Euro 2020: Will Football Finally be Coming Home?

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For those of us based in England the pubs have re-opened, summer looks like it’s finally arrived and, with Euro 2020 (2021) due to start on 11th June, now is the time to start dreaming of footballing glory … but how likely is that to happen? Or are we just doomed to lose to Germany on penalties in the semis? Dectech is the team behind the Times’ Fink Tank football column, so we’ve crunched the numbers to answer such questions.

Europe’s Best Team

Our proprietary model evaluates the strength of the teams taking part based on results from the past five years, weighted such that more recent matches have a greater influence. This allows us to objectively rank the teams taking part in Euro 2020.

Figure 1: Indexed Team Strengths (strongest team = 100)

Spain are the strongest team, closely followed by Italy and England. What may come as a surprise to many is that current World Cup holders France are only the 7th strongest team, whilst Germany are 9th strongest. Wales and Scotland are both in the bottom half.

Euro 2020 Forecasts

This year’s tournament follows an odd format, partly by design (UEFA decided, for the first time ever, to distribute the tournament across a number of host countries rather than just one or two), and partly due to the pandemic. This means some teams (e.g., England, Italy, the Netherlands) will experience more home advantage than others.

Home advantage makes a significant contribution to a team’s chances of winning the tournament. Other factors are also important, such as the strength of the opposition a given team plays during the group stages (e.g., Germany are in this tournament’s ‘group of death’, competing against Portugal, France, and Hungary), as well as the strength of the opposition likely faced in the knockout stages. This all means that the strongest team isn’t necessarily the one most likely to win.

Our team strength calculations allow us to predict the outcome of a match between any two teams. By coding up the tournament structure, factoring in home advantage where it applies and running a Monte Carlo simulation of the tournament 100,000 times we can calculate the probability of each team winning the tournament.

Figure 2: Euro 2020 Team Chances

Spain are the strongest team in the competition but not the most likely to win. Whilst stronger teams are naturally more likely to advance in the tournament, even smaller teams have a reasonable chance of progressing. This is thanks to a group stage that lets 16 of the 24 teams through, and one-match knockout rounds. For example, Wales and Scotland both have around a 50% chance of making the last 16, even if their chances of winning the tournament are slim.

And what of England’s chances? With home advantage in the group stage, as well as in some of the knockout rounds, our model makes England the favourites! So after 55 years of hurt, there’s an 18.2% chance that football will finally come home … but before everyone gets too excited, that means there’s an 81.8% chance it won’t!

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