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Euro 2024 last 16 update: is football coming home?

Surprise results in the last group matches of the Euros mean that four of the five strongest teams at its outset are on one side of the draw. Spain are now the tournament’s clear favourites – and most likely to meet the Netherlands in the final. England are joint second favourites with the Dutch.

The group stages of the Euro 2024 tournament are over, which means that after a lot of drama – outside England’s Group C – we now enter the knock-out stages.

The 36 matches played so far have yielded 81 goals. Just seven of these were in the six matches in Group C. Across the group stage, this works out to a rate of 2.25 goals per game (1.2 in Group C, which means closer to 2.5 per game in the other groups).

Those first 36 matches of the tournament were devoted to eliminating eight out of the starting 24 teams. Now, in the space of just four days – starting today – another eight teams will have to head home.

Who will be sticking around? And in particular, who might make it to the semi-finals and final? Will football be coming home?

England have flattered to deceive so far, and emphatically so. They have scored just two goals in three matches, winning one and drawing two, against arguably limited opposition.

But as Alex Krumer points out, there is essentially no correlation between England’s goal-scoring in the group stages and their eventual tournament outcome. After all, England scored just two goals in the group stages in 2021 yet made the final. And after scoring nine in the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, they dropped out in the quarter-finals.

Further, despite the expansion in the size of the Euros over the years, there is no evidence that the newer entrants are that much weaker than the more established teams.

The mean goal difference between teams in the 36 matches to date has been 1.03 goals, identical to that in 2016 (when the tournament was expanded to 24 teams). This is the smallest difference since 1992, the last tournament that featured just eight teams. In other words, matches have been tighter than ever at this tournament – and the tightest since it was expanded in 2016.

Although there were no shocks in the second round of group matches, the final round delivered on this count. Austria’s 3-2 win over the Netherlands (given that the Elo prediction was 70% for the Dutch), and especially Georgia’s stunning win over Portugal (they had a 15% chance of winning), mean that both nestle either side of Slovakia’s 1-0 win over Belgium in the first round of matches.

If we measure the size of the shock as the difference between a categorical variable taking one for the team listed first winning, 0.5 for a draw, and zero for the team listed second winning, and the Elo prediction (which is one if the team listed first is certain to win, and zero if the team listed second is certain to win), then we got as much surprise as we might expect.

The mean of that outcome variable would have been 0.47, and the mean Elo prediction was 0.51. Hence, the difference – the size of the shocks – was 0.04, so pretty small.

Those shocks had a significant impact on the draw for the knock-out rounds. Above all, they ensured that Belgium, by not winning Group E, moved across into the heavyweight side of the draw. This means that they will play France in the last 16.

The winners of that match are likely to face Portugal (who play Slovenia in the last 16) in the quarter-finals, and most likely the winners of that facing Spain or Germany.

Four of the five strongest teams in the competition at its outset – France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal – make up that side of the draw. In the other half are England (fourth best), Netherlands (sixth best) and Italy (seventh best).

This has naturally affected the likely outcomes of the competition. France’s chances of winning the European Championships have fallen to 13% (from 20% at the tournament’s outset). Spain have taken over as clear favourites, given their relatively easier path to the semi-finals. They have a 23% chance of lifting the trophy on 14 July.

The Netherlands and England each have a 14% chance of becoming champions, and hence are joint second favourites now, ahead of France. Portugal (9%), hosts Germany (8%), and Belgium (6%) make up the other most likely winners in the tougher half of the draw.

The upshot of all this is that the most probable final will be a repeat of the ill-tempered 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain. There is around a 12% chance of this happening.

The second most likely final also involves Spain – but instead England would emerge from that side of the draw (at 11%). That match would be a men’s equivalent of the women’s World Cup final of 2023, in which Spain prevailed 1-0.

Because Italy have a relatively tougher last 16 match, facing the Swiss, they are less likely to reach the final (17% relative to the Netherlands and England who are above 30%), and less likely to retain the trophy (7%). As in 2021 though, it would be mad to rule the Italians out – in that year, they brilliantly beat the Belgians and the Spaniards en route to the final at Wembley against England.

Figure 1: Team chances of progressing

Source: Author's calculations, Elo ratings

There are no more permutations to iron out now that the group stages are over. The tournament has delivered excitement, tension and drama in varying doses, and a roughly expected amount of surprise. Belgium’s poor group campaign has opened a door for Italy, the Netherlands and England to reach the final. Who will seize the opportunity?

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Image: Volksparkstadion, Hamburg, Germany; credit: Mario Klassen on Unsplash
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