With Euro 2012 nearly upon us, a lot of money is exchanging hands between punters and bookmakers to predict the outcome of this prestigious event. Favourites to win Euro 2012 include, World Cup ’10 winners and current European Championship holders, Spain as well as 3-time Euro winners Germany. Both Spain and Germany posted 100% win percentages during qualification and are seen as hot favourites to take the 14th European Football Championship. Armed with this information, it would appear to be a seemingly easy decision where to place your money, but with a tournament that has seen 9 different winners in 13 tournaments it is never quite that simple. Historically, the tournament has thrown up shock winners such as Greece in 2004 and Denmark in 1992, and has restricted some big footballing nations such as England and Portugal from winning. This blog will try and investigate trends that have emerged during the last 4 European Championships (since the modern group phase changes in 1996), in terms of qualification and group phase statistics and try to highlight possible winners.
The qualifying phase leading up to the Euros consists of between 8 and 14 games. These matches include teams of varying abilities on the FIFA world ranking table and give all teams an opportunity to show off consistency and prowess on the main stage. The team posting the best record in qualification is usually tipped for a succesful campaign in the main tournament, but in essence, is this strong qualifying record indicative of tournament wins?
The above table shows that on average the team that finishes 6th or 7th (6.5) during qualifying (ranked by points and goal difference to every team in every group) progresses on to win the main competition. This combined with the fact that no team in the modern era group stage (1996-present) has won the European Football Championship after qualifying with a perfect or overall best record, quashes the notion that the best qualifying team will win the overall tournament. Another statistic observed in the table above is that the team that manages an average total of 2.3 points per game during qualifying will progress on to win the main tournament. This again goes against the concept that the team who amounts the most points during qualifying will the lift the trophy. One other statistic to take note of is, no team has finished 2nd in their qualifying group and gone on to win the main tournament (1996-present).
Another perspective to approach the statistical analysis of the European Championship qualification phase is with goal analysis.
The figure above shows an average goals scored per game of 1.83 and an average goals conceded per game of 0.79. This difference is obvious as you would expect a team with a winning record to score more goals than it concedes. This data will be more important during further analysis when these figures are applied to the recent Euro 2012 qualifying data to see if any teams show this trend. This goals scored to conceded data equates to a ratio of 1:0.43 which will also be analysed further to see if any teams show consistency with this trend.
To predict the overall tournament winner based on qualifying prowess seems to be a redundant statistic, as shown above. It would be more relevant to use trends found in qualifying and during the group stage to make a more informed decision. If a team has a successful group stage, which is quantified by points accumulated and a healthy goal difference, they are tipped by bookmakers as heavy favourites to win the tournament. This beckons the question, does the most successful team in the group phase (ranked by points, goal difference and goals for) win the tournament?
The above table shows that on average approximately the 4th (4.25) ranked team (ranked by points, goal difference and goals for – against all other teams) will progress on to win the main competition. This is a steady improvement compared to the qualifying data (6.5) and shows progression by the eventual winners. This again goes against the argument that the most successful team (in qualifying or group phase) actually wins the tournament. This data may suggest that the eventual winner improves throughout the tournament process, peaking at the right time and not peaking too early in the tournament like hot favourites.
This data also shows that a team which has been statistically ranked as no.1 from group stage results has never progressed to win the overall tournament (1996-present). The average points gained per game during the group stage were 2.17. This statistic will be analysed later on in the blog to advise what to look out for in Euro 2012, in conjunction with qualifying trends. An additional point to consider is, out of the previous 4 Euro winners, 2 have won after finishing 2nd in their group. This data questions the popular decision by punters to bet heavily on the favourite.
Again, a goal analysis for the group phase, eventual tournament winners needs to be investigated to see if there are emerging trends.
The figure above depicts average goals per game scored and conceded during the group stage for the team who eventually won the tournament. There was an overall average of 2 goals scored and 0.92 conceded per game. These are slightly higher values compared to the qualifying figures, this may be because the improved quality of opponents and the increased pressure on the 3 game group stage i.e. more goals scored. The ratio of goals scored to conceded is 1:0.46, translating to a higher rate of goals conceded than goals scored when compared to the qualifying group (1:0.43). Although the 0.03 increase in goals conceded, these ratios are very similar between qualifying and group. This data could suggest that there is a winning trend to look out for in qualifying to group stage in terms of the team’s ratio. Conversely to this, a specific year were a positive goals for and against ratio didn’t take place was in 2004. Greece finished winners of the tournament but scraped through the group on goals scored in 2nd place, with a zero goal difference.
Application of Statistics
This section of the blog will attempt to apply the trends observed in earlier qualifying data and highlight potential winners for Euro 2012. It will also suggest what to look out for during the group stage to try to finally predict a winner. Trends beyond the group stage have not been analysed because this blog is trying to pick a winner as early as qualifying to try to change an everyday punter’s betting behaviour. Big money rests on Spain and Germany for Euro 2012 but will they peak at the right time?
The table presented above takes the averages found in the first section of the blog and applies them to the current Euro 2012 data. The first noticeable point to make is the fact that Denmark relates to every trend. To say definitively that Denmark will win Euro 2012 is a bold claim because they are arguably in the best group, but if they manage to get out of group B they may be the surprise of the tournament. Greece are another team that could be the surprise of the tournament. If they perform the more than possible task of making it through group A they will have to take on a heavyweight from group B which could prove too much. Another team which is of particular interest in the table above is England. England qualified 1st in their qualifying group which seems a necessity as no team has won the tournament after finishing 2nd in qualifying (1996-present). Also England gained an average of 2.25 points per game which fits the trend and leaves England room to improve in the group stage.
I’m not going to say any of these teams will win Euro 2012 because trying to pick a winner after looking at qualifying data is hard with all the other variables that haven’t been quantified. What I will say is track the 3 teams I have suggested and see if they conform to any group phase trends. The main things to look out for are:
1) ranked not as favourite but approximately 4th overall (England are ranked 4th in UEFA rankings)
2) averaging 2.17 points per game (~6-7 points)
3) Do not be put off if the team doesn’t win their group as the team who did win may have already peaked.
The problem with drawing conclusions with this method is obviously there is no qualifying data for the hosts. By looking at their group stage data in the same way as all the other teams it might be possible to make different predictions on the 12th of June.
The application of trends is not an exact science or criterion to produce a definite winner. This blog has tried to show that during the modern-day Euros with 4 groups and 16 teams (1996-present), the team ranked no. 1 statistically, has never won the tournament. It is easy as a punter to back the favourite but as seen time and time again, throughout history the favourite does not always win. Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona failed to make the Champions League Final, Chelsea failed to make top 4 but won the champions league, 33/1 Neptune Collonges won the Grand National so why can’t Denmark cause an upset?