5 most popular Football betting markets 2023

If when betting on football, the winner market is what you’re really interested in, then you’d be well-advised to check out our comprehensive guide to betting on the winner market.

Or 1x2 market as it’s also sometimes known. Which is by a considerable margin, the most popular football market. Unsurprisingly. But it’s by no means the only market. Far from it. The biggest betting sites like Bet365 or Betfair will offer hundreds of pre-match and live betting markets involving goals, cards, corners, off-sides, shots on target and just about anything else you can think of that could happen in a game of football.

But what we’re going to do here is discuss how to play the five most popular markets beyond the winner market.

We’ll look at how they work, any specific rules that apply to them and give you some tips on how to get the most out of them when betting on them.

James Pacheco
Author, Betting enthusiast

November 16, 2023

James started working in the betting industry a few weeks before Roger Federer won his first-ever Grand Slam and a few months before Greece shocked Europe’s elite at Euro 2004.

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#1 – Over/Under 2.5 Goals market

This is the second most popular market after the winner market and has been ever since gambling went online in the mid-90s. 

First up: why over 2.5 goals? 

The answer is that most domestic leagues, European competitions and international football all average very close to 2.5 goals per game. So, in many cases, it’s almost a coin toss as to whether a game will have over or under 2.5 goals; in other words, you’ll normally get odds of around 2.0 on one of the outcomes and around 1.9 on the other. 

Even-money (not quite but almost) chances like this tend to appeal to many gamblers. 

Look at casino games like Blackjack where you get paid out at even money when you win (excluding getting Blackjack when you’re paid out at 2.5, or 6/4 in fractional odds). Or roulette, where betting on red/black, odd/even etc at even money are the most popular bets on the table. 

In other words, a particular type of punter will enjoy the over/under 2.5 goals market knowing in many cases, it’s almost a coin toss, at least in terms of odds. In that regard it’s far easier to play than many other markets where the odds are all over the place ranging from 1.2 shots to 30.0 shots. 

But why is it over/under 2.5 rather than over/under 2?  

The answer is that if there were exactly two goals in a game, then neither the bets on overs or unders would be winners (or losers) because two goals would be neither one, nor the other. 

By making it 2.5 goals, the market ensures that all bets either win or lose and there are no pushes/refunds which just makes it simpler for everyone.

Factors to consider when playing this market

Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that this won’t always be close to an even money shot. Take Manchester City matches, for example. In the 2022/23 season they scored an average of 2.47 goals per match. In other words, in plenty of matches they went ‘overs’ without needing help from the opposition scoring to get over the 2.5 goal line. 

 So, if they were up against a weaker side, the odds on ‘overs’ would be around 1.4 with ‘unders’ around 3.0 But like we say, the odds are generally close to 2.0 on each outcome. 

Here are some factors to consider when playing this market:

  • Can both teams score? – Your first question when considering whether to go overs or unders is whether you think both teams will score. If you do, that’s two goals right there and you should lean towards ‘overs’.
    If you don’t, then ‘unders’ should be the way to go but as ever, your final decision should be based on the odds on offer. So even if you’re very slightly leaning towards ‘overs’ but you can get 2.4 on ‘unders’, then that would be the value bet.
  • Consider the importance of absent players – For example, if it’s Liverpool v Man City and both Mo Salah and Erland Haaland are missing after scoring plenty of goals in the weeks preceding the game, it might be a good chance to go ‘unders’ at odds-against.
    But the reverse could be true: maybe the odds are giving too much importance to their absences and with plenty of other goalscorers on the pitch, ‘overs’ could be the way to go at a good price. Of course, the absence of important defenders may also have an effect on proceedings but probably not to the same extent as with attacking ones.
  • Don’t be afraid to use Cash Out-   Let’s say you’ve had an 100GBP bet onovers’ at 2.0 in Spurs v Everton. After 15 minutes it’s 1-1 and you have an offer to Cash Out for a profit of 80GBP. It may not be the worst idea to do so.
    It’s easy to assume that it will turn into a high-scoring match after two early goals and that you should get at least one more goal in the game. But football doesn’t always work like that and if 1-1 is how it ends, despite the early goals, you will have lost.
    The same is true of betting ‘unders’. If you bet 100GBP at 2.0 on ‘unders’ and it’s 1-0 with just 10 minutes to go, that might be a good chance to Cash Out and walk away with a decent profit. After all, that’s what it’s there for.

#2 – Correct Score market

A bit like with the first goalscorer market (keep reading), the nice thing about this market is that you only need to get a few of these right a season to end up in profit. 

That’s because predicting a correct score pre-match is an extremely difficult thing to do, so the odds reflect that. On any given match, the absolute minimum price you should get on a correct score is about 7.0 with most other realistic scorelines around the 11.0 mark and more unlikely ones at around 20.0.

And therein lies the double-edged sword that is this market. You get well rewarded at big odds if you get it right but it’s very tough to do. 

If Man City have an easy home game against the side bottom of the table, the final score could be anything.  A regulation 2-0 win, a 3-1 win with City unexpectedly conceding or it could end 5-0.

So perhaps a safer strategy might be to only play this market on games that you think will be low-scoring.  

If Man Utd v Newcastle looks like it could be a cagey, defensive-minded, low-scoring affair you might want to split your stakes three ways and bet on: 0-0, 1-0 and 1-1-. If any of those is how it ends, you’ll still show a pretty decent profit. 

This is another market where using Cash Out could be useful. In fact, more so than on the 2.5 goals market. After all, if you’ve backed a correct score at odds of 10.0 or 15.0 and it has a serious chance of winning as the clock winds down, your profit will be considerably greater when you Cash Out. 

#3 – Asian Handicap

A lot about what we said with the over/under 2.5 goals market is also true of the Asian Handicap market in that it was deliberately created to be close to a coin toss. 

Back in the 90s Asian gamblers didn’t like the idea of what were very one-sided contests on paper. They didn’t want to be betting on Man Utd to beat Sunderland at prohibitively short odds of 1.25 nor did they want to bet on a very unlikely Sunderland win at 7.0. 

And so, the Asian Handicap market was born. It involves giving the favourite an artificial goal(s) pre-match deficit and the outsider an artificial goal(s)-start.

So, using the example above, the bookmakers may give Man Utd a -2.5 handicap at 1.95 with Sunderland given a +2.5 handicap, also at 1.95.

How it actually works

So, what does this all mean? It means that if you bet Man Utd on the handicap, you’ll need them to win by three clear goals to win. If you bet Sunderland on the handicap, you’ll either need them to win, draw or lose by one or two goals to win. But if they lose by three or more, you will have lost your bet. 

Sometimes the handicap is say +3/-3 meaning that if the favourite wins by exactly three goals, your bet (irrespective of which side of the handicap you’re on) ‘pushes’ meaning you neither win nor lose but rather, you get your money back. 

Back in the 90s, there was generally only one line and the handicap applied was just a mathematical calculation conversion of the match odds. So, if the favourite was odds of X to win the match, the handicap would be Y, and so on.     

This is still how the close-to-even-money handicap is determined (sometimes known as the central line) but these days betting companies offer plenty of other handicap lines. 

So, to use the Man Utd v Sunderland example one last time: an alternative to Man Utd -2.5 at 2.0 might be Man Utd -3.5 at 3.0. 

For the record, the central line handicap market in football is the basis of what is most widely used used for betting on most US Sports in America. 

In sports like NBA and NFL, the vast majority of money isn’t placed on the match winner but rather on the favourite overcoming the handicap, or not overcoming it. 

And it’s for the same reason as football gamblers in Asia: they prefer betting on close to even money chances than short-priced favourites and outsiders.

Your football betting options nowadays are basically endless. Even middling sportsbooks will let you wager on domestic, continental, and international football from all around the world, and even at various age groups. With all that said, for many punters the betting calendar will be dominated by a select few events, with these being the main highlights.

#4 – First Goalscorer

A bit like the correct score market in football or The Grand National in horseracing, picking a first goalscorer is an exercise in risk and reward: it’s extremely hard picking the first goalscorer in any given match but there are big rewards on offer if you can do so. 

First Goalscorer Market Rules

First up, a note on the specific rules of the market. Let’s say you backed say Marcus Rashford to be first goalscorer in Man Utd v Chelsea at 8.0.

Here are all the different scenarios that could happen:

  • Rashford starts and scores the first goal– You get paid out at 8.0. 
  • Rashford doesn’t start, comes on as a sub and still scores the first goal– You get paid out at 8.0. 
  • Rashford starts and doesn’t score the first goal– Your bet loses.
  • Rashford doesn’t start, comes on and is on the pitch when the first goal is scored (not by him)– Your bet loses. 
  • Rashford doesn’t start and the first goal is scored when he’s not on the pitch- You get your stake back. 
  • Rashford plays no part in the game at all- You get your stake back.

A couple of other points about the rules to note. If the match ends 0-0 you don’t get your money back if your player was on the pitch at any time. Instead, ‘no goalscorer’, a runner in any first goalscorer market, is deemed the winner. 

If the first goal of the match is an own goal, then the winner of the market is whoever scores the second goal of the match. If there isn’t a second goal in the match, the winner would be ‘no goalscorer’ as per above.

Tips for playing the first goalscorer market

Everyone will have their own opinion on how best to play this market. A striker or attacking midfielder who regularly scores goals and as an added bonus, also takes penalties, is your best chance of a winner but then again, they’re likely to be favourites anyway at around 7.0-9.0. 

As a middle ground, you could consider midfielders who score 5-6 goals a season, maybe take a few free-kicks or can be dangerous from corners. Players like Man Utd’s Casemiro or Man City’s Rodri come under this category, and you might secure odds of around 15.0-20.0 on them. 

Or you could go for a real outsider but whose odds will reflect that.  Defenders or holding midfielders who don’t often appear in scoring positions and only score 1-2 goals a season could be as big as 40.0 to be first goalscorer. Like we say, you only need to get one or two of these right a season to be in clover. 

#5 – To score market

The obvious difference between the first goalscorer and the ‘to score’ market is that the former can only ever have one winner and the latter can (theoretically) have five or six. 

The second most obvious difference is that because there could be multiple winners on the ‘to score’ market, the odds on a player to score are generally much shorter than they would be on the same player in the first goalscorer market. 

A prolific goalscorer like Erling Haaland or Mo Salah might even be odds-on to score if they’re up against weak opposition, something that would never happen in a first goalscorer market.  

But similar to the first goalscorer market, it depends on how adventurous you want to be.  

One strategy might be to back an outsider in a match where you think his team may well score three or four goals, as he may well get one of them. 

Another may be to back a player at big odds who may take a penalty (if there is one) in the absence of the regular penalty-taker; especially if the bookies haven’t adjusted their odds to reflect the fact he could be on penalty duty. 

Some players have freakishly good scoring records against a particular opposition so look out for when they’re up against that particular team.  In this case, their odds may not be so high, but it may well still be worth it.  


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