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Euro 2024 update II: is football coming home?

The final group matches in the Euros kicked off last night. England are almost certainly through to the next stage – where their most likely opponents are Austria, followed by Turkey and Slovakia. Scotland had a 39% chance of getting out of the group – but missed out at the last moment.

The second round of group stage matches in this year’s Euros was completed on Saturday night. There were a few more draws than in the first round – six out of 12 games compared with one out of 12. We’ve also seen fewer goals in this stage: 2.54 per game versus 2.83 in the earlier round.

There were no real shocks either – although Albania gave their best against Croatia; and Slovakia and Georgia led against stronger opposition in Ukraine and Czechia, but couldn’t hold on.

The final pairs of group stage matches go head-to-head at the same time. This format – which was designed after the 1982 ‘disgrace of Gijon’ – is intended to prevent teams colluding to fix particular group outcomes.

It’s not a perfect solution, of course. In the ultra-tight Group E, where all four teams have three points, it gives rise to the possibility that Romania and Slovakia will play out a draw. That result would put both teams on four points, which would ensure that Romania finish first or second, and Slovakia finish in third on four points – a tally almost certain to be enough to be one of the best third-placed teams and qualify.

That knowledge (which has already filtered into betting markets) means that Ukraine know they have to win in order to qualify, which should make for an interesting match against Belgium on Wednesday.

Group E is one that is currently divided by goal difference – old-fashioned goal difference – since in the European Championships, the head-to-head outcome between the teams is the first tie-breaker. This is why Poland are already eliminated – they cannot catch third-placed Austria despite only being three points behind them because they lost to Austria 3-1.

The third-placed system means that even though England, France and the Netherlands have not strictly qualified for the last 16 yet, they essentially have done so since their four points will mean that they are one of the best third-placed sides.

So, we can say with 100% certainty that England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain will make up six of the last 16. Austria, Belgium and Italy also have an above 90% chance of making it too.

Denmark, Turkey and the aforementioned Romania and Slovakia have a 78% chance, or higher, of making it through. Note that our simulations cannot factor in behavioural responses like the ones that Romania and Slovakia may make in response to their situation.

One of the unknowns for the final group games related to last night’s match between Scotland (who had a 39% chance of qualifying) and Hungary (33%). Scotland’s extra point meant that they could have got to four points with a win, but Hungary could only get to three, which made their chances lower. As the frenetic final minutes of that game showed, a draw would have been of no value to either team.

Serbia (33%) and Slovenia (40%), who are in the same group as Denmark and England, are not out of the race. But they are both the weaker teams in their clashes against the Danes and the English respectively. Anything other than a win in those matches will see Serbia and Slovenia eliminated (in all likelihood given the third-placed system).

Despite all Croatia’s experience of going deep into big tournaments, they are also staring at elimination, with just a 34% chance of progressing. They face Italy and must win, a result that would be likely to put Italy’s progression in real doubt. Plucky Albania have about a 6% chance of progressing – it’s not impossible, but they are facing Spain.

Georgia are the other team with a very slim chance of progressing, at 7%. They need to beat Portugal and do so convincingly, given that their current goal difference is minus two.

What then will the last 16 ties look like? The most likely last 16 match is Switzerland versus Italy, the runners-up of Groups A and B: there’s a 55% chance that this happens. Behind that is a 48% chance of a Germany versus Denmark tie, as the winner of Group A faces the Group C runner-up.

France against Turkey is the next most likely last 16 tie (32%), the winners of Group D facing the runners-up of Group F. Following this, the next most likely last 16 tie is Portugal as Group F winners against one of the best third-placed teams. England’s most likely opponents are now Austria with a 19% chance – but it could still be Turkey (15%) or Slovakia (15%).

As results have generally followed expectations (Belgium repaired the damage of their opening defeat on Saturday night), no particular pathways have opened up that look easier or more difficult, as often happens in these tournaments. Things seem to be following expectations – so far. But will this continue into the knock-out stages?

More on the likely winners of the whole tournament are in the opening article in this series on Euro 2024.

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Author: James Reade
Image: demaerre on iStock
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