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Update III: Is football coming home?

Four teams are left in Euro 2020, with Italy now the favourites. Each of the semi-finalists has enjoyed a home advantage during the group stages, but with the semi-finals and final taking place at Wembley, chances may have swung slightly in England’s favour.

The 2020 European Championships is now down to the final four nations – and with both France and Belgium knocked out, neither of the two pre-tournament strongest teams remain.

As Covid restrictions in England continue to be eased, the two semi-finals will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday night, with up to 60,000 in attendance at Wembley Stadium in London.

As in 1996 – the last time they reached a European Championships semi-final – England have the home advantage, which may have been more important at Euro 2020 than in previous tournaments. All four semi-finalists, namely England, Denmark, Italy and Spain, were able to play their group stage matches at home (and the last-16 match for England), reducing the burden of international travel and providing more time for players to rest between games.

Home advantage appears to have mattered at Euro 2020. Fans have been able to return to stadiums, which has provided the boost that much of the academic research published in the last 12 months suggested teams playing at home would get. In addition, non-essential travel has remained heavily restricted, which has meant that visiting fans have been unable to attend in any significant number.

Even outside the stadium, support is growing for the Three Lions. The BBC reported that England’s 4-0 victory over Ukraine in the quarter-finals was watched by over 20 million people, becoming the most viewed live sports event of the year. In any case, the home advantage is now confined to England. With this in mind, what will happen this week?

On Tuesday night, Italy will play Spain. Our model for forecasting and simulating outcomes so far has relied heavily on a fairly simple model of ranking teams: the Elo rating system. This adjusts a team’s rating based on how good their opponents were. Beat a team you should be beating and your rating won’t increase by much. But beat a team that’s better than you and your rating increases a lot.

When Italy kicked off the tournament on 11 June against Turkey, their rating was 1,354. This increased by 12 points after that match. In defeating Belgium, the strongest Elo-rated team in Europe, on Friday, Italy’s rating jumped by 24 points, and they now have an overall rating of 1,424, moving above France as Europe’s second-best national team.

England are the second-best team still in the competition with a rating of 1,391 (up from 1,354 from the start of the tournament). Spain are third best and Denmark fourth.

Based on ratings, this means that Italy have become clear favourites at Euro 2020 with a 41% chance of winning, followed by England (29%), then Spain (21%), and Denmark (9%).

It also means that Italy (63%) and England (68%) are the two most likely finalists, there’s a 43% chance that these two teams will face each other on Sunday night. Comparably, Denmark vs Spain is the least likely combination for the final, at 11%.

For English fans, the hope that football is ‘coming home’ may now seem tantalisingly close – 'two steps further', to quote Gareth Southgate. But reaching the semi-finals is the furthest England have managed to progress in a major tournament in the last 55 years. The have fallen at this stage in 1968, 1990, 1996, and 2018. But they managed it in 1966 – incidentally, the only other time they have reached the semi-final stage without conceding a goal.

Our model highlights that at just below 68% England are now the most likely of the four remaining teams to make it to the final. But in Denmark, perhaps then followed by either Spain or Italy, they face formidable opposition. And football, as has been seen throughout Euro 2020 so far, is full of surprises. England fans have cause to be excited, but challenges lie ahead.

Table 1: Probability of reaching each stage of Euro 2020, by team in the semi-finals

(pre-tournament odds)

Source: Author's calculations

Where can I find out more?

Who are experts on this question?

Author: James Reade

Editor's note: This is an update on three previous Economics Observatory articles, published on  11 June,  24 June, and 30 June 2021.

Photo by Marco Verch on Flickr

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