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Here’s how close World Cup semi-finals can land you a 16/1 winner

by Aidan Elder | July 7, 2014

60 matches down, four to go. Three that we actually give a shit about.

We arrive in the last four with nations familiar to the business end of the tournament. Some are more familiar with actually getting their hands on the trophy than others, but they’re all in with a shout.

They’re all so close you could throw one of Jogi Low’s neatly pressed shirts over them. At 5/2, Argentina are the favourites. At 7/2, Holland are the nominal hopeless outsiders.

With the vagaries of luck and woeful refereeing, picking a winner is really down to personal opinion. You can fancy the metronomic relentlessness of the Germans, the Brazilians with their agreeable referees, Argentina with Lionel Messi or the Dutch with their smug sense of superiority – there’s plenty of evidence you can selectively choose or ignore, depending on the argument you want to make.

We don’t know who’ll win it, but can we at least predict what type of game to expect. Probably not, is the short answer, but that won’t stop us trying. Once again clutching the history books, the Paddy Power Blog has set out to find if there’s a certain type of game to look out for in the last four of football’s biggest tournament?

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Contrary to the middling results these pieces tend to uncover, a clear trend emerges.

In the early semi-finals, there did appear to be a substantial gulf in class between the teams. The first World Cup semi-finals ever both finished 6-1. If you fancy any of Brazil, Holland, Germany and Argentina to emulate that feat, you’ll get 500/1 for whichever team you’re plumping for to do it.

Larger victories tell the broad story of early World Cup semi-finals. Wins by two or more goals (in 90 minutes) were by far and away the most common type of semi-final – 65% of them were won by this comparatively comfortable margin.

Shift towards closer semis

In more recent times however, there’s been a very noticeable shift towards closer semi-finals. Starting with the tripe of the 1990 World Cup, they’re becoming more competitive than a ‘Who’s the Skankiest contest?’ on Geordie Shore.

  • Eight of the 12 semis since 1990 have been decided by a single goal in 90 minutes, one of them was settled in extra-time and three of them strung out the drama all the way to some badly taken penalties.

The day of cushy semi-finals seems to be well truly gone. In fact, the last time we saw a semi-final won by two or more goals within normal time was back in 1986 when West Germany and Argentina both won 2-0 to set-up a final we might see replicated 28 years later.

It leaves us looking at the Winning Margin markets. Depending on who you fancy to win, it looks likely to be close. Brazil and Germany are both 10/3 to beat each other by exactly one goal while Holland are 7/2 and Argentina 3/1 to win by the same margin.

Taking the shortest odds of Argentina to win by exactly one goal at 3/1 and either Brazil or Germany at 10/3 that’s slightly more than a 16/1 double. If you go with the Dutch instead of the Argies, it’s a 19/1 double.

In three World Cups (1994, 2002 and 2010) both semi-finals were won by exactly one goal. While that’s not a whole lot in 84 years of World Cup history, it does represent three of the last five tournaments.

There may be some margin for error, but certainly, closer semis look like they’re the norm these days.

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