Here at WagerBop we spend a lot of time looking at underdog picks. It’s only natural.
Bettors and handicappers have been offered favorites vs the point spread since we were kids. (As Damon Runyon once put it, all of life is 6-to-5 against.) Time and experience have taught us to look for the price, not the number. If you can find a plus-moneyline on an “underdog” that really has a coin-flip’s chance to win, then the lower-risk and higher-reward wager is always the right decision.
Futures gambling in big, broad tournaments and leagues turns that idea on its head. Things change when the “favorites” are getting 5-to-1 or 10-to-1 at the sportsbook.
A likely winner is obviously more valuable than (+500) or (+1000). You just have to properly identify them before the odds shrink. People who possess PGA Championship betting slips that say “Brooks Koepka” or “Dustin Johnson” are immensely glad going into this weekend. They purchased 10-to-1 bets on a pair of golfers who could win 3 out of 10 tournaments at Bethpage Black. Those who gambled on Tiger Woods at the same price are probably out of luck, having made the unwise call that Woods 2.0 was well-suited to the setting.
Suppose one isn’t a fan of such stuffy, geriatric sports. Where else in the world can she find lots of 5-fold and even 10-fold payoff markets on entries likely to advance, contend, and challenge for a title?
International football is a great place to start.
And in 2019, the Beautiful Game is renting a summer home in Africa.
Mohamed Salah hasn’t often been a plus-payoff wager this season…at least not with Liverpool. Not even for the Golden Boot! But you can still find longer odds on the marvelous attacker’s team in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.
Ajax’s London lines are also shrinking now that the team has made such a miraculous run through the 2018-19 Champions League. AFCON is an opportunity to wager on some of your favorite Sons of the Gods all over again. The Dutch club is littered with African talent, as is the Premier League.
Let’s examine all 6 favorites – all at “underdog” odds-to-win AFCON – of the 6 qualifying groups (Group A through Group F) headed into the round-robin in June. Remember that the CAF format is basically a scrunched-up Champions League or “World Cup” standard of group play followed by a 16-nation knockout round and subsequent medal round.
Egypt (+350 Odds-to-Win AFCON at Bovada Sportsbook)
The Group A tournament host is coming off a 2018 FIFA World Cup appearance that failed to produce a single victory. While Salah was still a youngling, the team failed to qualify in 2013 and 2015. But in 2017, Egypt fell just short of an AFCON title, losing to Cameroon 2-1 in the final.
Historically the Pharaohs are the most successful team in the African competition with 7 AFCON titles.
All eyes will be on Salah. He has wowed supporters with 51 goals in the Premier League over the last 2 years and is a 2-time Africa Player of the Year.
But don’t sleep on midfielder Mohamad Elneny, a reliable workhorse who has made 45 appearances for Arsenal. The exciting up-and-comer Trézéguet scored 13 goals for Turkish club Kasımpaşa during the 2017-2018 season.
Head coach Javier Aguirre took over the squad following the dreadful results in Russia. He’ll have to deal with the Congo (the national team, not a safari or a bad Genesis record) and a pair of contenders – Uganda and Zimbabwe – who suffer the effects of athletes facing B-grade opposition at a club level before taking on the best of the continent.
Nigeria has reigned in AFCON with championships in 1980, 1994, and 2013. But disasters in other recent qualification cycles make the squad itchy to prove itself in 2019.
Captain midfielder John Obi Mikel played with Premier League club Chelsea from 2006-2017 and returned to English professional football by joining Championship club Middlesbrough in 2019.
German manager Gernot Rohr took over the team in 2016 and has utilized numerous formations, most notably a 4-2-3-1, to wrangle production out his teams. Guinea will be the Nigerians’ most highly-touted opponent in Group B.
Senegal made its 2nd FIFA World Cup appearance in 2018 but failed to advance past the group stage. A loss in the “fair play points” tie-breaker to Japan prevented the squad from repeating a great quarterfinal run in 2002.
Liverpool winger Sadio Mané has scored 43 goals in his 3 seasons in the Premiership held the battered Reds aloft with sheer willpower in 2019. 24-year-old forward M’Baye Niang scored 8 goals in his first 25 appearances on loan to Ligue 1 club Rennes. Forward Keita Baldé joined Serie A club Internazionale on loan in 2018 and scored 4 goals in his first 17 appearances.
That’s big-time club talent, and Senegal is a constant contender in AFCON.
Aliou Cissé took over as manager in 2015 and has garnered criticism for playing too conservatively, experimenting with formations other than the team’s accustomed 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. He’ll need more than a circle-the-wagons strategy to get past Algeria in Group C.
Ivory Coast (+800)
Morocco was an early betting favorite in Group D. The team has impressed in FIFA competition, and 26-year-old midfielder Hakim Ziyech has been sensational for Ajax, scoring 30+ goals over 3 seasons. Noussair Mazraoui of the Morocco National Team has made over 30 appearances for AFC Ajax as well.
But it’s the Ivory Coast that has taken over the spot as Group D favorite. The team has been one of the most successful modern squads in AFCON, winning the tournament in 1992 and 2015.
2017 was not a stellar season, however, as supporters suffered the gloom of being ousted in the group stage.
Forward Gervinho recently moved to the Italian club Parma and has scored 10 goals in 23 appearances. But all eyes will be on an English club player (imagine that) as Wilfried Zaha has scored 30 goals in in the past 4 seasons in a 2nd stint with Crystal Palace.
The Eagles of Carthage appeared in Russia in 2018, a narrative that will continue to dominate headlines. Wahbi Khazri is a recent club star in France who has scored 12 goals in his first 19 appearances for Ligue 1 club Saint-Étienne.
But there’s more to the team than World Cup and Paris glory. Midfielder Ferjani Sassi is a fine contributor to any attack, and defender Ali Maâloul gives the Group E favorites another dynamic presence on the back line.
Manager Alain Giresse is going to a formation with 5 midfielders and 1 lone striker. If Khazri is the man up front, then try to focus your eyes elsewhere as a handicapper. Offense could come in spurts, and what appears to be a friendly draw could portend episodes in Group E as Mali (currently (+1400) to win AFCON) lurks on the schedule.
Ghana had an incredible run in the most-recent AFCON before losing to Cameroon in the semi-finals. The Black Stars have finished 4th place or higher in each of the last 6 tournaments, but have not claimed the title since 1982.
Star striker and captain Asamoah Gyan has scored 51 international goals competing for his home country. 29-year-old winger André Ayew notched 5 goals in 27 appearances for Süper Lig club Fenerbahçe since joining on-loan in 2018.
Cameroon is paired against Ghana in Group F…wouldn’t you know.
The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on June 21st.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.