06/18/2006 11:00PM

World Cup lines dead solid perfect


In the United States, football is the No. 1 betting sport and it's said that oddsmakers are able to make really sharp lines because there's so much information that is widely disseminated and there are no secrets.

Well, we're seeing in the World Cup, with soccer being the No. 1 sport worldwide, that these lines are even sharper. After the first two games on Wednesday, and with each of the 32 teams having played one match, it's clear that oddsmakers have these games pretty well handicapped.

The favorites have gone 13-2-3 straight-up, but the oddsmakers have leveled the playing field as favorites and dogs were split exactly even at 8-8. They especially proved adept at keeping bettors from loading up on the supposedly best teams. At sports books that use the Asian handicap betting format, the better team is usually a 1/2-goal favorite, but in the five cases that a team was favored by 1 1/2 goals (Germany vs. Costa Rica, Sweden vs. Trinidad/Tobago, Argentina vs. Ivory Coast, Portugal vs. Angola, and Brazil vs. Croatia), they went 4-0-1 straight-up but only 1-4 against the spread. The only team to cover was Germany 4-2 over Costa Rica in the World Cup opener, and that was only with an insurance goal in the closing minutes.

All 16 of the opening games had the over/under set at 2 1/2 goals. How sharp are those lines? There were 39 goals scored, or an average of 2.44 goals per game. The over/under was 7-7 until the Spain-Ukraine and Tunisia-Saudi Arabia games both went over early Wednesday.

With oddsmakers having seen the teams play this past week, expect the lines to be just as sharp moving forward.

The U.S. team, which had a disappointing performance in a 3-0 loss to Czech Republic on Monday, is in pretty much a must-win situation Saturday vs. Italy. There are many different ways to bet the match depending on where you shop. The U.S. is a 1-goal underdog at the Las Vegas Hilton and Station Casinos. Books that put the line at pick-em, such as MGM Mirage and Caesars Palace, have Italy favored around -230 (risk $2.30 for every $1 you want to profit). If you think the U.S. will get blown out again, the Palms has Italy -1 1/2 goals and a price of +175 (win $1.75 for every $1 wagered).

Back to an American game

Another "world" event begins Friday, even if it only involves U.S. universities. The College World Series takes place in Omaha, Neb., with Rice being the 3-1 favorite among the eight remaining teams. Clemson and Cal-State Fullerton are solid co-second choices at 7-2, with Oregon State at 4-1, Georgia Tech at 6-1, North Carolina at 8-1, Georgia at 12-1, and Miami-Fla. at 16-1.

Football in North America

If your favorite college sport is football, here's a look at the odds to win the BCS title game in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 8 at the new Cardinals Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.: Notre Dame, led by Heisman Trophy favorite Brady Quinn, is the 5-1 favorite, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, followed by Ohio State at 6-1, Southern Cal at 8-1, Oklahoma at 10-1, and Texas, Florida, and LSU at 12-1.

* The Canadian Football League kicks off its season this weekend. If Edmonton doesn't come through in the Stanley Cup, the city can take solace in being the 3-1 co-favorite along with Toronto in the CFL. Montreal and British Columbia are both 7-2, with Calgary at 5-1. The remaining CFL teams are considered outsiders, with Saskatchewan and Hamilton at 10-1 and Winnipeg at 25-1.

More events this weekend

On Saturday night, Jermain Taylor defends his WBC and WBO middleweight belts vs. Winky Wright at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. This fight has been around pick-em since it was announced, but money has moved Taylor to between a -120 and -130 favorite at most books. Taylor has twice defeated Bernard Hopkins and was certainly flattered last weekend when Hopkins stepped up two weight classes and defeated Antonio Tarver. But Wright, the former junior middleweight title holder, is no slouch, with victories over Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad. The odds are the fight will go the distance, as the "will go" 12 rounds prop is priced around -350 and the "won't go" around +280. The best part is that it's on HBO and not pay-per-view for fans at home and will be shown at many local sports books for free.

* Sunday's Nextel Cup race will be the 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle are the 4-1 co-favorites at Station Casinos, with Matt Kenseth at 6-1, Kasey Kahne at 7-1, and Tony Stewart at 9-1.

NBA and NHL wrap up, look ahead

As of this writing, Carolina was looking to wrap up the Stanley Cup Finals with a 3-1 series lead over Edmonton heading into Wednesday night's game. Meanwhile, Dallas had jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Miami rallied to win Tuesday night to get back into the NBA Finals.

So, those leagues will be wrapping up play either over the weekend or within the next week, but that doesn't mean there won't be any odds available.

The Las Vegas Hilton has Detroit and Ottawa as the co-favorites at 6-1 to win the 2006-07 Stanley Cup, with the quintet of New Jersey, Calgary, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and (possible defending champ) Carolina all at12-1. Edmonton is well down the list at 20-1.

In the NBA, neither finalist is among the top three choices. Detroit, San Antonio, and Phoenix are all 4-1, with Dallas at 5-1 and Miami at 6-1, and then there's a big dropoff to New Jersey at 15-1.