By far the most interesting part of World Cup qualifying every time it rolls around is the UEFA qualification process — the long series of games that decide what teams will represent Europe. Not only are many of the world powers in Europe, but the sheer number of teams make it like a mini World Cup by itself. This time around there are 53 countries competing for 13 spots in Brazil, and that includes several teams that will go on to be among the favorites in the biggest tournament on the planet. UEFA qualifying also presents some pretty solid betting opportunities. The format lends itself both to cashing in on some heavy favorites in lopsided pools and looking for live longshots in more wide-open pools. Because the process is so long and spread out — the initial round of games are played over 13 months, with the second round lasting a month longer — there are plenty of chances to reassess, adjust your bets, and focus on the best situations for profit. Before you bet on UEFA qualifying you need to understand the process. The 53 teams are split into eight groups of six teams and one group of five. Each team in a group plays a home-and-away against each other team in the group. Each win is worth three points, and a draw earns a single point. After all the games are played the top team in each group automatically qualifies for the World Cup. The top eight second-place finishers are drawn into a home-and-home series with one opponent, and the winner of that series also qualifies for Brazil. Bovada has odds posted for the winner of each of the nine groups. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:
Belgium and Croatia are tied for the lead in this group through four games, and they are well positioned to be the top two teams. Belgium is favored at 5/6, though, compared to Croatia at 6/5. Belgium has been more consistent defensively, so the odds make sense. The second game between the teams — the first was a 1-1 tie — happens in Croatia, though, so the slightly bigger price could be more attractive given that.
Italy is very heavily favored at 1/6, with the Czech Republic far behind at 11/2. The price isn’t attractive, but Italy is a very low-risk pick here — it would be a massive upset for them to get beat.
Sweden is a decent team, and in some groups they would offer nice value at 5/1. They are totally outclassed here, though — Germany is the heavy favorite at 1/7. Germany has played one lousy game — a 4-4 draw against Sweden — but the Germans have a lot of upside and immense talent, and they can be trusted to go all the way.
Holland is 1/16. Romania is the second choice at 10/1. The Dutch won the first meeting between the teams 4-1. This group isn’t a fair fight. There is little point betting on the Dutch because you could get about the same return at the bank, but the risk here is only slightly more.
This one is very interesting. Switzerland is favored at 2/3, with Norway not far behind at 3/2. Neither team is a traditional power, and both teams have some issues. Therefore, anything could happen. They played to a 1-1 draw in their opening matchup, so they are well-matched. Norway had a surprising and concerning loss to Iceland while Switzerland hasn’t faltered, so the Swiss seem like a slightly better pick.
Coming into this one it looked like Portugal would be the team to beat, though Russia would be a tough contender as well. So far, though, the Russians have been flawless — four wins in four games, eight goals, and no goals against — while the Portuguese have faltered. They tied Northern Ireland, and then they inexplicably lost to Luxembourg. They now find themselves five points back and in a hole. Russia is the strong favorite at 1/2 as a result, though Portugal is an intriguing option at 3/2 — a bet I’d take.
This is the most wide-open group of all. Bosnia and Greece both sit at 11/8, with Slovakia still in the picture at 3/1. The two favorites played to a scoreless draw, so there is little to separate the two. None of the three teams are anything close to a traditional power, either, so just making the World Cup field would be a strong accomplishment for the team. The price is better than most, but there is a lot of gamble involved here — probably too much. I’d take Greece, but mostly because I still have great memories of the team’s incredible Euro 2004 win.
England got a very easy draw, and they are 1/3 to win their group. The English should be easy to trust here. They are England, though, so if any elite-level team can find a way to screw everything up it’s them. So far they have played to two draws — both against teams they should have beaten — so they are two points behind Montenegro. That shouldn’t be a problem in the long term, but the lack of focus is so very English.
Spain (-400) has won the last three major tournaments, so there is no reason not to expect the Spaniards to be the team to beat again — even though they are going through a bit of a change of generations. France (+140) was the major European power before Spain, but the French have really struggled to rebuild after that team got old. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw in their opener, but it’s hard to believe that the French can keep up with the Spaniards over the long haul. After all, Spain doesn’t look like they have yet played close to their best soccer, and they are still tied for the group lead.
By T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports