UEFA EURO 2016
Outright Betting Preview
France and Germany come into the tournament vying for the title of favourite due to their respective positions as hosts and current World Champions. European Champions since 2008, Spain, are only just behind in the betting and together these three teams account for 60% of the market.
However, there are a few viable contenders below that in a second tier of favourites featuring England, Italy, Belgium and Portugal that takes up a further 30% of the betting and the remaining 17 teams can be found in the 10% of the market that accounts for the outsiders.
England became just the sixth team to complete qualifying for the European Championships with a perfect record. However, it has to be noted that this appears to be ever-easier to achieve, with Spain and Germany achieving the feat en-route to Euro 2012. There were also three other unbeaten sides in qualification: Romania (second in Group F with a W5-D5-L0 record), Austria (Group G winners, W9-D1-L0), and Italy (Group H winners, W7-D3-L0).
Four years ago, having a 100% qualifying record proved a good indicator to tournament success, as Spain were victorious and Germany won all four of their matches on the way to the semi-finals before being knocked out by Italy. However, it’d be wrong to overstate the significance of that and, regardless of the way they got to those Finals, Spain and Germany’s success was more down to being two very strong sides in 2012 rather than their excellence in 2010-2011.
There were actually five unbeaten qualifiers going into 2012 and they all reached the knockout rounds and were all ultimately only eliminated by another of these sides. However, from 1992-2008 there were 13 unbeaten sides in qualifying, with none going on to make the final at the main event and seven being knocked out in the group stages, which highlights that we probably shouldn’t pin our hopes on Romania just yet.
Looking back at the qualifying records for participants at the Euros since 1992 we can clearly see how the change to 24 teams has weakened the field here. The most teams to qualify with less than 2.10 points per game from their qualifying groups for any one of those past six tournaments was five, but here we have nine teams in that position.
That includes three of the four worst qualifiers in terms of PPG in that time, out of 112 total qualifiers, and six of the worst nine. Those nine teams with less than 2.10 PPG are (worst record first): Albania, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Ukraine, Romania and Poland. Meanwhile, Switzerland, Wales, Poland, Northern Ireland and Croatia all picked up exactly 2.10 PPG in qualifying.
Just one of the past 23 teams to qualify with less than 2.10 PPG have reached the final and while 4/23 lost in the semis, three of those at least scored more than two goals per game in qualifying. None of the nine this time around scored more than 1.83 goals per game in getting here.
However, above this threshold overall qualifying records don’t tell us too much. But one thing that all the past six winners had in common was that they finished their qualifying campaigns fairly impressively and came into the tournament with momentum, while the past five also all topped their qualifying groups.
Spain won all eight qualifiers going into 2012 as well as eight of their final nine games (W8-D1-L0) in 2008. Greece won their final six in 2004, France won three of their final four (W3-D1-L0) in 2000, Germany won their final four in 1996 and Denmark their final five in 1992.
Looking for teams who took at least 10 points from their final four qualifying games and topped their groups this time gives us the following teams (records extended until a second failure to win): England (W10-D0-L0), Spain (W9-D0-L1), Austria (W9-D0-L1), Portugal (W7-D0-L1), Germany (W6-D1-L0), Belgium (W6-D1-L0), and Italy (W4-D1-L0). This doesn’t particularly narrow the field as it gives us a list including all the favourites (excluding France who didn’t have to qualify) plus Austria.
Home advantage is assumed to give a team a sizeable advantage but how much is debateable. In the first six editions, where the Championships featured just four teams, the host won twice but also finished fourth three times. Since then France are the only side to win as hosts, in 1984, although prior to 2008 at least one of the hosts had always made the semi-finals.
However, in 2008 and 2012 all four hosts, Austria and Switzerland in ’08 and Ukraine and Poland in ’12, were knocked out in the groups, as were Belgium in 2000 as co-hosts and all those hosts that did well would have been expected to challenge regardless of where the event was held.
Of course this time around we have a very strong host but will home advantage prove enough of a positive to counteract two years without competitive action?
While Greece’s success was a huge surprise in 2004, their quarter-final win over a then dominant France team was perhaps more down to Jacques Santini’s overly defensive tactics and a few key players being past their prime, and as we’ve already noted Greece did come into the finals in good form.
More generally, the strongest teams have done fairly well in the European Championships and with five of the six World Cup finalists since 2006 coming from Europe (despite just one World Cup being held in Europe) it is fair to say that the best European nations are currently very strong and have few weaknesses.
Spain were victorious as favourites in 2012 while the losing semi-finalists, Germany and Portugal, were second and fourth in the betting respectively. 2008 saw Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands all vie for favouritism, with Germany and Spain contesting the final.
In 2004, runners-up Portugal were third favourites although more had been expected of France and Italy. In 2000 the four favourites were the Netherlands (semi-finalists), France (winners), Spain and Italy (runners-up), while in 1996 Germany backed up their favourites tag by taking the title.
As such it looks like favourites should be expected to be there at the end of the tournament. Interestingly, there was no Spanish side in the Champions League Final before any of their recent three major titles while no German side made it past the semis in 2014. However, a look at the Atletico and Real sides this season suggests that France might be as concerned as anyone about the impact of that match not being played till the 28th May.
Antoine Griezmann and Raphael Varane are expected to be key to the hosts while Sergio Ramos is possibly the only starter for Spain in that match, although squad players Dani Carvajal, Saul, Juanfran, Isco and Koke will also be late joining up with the international side.
Football Form Lab Rankings
Since 1990 there have been 13 European and World Championships and 18 of the 26 finalists have been in the top six of the Football Form Lab rankings heading into the tournament, while just two have been outside the top 13.
Of the 26 losing semi-finalists 20 have been in the top 17 and only 2/12 losing semi-finalists at the Euros have been ranked below this.
Our rankings place Germany as the best team in world, with Spain (4th) and France (6th) also in the top six. Below this Belgium, England, Italy and Portugal are ranked from 12th-16th, with little to separate them.
An experienced head can prove crucial in controlling matters at key times but taking a squad packed with youth doesn’t necessarily reduce your chances of winning. In both 2012 and 2008 the squads with the youngest average ages reached the semi-finals (Germany in 2012 and Russia in 2008), while in total just one of the eight semi-finalists from those two tournaments were in the top half of teams in terms of oldest average age.
That hasn’t always been the case, and while Spain took only the 10th oldest squad four years ago it has to be noted that it was a squad with 1100 caps to it’s name – the most experienced squad since 1992.
Just looking at age a bit more, and if we take the oldest two teams from each of the past six Euros, then only one has reached the semi-finals. This compares to four of 12 when looking at the two youngest squads from each tournament. Looking at the squads this time around and England, Germany, Croatia and Switzerland have the youngest squads while Ireland, Russia and the Czech Republic are the oldest. Despite the youth in Germany’s squad only Spain (who have the 12th oldest squad) can boast more caps.
Groups A, B and C look the most straightforward for the top seeds as France, England and Germany all have an advantage of at least 10 grading points over the next best team, while six of the weakest eight sides are found in these groups (two in each) which suggests there shouldn’t be any problems in qualifying for the knockouts automatically.
However, in the other three groups there is a greater potential for upsets. Spain have a large advantage over their three opponents but all of those sides are dangerous and are ranked 10th, 11th and 13th within the 24 qualified teams.
Assuming Germany and France have won their groups then it is conceivable that Spain suffer an upset in the groups, as they did when losing their opening game at the 2010 World Cup, and go through as runners-up which would create a situation where the three main favourites are all in the bottom half of the draw when we reach the knockouts.
Groups E and F also look wide open, with only a few grading points separating the two best teams in each group. In fact Belgium and Italy, in Group E, are both ranked above Portugal, who are the best team in Group F.
Moving through into the knockouts and France should be delighted with their draw. A Last 16 clash with a third-placed side should be followed by playing either the runners-up from England or Portugal’s groups – probably the two weakest.
In the semi-final they should come up against Germany, but it won’t be as easy for the World Champions to get there. A Last 16 against a third placed side shouldn’t be a problem but a quarter-final against either the winner of Group E (probably Belgium or Italy) or the runner-up from Group D (possibly Spain) looks a huge hurdle for the Germans.
Winning Group D would certainly improve Spain’s chances massively. That would mean their route to the semis is only blocked by a third-placed side and then either of the runners-up from Groups A or C – neither of whom looks overly tough.
The other quarter is the one that lacks any of the top three and offers a great opportunity to England. Assuming they win their group they will play a third-placed side before a quarter-final against the winner of Group F and the almost certainly higher ranked runner-up from Group E. Finishing second in Group E certainly looks a great path to the semi-finals and so if there is a loser between Belgium and Italy when they meet in their opening match on the 13th June it is worth taking a punt on that team.