Football: Spread Betting

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The Independent Online
THE PROFESSIONALS call it buying money - betting on a odds-on "sure-fire winner". This is an option on the spreads as well but there is also an opportunity available at the other extreme - relying on "sure- fire" losers. The odds are huge, and the potential dangers even greater, but do you believe, for example, that Austria are going to pip Italy and Chile in Group B? Converting some unimpressive form in friendlies - losing to Hungary and the USA - into a last-minute rescue operation against Cameroon in their first game means Austria's 7-11 in Sporting's "World Cup Index" (they have a different points system, mostly double their rivals') is the place to go.

Now all 32 teams have played, we have concrete form to base our opinions on. Some of the perceived deadwood in the competition are close to the fire, some are smouldering already. City have ensured that no one can pick up easy money in their overall index by quoting Tunisia, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, South Korea and South Arabia at 0-2. That makes them unsellable and unbuyable.

Selling is for the strong-hearted - far easier to trust the layers' judgement - but there is value. Cameroon, who weren't much better than Austria, are 5-8 with Sporting, as are South Africa, who looked out of depth in losing 3-0 to France. Now they could surprise us all and meet in the final giving us a heart-failure inducing 340-point loss but that's a theoretical crisis because one of the great joys of this form of betting is its fluidity Unlike the fixed-odds punter who lost pounds 100,000 with William Hill when Bulgaria could only draw with Paraguay last week, the spread-punter can cut his losses at any time.

Salas scored Chile's two goals in their 2-2 draw against Italy, a brace which catapulted him temporarily, from sixth to first, to the top of Sporting's "Golden Boot Index". He's now second after Argentina's Batistuta, advancing from 7-10 on 23-26 but he has to be fancied, injury permitting, to score against Austria today.

Shearer's goal against Tunisia also resulted in a jump, from 9-12 to 19-22. IG took note as well and increased Shearer and Owen by six points in their "Dynamic Duo" category, making them fourth on 14-17 but surprisingly the bottom pair - the Netherlands' Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert - have lost just a single point despite the former's injury and the latter's two match suspension.

There have been some big slides. The Netherlands advanced in the build- up but their 0-0 draw against Belgium has seen them drop like a stone in the total goals markets; Colombia have descended from 18-22 to 6-10 with Sporting (from 6-9 to 3-5 with the others) and Spain have lost 25 points with Sporting (as much as 10 with the others). The biggest gainers are Nigeria, who have seen 10 points added to their overall value after their 3-2 win over Spain and are now double their opening level in the Group Index, swapping places with the vanquished.