of business at their tasty odds of 1.58.
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