Updated December 16, 2022 - 5:17 pm
Aside from the obvious factors such as injuries and talent, the most important consideration for handicapping a short tournament like the World Cup is chemistry.
There are always plucky underdogs who find a winning formula and gain momentum during the group stage (think Costa Rica in 2014) and powerhouse countries who implode and crash out of the tournament early (Germany in 2018).
The trick is to identify them and stay on the right side as long as possible.
Starting with Sunday’s opening match between host Qatar and Ecuador, I’ve been handed a $5,000 fantasy bankroll to bet during the World Cup on sides, totals or props.
Until the final is played Dec. 18, expect plenty of plays on Brazil and Denmark, along with several obscure references to Dutch soccer players.
Find my wagers for the World Cup third-place game and final here.
Bankroll: $4,280 ($50 pending)
Tuesday: Lost $340
Today: Betting $350
Bet 1: $300 on Morocco-France (Under 2, +125) PUSH
Breakdown: Since Walid Regragui was hired as Morocco’s coach Aug. 31, the Atlas Lions have not allowed a goal to an opposing player in eight matches. The only time Morocco conceded during that stretch was an own goal against Canada during the group stage of this tournament. Expect a similar park-the-bus game plan against Les Bleus.
Bet 2: $50 on correct score France 1, Morocco 0 (+450) LOSS
Breakdown: Morocco was dubbed “the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup” by its coach. And while Morocco’s style of play isn’t easy on the eyes, it’s been effective. The crowd at Al Bayt Stadium will be squarely behind the underdog. But Rocky didn’t beat Apollo Creed the first time, and this is where Morocco’s run should end.
Bankroll: $4,620 ($50 pending)
Saturday: Won $200
Today: Betting $340
Bet 1: $300 on Croatia-Argentina, first half (Under ½, +135) LOSS
Breakdown: This match could go 50 different directions, but the most likely seems to be a tight, cagey affair in which neither team wants to make an early mistake. Both teams have started slowly in matches and combined to produce 1½ expected goals during the first half in their four knockout stage matches. Hopefully, it’s another uneventful opening 45 minutes.
Bet 2: $40 on Croatia-Argentina draw (+235) LOSS
Breakdown: Croatia is better than anyone at taking games into deep water, winning in penalties in five of its past six matches in the World Cup knockout stage. (The only one that didn’t go to PKs was the 2018 final against France.) Fingers crossed the Kockasti can do it again.
Bankroll: $4,420 ($50 pending)
Friday: Won $235
Today: Betting $250
Bet 1: $250 on France-England both teams to score (Yes, -125) WIN
Breakdown: These sides have impressed on the attack, especially England, which is tied with Portugal for the tournament lead with 12 goals in four matches. France has conceded at least one goal in nine of its past 10 matches, and I don’t anticipate either team sitting back here.
Bankroll: $4,185 ($50 pending)
Tuesday: Won $5
Today: Betting $380
Bet 1: $300 on Brazil-Croatia (Under 2½, +105) WIN
Breakdown: Croatia has underwhelmed outside of its victory over Canada in the group stage, and four of its past five matches stayed under 2½ goals. Brazil erupted for four goals against South Korea in the round of 16, but will find it harder to rip open a conservative Croatia side.
Bet 2: $50 on correct score Brazil 2, Croatia 0 (+600) LOSS
Breakdown: Brazil has won 10 of its past 11 matches in all competitions and didn’t allow a goal in seven of those victories. Croatia’s past three losses at the World Cup have been by two-goal margins.
Bet 3: $30 on Brazil’s Raphael Raphinha to score first goal (+1000) LOSS
Breakdown: He leads Brazil in shots on goal and chances created but has yet to score in four matches, so he’s due for a breakthrough. Croatia conceded the first goal in six of its past eight World Cup matches.
Bankroll: $4,180 ($50 pending)
Monday: Won $670
Today: Betting $200
Bet 1: $100 on Switzerland to advance (+195) LOSS
Breakdown: Switzerland is the new Denmark since the Danes are out of the tournament. The Swiss are in good form and have enough talent to pull an upset here against Portugal. These teams played in the same Nations League group and split two matches this summer, so Switzerland already will have a game plan for how to contain Cristiano Ronaldo and Co.
Bet 2: $100 on Switzerland-Portugal both teams to score (Yes, +105) WIN
Breakdown: Portugal scored six goals and allowed four in the group stage. Switzerland finally boasts a decent attack with Breel Embolo leading the line, which makes the plus-money too hard to resist.
Bankroll: $3,510 ($50 pending)
Sunday: Won $190
Today: Betting $200
Bet 1: $100 on Croatia-Japan draw (+220) WIN
Breakdown: That shady penalty-kick drama at the end of the France-Poland match went our way, and hopefully it starts a streak. Japan beat Spain despite having 17.7 percent possession, the lowest ever for a winning team in World Cup history. The Samurai Blue pulled a similar shocker against Germany in the group stage. Hopefully, Croatia doesn’t make the same mistake and plays conservatively.
Bet 2: $100 on Croatia-Japan to be decided by penalty shootout (Yes, +450) WIN
Breakdown: One of these matches in the round of 16 is bound to go to penalty kicks. This seems like a good candidate.
Bankroll: $3,320 ($50 pending)
Saturday: Lost $150
Today: Betting $300
Bet 1: $200 on Poland-France both teams to score (Yes, +145) WIN
Breakdown: After watching Poland get blanked in two of its three group games and generate a mere 0.3 expected goals with 27 percent possession against Argentina, this is probably not a smart play. But France has allowed at least one goal in eight of its past nine matches, so we’ll take a shot on plus-money here.
Bet 2: $100 on Poland first team to score (+425) LOSS
Breakdown: Come on, Robert Lewandowski. Do something.
Bankroll: $3,470 ($50 pending)
Friday: Lost $470
Today: Betting $150
Bet 1: $100 on United States-Netherlands (Under 2, +110) LOSS
Breakdown: The U.S. proved it can defend, not allowing a goal from open play during the group stage. And this is not an intimidating Oranje attack outside of Cody Gakpo. Typically in the World Cup, unders become common once the knockout phase begins, as teams are reluctant to make a mistake that can send them home.
Bet 2: $50 on correct score Netherlands 1, United States 0 (+500) LOSS
Breakdown: After failing to qualify in 2018, the pride has been restored in U.S. soccer. But the Americans aren’t quite ready to knock off a European power, even one that has struggled to create scoring chances this tournament and is dealing with a bout of illness sweeping through the team.
Bankroll: $3,940 ($50 pending)
Thursday: Lost $85
Today: Betting $470
Bet 1: $420 on Uruguay-Ghana both teams to score (Yes, -105) LOSS
Breakdown: Emotions will be high as these countries meet for the first time since the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, when Luis Suarez’s handball on the goal line prevented Ghana from advancing. Uruguay hasn’t scored through two matches of group play but should find openings against the Black Stars. Ghana has allowed five goals, while scoring five of its own.
Bet 2: $50 on Switzerland-Serbia draw (+230) LOSS
Breakdown: This should be another super-charged match. When these teams played during the 2018 World Cup, two Swiss players made anti-Serbian political hand gestures after they scored in a 2-1 win. A draw would be enough for Switzerland to advance this time, provided Cameroon doesn’t shock Brazil.
Bankroll: $4,025 ($50 pending)
Wednesday: Won $330
Today: Betting $300
Bet 1: $100 on Morocco (+115) over Canada WIN
Breakdown: African teams have performed well during the group stage, and Canada has one foot on the airplane home after already being eliminated from the tournament.
Bet 2: $100 on Croatia (+165) over Belgium LOSS
Breakdown: The now infamous “we’re going to go and (expletive) Croatia” quote by Canada coach John Herdman has galvanized the 2018 runners-up, who feature a strong midfield led by Luka Modric. Meanwhile, Belgium is a mess with injuries and rumors of infighting.
Bet 3: $100 on Germany-Costa Rica (Under 3½ goals, +110) LOSS
Breakdown: Based on its first two matches, this German team couldn’t eat a doner kebab without spilling it on the front of its shirts.
Bankroll: $3,695 ($50 pending)
Tuesday: Won $0
Today: Betting $300
Bet 1: $200 on Australia (+1, +105) over Denmark WIN
Breakdown: Australia has reached the knockout stage only once in its history (2006). But the Socceroos are vibing right now after beating Tunisia and should have the majority of the crowd support at Al Janoub Stadium. Plus, I’m fading Denmark.
Bet 2: $100 on under 1½ goals scored by Denmark (+120) WIN
Breakdown: These teams tied 1-1 in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup. Hopefully the second verse is the same as the first.
Bankroll: $3,590 ($155 pending)
Monday: Lost $150
Today: Betting $500
Bet 1: $50 on Senegal-Ecuador draw (+210) LOSS
Breakdown: Ecuador probably won’t win the group since the Netherlands is a heavy favorite against Qatar. Knowing that, Ecuador will play not to lose and ensure it advances.
Bet 2: $100 on England (-½, +110) over Wales, first half LOSS
Breakdown: The British rivals have played six times since 2004, with England winning each matchup by a combined score of 11-1. The Three Lions were pilloried by the English press for a “tepid draw” against the U.S. and will attack Wales from the start in an effort to finish on top of the group.
Bet 3: $300 on United States-Iran (Under 2½, -150) WIN
Breakdown: Iran has the advantage of being able to sit back and play for the draw. The Americans defend well, but they have struggled to break down quality teams throughout 2022. That should make for another low-scoring encounter.
Bet 4: $50 on United States (+110) over Iran WIN
Breakdown: This might be the most politically charged match in U.S. soccer history. Iran called for the U.S. to be disqualified from the tournament because of a social media post, and the Americans will head home regardless unless they win. This U.S. team isn’t very good, but it should rise to the occasion like in 2010.
Bankroll: $3,640 ($255 pending)
Sunday: Won $200
Today: Betting $350
Bet 1: $300 on Switzerland (+1, +110) over Brazil PUSH
Breakdown: It’s time to get a little aggressive and ride the wave of weirdness that’s washed over this tournament so far. The Selecao have plenty of depth with Neymar sidelined by injury, but they are facing a Swiss team that is in good form and comfortable playing without the ball.
Bet 2: $50 on Switzerland (+660) over Brazil LOSS
Breakdown: Just in case.
Bankroll: $3,470 ($225 pending)
Saturday: Lost $40
Today: Betting $315
Bet 1: $165 on Germany-Spain both teams to score (Yes, -165) WIN
Breakdown: Trying to handicap the result of this match is tough without knowing the result of the Japan-Costa Rica early game. Germany will probably need to push for a win to keep alive its hopes of advancing from the group. If the team that played the first half against Japan shows up for 90 minutes against Spain, Germany should be able to find the back of the goal. Spain won 6-0 the last time these teams met in 2020.
Bet 2: $100 on Ghana-South Korea draw (+210; Monday) LOSS
Breakdown: Son Heung-min is slowed by a left eye socket fracture and wore a protective mask against Uruguay, which was his first match in three weeks. Ghana held out for more than an hour against Portugal before the dam burst. The Black Stars should be able to last longer against South Korea.
Bet 3: $50 on Argentina to win the World Cup (+600) PENDING
Breakdown: This seems like a good value on one of the pre-tournament favorites, which admittedly hasn’t looked very good so far.
Bankroll: $3,630 ($105 pending)
Friday: Won $260
Today: Betting $160
Bet 1: $40 on France (-½, +145) over Denmark, first half LOSS
Breakdown: Denmark was pegged as a dark horse entering the tournament, but it might be fair to question Denmark’s interest after the first match. The team is wearing jerseys that protest Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers. And the Danish soccer federation president reignited a dispute with FIFA on Wednesday, yet another distraction.
Bet 2: $120 on Costa Rica-Japan (Under 2½, -120; Sunday) WIN
Breakdown: There seems to be a lot of overreaction to these teams’ openers. Costa Rica got its tactics all wrong against Spain and was humiliated as a result. Japan was clinical in its 2-1 victory over Germany after it struggled to score in World Cup qualifying.
Bankroll: $3,370 ($105 pending)
Thursday: Won $90
Today: Betting $220
Bet 1: $200 on Senegal-Qatar both teams to score (Yes, +140) WIN
Breakdown: After seeing some of the officiating decisions in Qatar’s opener, it’s difficult not to go full-blown conspiracy theorist here. FIFA clearly doesn’t want the host nation to be embarrassed, and scoring a goal would provide a galvanizing moment. Gianni Infantino can’t come down from his suite and head it in himself, but Qatar did have plenty of the ball against Ecuador and created a few chances on its own. Senegal tested group favorite Netherlands for more than 80 minutes and should be able to breach Qatar’s defense at least once.
Bet 2: $20 on correct score England 2, United States 1 (+800) LOSS
Breakdown: A late goal by Christian Pulisic makes the Three Lions sweat. Stranger things have happened.
Bankroll: $3,230 ($155 pending)
Wednesday: Lost $15
Today: Betting $210
Bet 1: $140 on Ghana (+1½, -140) over Portugal WIN
Breakdown: Which Cristiano Ronaldo will show up at the World Cup? The one with a chip on his shoulder, eager to show he still has something left in the tank after Manchester United terminated his contract? Or the one who causes a distraction and divides the team with his selfish play? Let’s assume the latter until proven otherwise.
Bet 2: $70 on Brazil-Serbia (Over 2½, -140) LOSS
Breakdown: The Selecao are back to being a dynamic attacking team, with Neymar joined by an array of speedy forwards who also go by one name. Serbia has scored at least one goal in 17 of its past 18 competitive matches since late 2020. If Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic are fit, they can trouble Brazil’s defense.
Bankroll: $3,190 ($210 pending)
Tuesday: Lost $1,500
Today: Betting $165
Bet 1: $65 on Canada (+½, -130) over Belgium, first half LOSS
Breakdown: The bankroll took a standing eight count after Argentina’s historic loss to Saudi Arabia, and it’s time to regroup. Canada is making its first appearance in the World Cup in 36 years, and winger Alphonso Davies will cause problems on the counterattack for Belgium, which was ripped apart in transition by Egypt during a friendly last week.
Bet 2: $50 on Canada-Belgium both teams to score (Yes, Even) LOSS
Breakdown: Les Rouges led the CONCACAF region in goals during qualifying, and have their preferred starting 11 available following injury concerns leading into the tournament. Belgium is missing striker Romelu Lukaku but still features one of the most skilled attacks in the world, led by Kevin De Bruyne.
Bet 3: $50 on under ½ goal scored by Cameroon (+120; Thursday) WIN
Breakdown: The Indomitable Lions needed a last-minute goal in a playoff against Algeria to qualify for the tournament. Unless Samuel Eto’o comes out of retirement, they’ll struggle to generate quality chances against a well-organized Swiss team that conceded two goals in eight matches during qualifying.
Bankroll: $3,395 ($1,505 pending)
Monday: Lost $0
Today: Betting $205
Bet 1: $100 on Poland (+205) over Mexico LOSS
Breakdown: This Mexico side is old and crusty, and features a toothless offense that shouldn’t challenge Poland’s suspect back line. Poland generates most of its offense from crosses, and that direct attack is something Mexico has struggled to stop. Striker Robert Lewandowksi is one of the top scorers in Europe the past handful of seasons and will be a handful for Mexico’s 6-foot-5-inch center back Cesar Montes.
Bet 2: $105 on Germany (-½, -105) over Japan, first half (Wednesday) WIN
Breakdown: The Germans usually come out blazing in their World Cup opener, with 2018 being the notable exception. This version is still in transition after losing to England in the round of 16 at the European Championship last year, and Japan is a difficult team to break down. But Germany will push for an early goal so it can settle the nerves.
Bankroll: $4,795 ($105 pending)
Sunday: Lost $100
Today: Betting $1,500
Bet 1: $100 on U.S.-Wales Under 2 goals (Even) PUSH
Breakdown: This match will go a long way in deciding who advances from Group B along with the favorite England. Neither team can afford a loss, and that should make for a tense affair. These teams played two years ago and it finished 0-0, though several top players for both sides missed out on that match.
Bet 2: $1,400 on Argentina (-700) over Saudi Arabia (Tuesday) LOSS
Breakdown: Hopefully, this is a bankroll-builder game. La Albiceleste are one of the pre-tournament favorites with superstar Lionel Messi leading the way. Losing, or even drawing, the opener against a team ranked 51st in the world would be a disastrous way to start.
Today: Betting $205
Bet 1: $100 on Ecuador-Qatar draw (+205) LOSS
Breakdown: The rumors that eight players from Ecuador were bribed with $7.4 million to throw the opener and allow a second-half goal are probably bogus. Besides, a draw seems like a less suspicious outcome. Qatar can hold its head high for earning a result. Ecuador is fine with getting a point. And the conspiracy theories will just float away like a Wesley Sneijder free kick. Yeah, right.
Bet 2: $105 on Will Ecuador advance from Group A? (Yes, +120) LOSS
Breakdown: This could come down to the final game of the group when Ecuador faces Senegal. Had Sadio Mane not been ruled out of the tournament for Senegal, maybe this bet doesn’t get made. But the late news could unsettle the Lions of Teranga.