Fear and Football in Las Vegas: Bad Bets


I made a bad bet today.

In the third place match of the 2014 World Cup, I bet $33 on Brazil (-165) to win. I made this bet because I did not think that the Netherlands would show up to play. Who cares about third place in the World Cup? What point of pride would push the Dutch players towards a performance of greatness?

Meanwhile, I believed Brazil had everything (well, everything besides a World Cup title) to play for. Their country, their reputations, their legacy as the team that posted the most embarrassing performance their country has ever seen, these were all factors that I thought would drive Brazil to show greatness.

I thought they would care. And in my naivety, I thought that would matter.

It didn’t. The Dutch beat the host country 3-0 bringing their aggregate score since the the quarterfinals to a harrowing 10-1 deficit. It was humiliating for Brazil, and it was humiliating for me.

I made a bad bet. As a gambler, it happens, and it is something that I am not uncomfortable admitting. But you deserve better than this. You, dear reader, some of whom donated actually money to make this series of articles possible, deserve more than me sleeping in too late and writing an article that only exists to let you know I placed another bet. You deserve entertainment and insight and analysis and more and more things that I honestly might not be qualified to give you.

But I can try. And if I try hard enough, maybe I can give you a winner.

In just a few hours, Germany will play Argentina in a World Cup final for the third time in the history of forever. Let’s see how they got here.


Germany – Advanced out of the “Group of Death” without a loss, although they drew Ghana 2-2. In the round of sixteen, they needed to beat Algeria 2-1. In the quarterfinals they defeated a French side that seemed completely disinterested in playing soccer 1-0. And we all remember how the semifinal against Brazil went down.


Argentina – Advanced out of what could’ve been known as the “Group of Life” if other people enjoyed that joke as much as I did, advancing as the first place team in a group filled out by Iran, Nigeria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They won each of those games by exactly one goal. In the round of sixteen, Switzerland took them to extra time where Di Maria (whose status for the final is in the questionable-doubtful range) scored two minutes before the match went to penalties. They scored early on Belgium in the quarterfinals and rode that goal from the 8th minute to victory. And they just advanced against the Netherlands in a semifinal that was as boring as the Brazil-Germany game was unbelievable.

What do we think of these teams as a whole? Germany has arguably (possibly undoubtedly) been the best team in the tournament. They are a complete unit that can kill you in multiple ways. Argentina has Lionel Messi, who is arguably (possibly undoubtedly) the greatest soccer player ever. The statisticians at 538 did a writeup on him, and the numbers don’t make sense on our physical plane. It is possible that Messi was an angel sent from on high to play soccer and show us the light.

As Jon Champion so beautifully put it after the second semifinal match, the championship game would be “Messi vs. The Machine.”

Check out how Messi did the last time he was sent to fight machines. (Skip ahead to 5:30).

I think that these two teams are pretty even. I think that if this World Cup Final were played 10 times, Germany would win about five, Argentina three, and two would go to penalties where everything is a crapshoot. But we are betting Argentina today, because that is where the value is.

To be honest, I knew I would be betting against Germany in the final as soon as they scored their fifth goal against Brazil. People don’t know soccer well. But people do know that Brazil is supergood at soccer, and that a 7-1 is crazy impressive against a team that’s supposed to be as good as Brazil. Casual bettors, who don’t know soccer, were going to see that Germany semifinal result, and then bet the crap out of them in the final.

This is exactly what happened. I spoke with one of the ticket takers at Mandalay Bay yesterday. He said so far, they had a little over $200,000 of action on the game, with close to 70% of the bets coming in on Germany.

These bets on Germany have driven Argentina to be listed as a much higher underdog than they actually are. And so today we bet on Argentina. We bet on hope. We bet on Messi.

It might be another bad bet. I might be losing more and more money that should be going to charity and more and more money that should’ve stayed in your pockets. But we cannot change the past and I already have your money. I am a gambler. I make bets. And I can deal with the fact that I make a bad one from time to time.

Let’s go Argentina.

Rage Against the Machine.

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