Oct 21, 2021
Oct 21, 2021

How to bet on South American soccer: Part 1

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How to bet on South American soccer: Part 1

In the previous edition of this series, I discussed some general rules and themes for understanding and predicting the outcomes of Colombian soccer. But South America is an enormously varied part of the world and the countries that make up this continent have different philosophies, ways of life, and ways of playing and enjoying soccer. This is something that bettors need to understand before betting on any of the leagues across this region. Read on to inform your South American soccer betting.

South America is a very large and extremely diverse continent socially, historically, ethnically, and geographically. All of these differences play an important role in how the game of soccer is played, enjoyed, and understood, and this can result in matches being harder or sometimes easier to predict than in major European soccer leagues.

I have followed South American soccer for over a decade and have learnt a great deal about how the beautiful game is played across the continent. The observations I will make in this article (and others in the series) should provide plenty of context for you and will hopefully be a valuable starting point for you in trying to understand how teams are likely to approach and play soocer matches, and thus help you to predict the outcomes of these matches.

Bolivian soccer: What should bettors look out for?

The generalisation about Bolivian clubs is that they perform poorly when they do not have home advantage but extremely well when they do.

Altitude can give Bolivian clubs a huge advantage and they undoubtedly adjust their approach accordingly. In the most recent World Cup qualifying round of fixtures, Bolivia sent a reserve side away to Brazil to be heavily beaten so that they would have an extra week for their first team to prepare to host a nervous Argentina side at home.

Away from home, Bolivian sides are expected to sit deep with two lines of four and defend their penalty box. They will often leave one or two forward to try to snatch something on the counter but at sea level, it is their tough, experienced defenders who are often the protagonists.

The generalisation about Bolivian clubs is that they perform poorly when they do not have home advantage.

When Bolivian clubs play at home things are usually completely different. It takes over a week for an athlete’s body to adjust to extreme altitude and some have estimated that for those not acclimatised, playing in the capital La Paz reduces physical capacity by up to 30%. On top of the physical strain, players must also adapt to the sweeping tactical changes that are inevitably made by coaches looking to ensure they have eleven players capable of finishing the game.

Bolivian clubs playing at altitude are often completely different at home. They are confident, assertive, fearless, and play with high intensity. They know they have a physical advantage over their opponents if often not a technical one, so will look to make things as uncomfortable as possible for their visitors.

Even watching games at altitude is exhausting but always intriguing and unpredictable. South American clubs often expect to put five or six goals past Bolivian opposition at home but would be delighted with a draw against them away in higher altitude. This is information bettors can utilise to potentially gain an edge in the betting markets.

Brazilian soccer: Tradition, tactical approach, and style of play

Brazil’s pool of young soccer talent is very strong; no country on the planet brings through such a high quantity of technically gifted and physically competitive players. Brazil is a huge country obsessed with soccer, with dozens of giant clubs, an extensive youth system, a world-leading reputation, good facilities, and millions of talented young players who are extremely motivated to succeed.

As well as a constant flood of elite-level talent, Brazilian top-flight soccer is the richest on the continent and big clubs can count their fans in the tens of millions. Brazilian clubs can take their pick of almost any player on the continent and they regularly pay their star players significantly more per month than their continental rival’s total annual operating budget.

Brazilian clubs really should find the vast majority of Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana opposition incredibly easy to beat. The financial disparity would be comparable to Premier League sides facing fifth-tier clubs in the early round of the FA Cup. And, of course, Brazilian giants are regularly found in the latter stages of the competition − but it is rarely straightforward and they are regularly outplayed by Venezuelan clubs who pay some first-team players US$200 per month.

How is this possible?

To put it simply; in my view, Brazil is world-class in terms of talent but extremely poor in terms of ideas, coaching, and tactics. There are, of course, exceptions to this and Brazil has produced some very good managers but I think it is no surprise that it was not until Flamengo appointed the Portuguese boss Jorge Jesus that they really started to get the most from their absurdly talented and incredibly expensive squad. A good, solid European manager, Jesus helped Flamengo dominate the Brasileirao and breeze past Brazilian opposition in the Libertadores.

A good, forward-thinking coach in Brazil who tries to implement progressive ideas is usually setting himself up for a swift exit. Games come thick and fast, and a good start can quickly turn into a high-profile, heavily criticised disaster. The manager who made changes is an easy scapegoat and he is quickly removed so the club can return to middle-of-the-road tactical mediocrity.

In some seasons, there are up to 40 managerial changes in the Brazilian top flight. If you want to last the year, then keep it simple, keep your head down, try to stay organised in defence, be positive to the media, and hope for some match-winning moments of individual brilliance from your players.

As well as a constant flood of elite-level talent, Brazilian top-flight soccer is the richest on the continent.

Fear and instability mean Brazilian teams often do not play with the attacking flair they are clearly capable of. Defences usually sit very deep, strikers stay high and the game is stretched. Jorge Jesus’ Flamengo were very notable exceptions to this, with their high press and high lines but most clubs set out to avoid mistakes rather than force them.

Often the order of the day for Brazilian sides is deep defenders, big energetic midfield ball winners, and focal point strikers with all of the thrust and invention coming from the wide areas through attacking overlapping fullbacks, or inverted wingers.

The incredible talent Brazil has in wide areas means this is often effective but more limited sides can effectively counter this with a deep, organised defence, or confident sides can press and win possession higher in a way Brazilian club sides are not prepared for.

In terms of game management, Brazilian sides are often willing to win by any means necessary. Clubs are very happy for their players to waste time, dive, and fake injury if it helps get the result. And even against vastly inferior opposition, Brazilian sides will often look to protect a lead rather than put on a show which is why you often get low scoring matches. While not on the same level as Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay, Brazilian clubs do have a good history of game management. This cautious approach can occasionally catch them out with late equalisers and some of the big characters can lose their heads when provoked.

Brazilian clubs are the giants of South America but despite the staggering advantages they have, they are frequently beaten by a brave or organised side who can exploit their often glaring tactical flaws.

Chilean soccer: History and modern focus

Modern Chilean soccer identity was largely shaped and made famous internationally by Marcelo Bielsa, who was appointed the national team manager in 2007. Claudio Borghi took over from him for the 2012 Copa del Pacifico and was then replaced by Jorge Sampaoli, who built on the important foundations laid by Bielsa and led Chile to their first Copa America title in 2015. A year later, largely the same team again lifted the trophy under Juan Antonio Pizzi.

Prior to Bielsa, Chilean soccer had some huge stars, including attacking pair Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano, but they didn’t really have a clear identity. Bielsa worked to emphasise Chilean soccer’s strengths and minimise their weaknesses. The country didn’t produce many tall, strong central defenders but they had a lot of quick, athletic players capable of pressing and transitioning quickly. This meant the side would assert themselves more, play the game in the opposition half, overwhelm with an aggressive press, and keep numbers forward.

The national team seems to be in decline and lacking a little identity, and the same can be said of Chilean club teams.

These tactical innovations coincided with the emergence of a wonderful generation of players led by Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, and Gary Medel. These players are coming to the end of their national team careers but remain important for Chile in a side that is now far less energetic and assertive.

The national team seems to be in decline and lacking a little identity, and the same can be said of Chilean club teams. There is hope for some of the youngsters coming through but right now Chilean soccer no longer has the same energy, excitement, and potential it once had in the Libertadores and Sudamericana.

Around a decade ago, Chilean clubs would strike fear into opponents who knew they would often face a quick, dynamic, and organised attacking unit. That isn’t really the case anymore and while they remain competitive, Chilean clubs don’t really bring the same energy and mystique.

They are more professional and organised than many South American opponents and they don’t really use the same dirty tactics or style of play that some of their neighbours do. They are unlikely to lose their heads but they are also not experts in provoking an opposition into losing theirs.

Chilean crowds are usually good and lively participants which can give teams a home advantage, although they don’t have the trump card of dizzying altitude or any other sort of uncomfortable climatic extreme which other South American countries have.

Chilean clubs have been competitive and consistent but a little underwhelming in recent years, particularly given the innovative and influential soccer revolution that took place 15-20 years ago, and bettors should think long and hard before betting money on these sides.

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