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The Sport of PIIGS

Oscar Foulkes June 1, 2010 Uncategorized No comments

The Euro zone is in the news for all the wrong reasons at the moment. In fact, if the currency continues the way it’s going, South Africans may not be as keen to accept Greeks bearing euros. OK, maybe not only Greeks, but also Germans, Dutch and French.

The most troubled European economies make up the unfortunately acronymed PIIGS countries – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. Soccer is not a sport one associates with Ireland – who would have made it a PIIGS full-house were it not for a crucial handball by Thierry Henry – but it’s huge in all four of the others. Imagine what the World Cup would look like without its ruling favourite (Spain), defending champion (Italy), or the interesting outsider Portugal. South Africa has a huge Greek community, so some of the ‘home game’ factor needs to be factored into their performance as well.

I venture onto Betfair a few times a year, partly because of the fun of having a bet, but also because the exchange enables one to ‘lay off’ a position. For example, Portugal is currently 33-1. Should they qualify, the odds should shorten. Assuming an initial stake of £10, if their odds shorten to 15-1, one could then lay 150-10, meaning that there is upside (£180), and no downside.

With the exception of the favourites, Spain, the odds against Portugal, Italy and Greece allow margin for some interesting bets. The alternative to laying off the full amount immediately after the Group stage is to lay them at each knockout game. Because these games involve only two teams, the odds will be much shorter, which means one could be laying off at even money. This my PIIGS strategy for the World Cup.

Another strategy is a play on two interesting markets (Betfair has markets for just about every aspect of what could happen between 11 June and 11 July), Stage of Elimination and Position in Group, both of which are accessible under ‘team specials’.

I’ve layed USA to be eliminated at the Group stage, at odds of 1.42-1 (Betfair displays its odds Tote-style, so this is actually 2.42). My potential loss is £1.42 for every £1.00 wagered by whoever is on the other side of the wager. If USA qualifies I’m in the clear, but I’d prefer to go into this with hardly any risk. I can cover most of the risk of this bet by backing USA to come third in the group, at odds of 2.65-1. And, yes, if they finish fourth both bets are losers, but a US Navy battleship positioned off the coast of Algeria should take care of any issues here.

Temporary mis-pricing may also open opportunities in the To Qualify and Stage of Elimination markets, but one does need to take into account the 5% commission on winning bets. These markets are perfect hedges for each other.

I’ve never had any interest in following soccer, but perhaps Betfair can help me get through a month of the stuff happening on my doorstep. My money is on the underdogs. Every PIG[S] has its day.

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