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Soccer Power Ratings

There have now been 48 games completed in the group stage and 14 knock-out games played in the 2006 World Cup. As the tournament reaches its climax in Berlin this weekend, handicappers and sharp bettors have more and more information available for analysis.

Many people were surprised that the Italy vs. France total opened at 1.5 goals. For diehard handicappers playing at the Pinnacle Sports book, this was expected. How did they know? Many handicappers use a universal handicapping system which can be used to set lines for any sport and requires only minimal adjustments for injuries and other situational factors.

Whether you are handicapping a total in baseball or soccer, the first step in any sport is to set a baseline figure for an average game. In other words, how many goals are scored in an average game during regulation time?

In the group stage, there were 117 goals scored in 48 games, for an average offensive production (and defense allowed) of 2.44 goals per match resulting in 1.22 goals per team per game.

In the knockout stages, there have been 21 goals scored in 14 games during regulation time, for an average of 0.75 goals per team per game (excluding any extra time played or penalty shoot outs). If you combined the two, your "baseline" is 1.11 goals per team per game (138 goals in 62 games). The next step in setting your baseline is to compare each team's offense and defense against this average.

France has scored 8 goals while allowing 2 goals in its 6 games played so far. Les Bleus' defense was 0.78 goals per game better than average (1.11 - 2/6), while its offense was 0.22 goals better than average (8/6-1.11). France's offensive "power rating" would be +0.22, while its defensive rating would be -0.78 (with negative numbers being good for defensive ratings).

Meanwhile Italy has scored 9 goals in regulation while allowing just 1 against (count the own goal against the US as a goal allowed). Italy's offensive rating would be (9/6 - 1.11) = +0.39, while its defensive rating would be (1/6 - 1.1) = -0.94.

The Azzurri's offensive rating might be slightly understated though, since we did not include the 2 goals they scored in overtime against Germany in the semi-final. The reason for this is that only goals scored during regulation time count for betting purposes when wagering on total goals.

With these raw numbers, you can now make an estimate of how much each team will score in regulation. How many goals would we expect Italy to score? Start with your league average (1.11 goals per team per game), add Italy's offensive rating (+0.39) and France's defensive rating (-0.78). This suggests that we expect Italy to score about 0.72 goals, but remember that all teams tend to revert to the mean/average.

I "revert to the mean" by averaging this with the league average of 1.11 goals, for 0.92 expected goals (1.11+0.72/2 = 0.92). For France, we initially expect (1.11 + 0.22 - 0.94) = 0.39 goals. Averaging this with the league average 1.11 goals per game, we expect 0.75 goals.

If you want to convert these expected goals to a moneyline price for "Italy to win the World Cup", simply take Italy's expected goals, divide by France's expected goals, and multiply by -100. In this case, it would be (0.92 / 0.75 * -100) = -123, which is pretty close to the current odds for Italy.

If you want to convert these numbers to a game total, simply add the team expected goals, and using probability theory check a Poisson distribution for any odds you want to set. For example, if you wanted a price on over 1.5, look at the Poisson function for (.92 + .75 = 1.67). Oddly enough, this goes under 1.5 50.3% of the time, and over 49.7% (exactly on market price). If you don't have a chart handy with Poisson distributions, you can find an online worksheet at http://sharpsportsbetting.com/docs/prop_tools.shtml .

There are a few more things you can add in to gain additional precision. The first is an adjustment for "strength of schedule" by simply comparing how a team's previous opponents did against the league/tournament average. While this becomes less important when many games are played, it can be extremely important in short tournaments or when it is early in the season.

Before firing off your bet, you should also consider situational factors. For example, France's striker Louis Saha will miss the final due to a suspension for receiving two yellow yards in the knock out stages. While you may decide that this shouldn't have an impact on the game, you must ALWAYS check the teams for injuries and suspensions in any sport. Failing to account for missing players is one of the easiest ways to the poor house.

I hope you have enjoyed the first year of the "Pinnacle Pulse" from Pinnacle Sports betting. We will be taking a short break from the column over the summer but will return when the NFL preseason begins. In the meantime, feel free to write with your questions to askthebook@pinnaclesports.com and I will try to include the answers in future columns.

What are players betting?

Italy vs. France under 1.5 -108

We are seeing a recurring pattern among many of our sharps. They play the under on the match, and sell off their position during the live betting. 60% of the goals scored in the knockout stages have come in the second half (with similar distributions in most soccer leagues). However the public's pattern for live betting has been nearly oblivious to this, treating it as more of a 50/50 distribution.

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