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Update IV: Is football coming home?

On Sunday night, England will play their first major men’s final in 55 years. They are playing a strong side in Italy and the match is expected to be close, but England have the home advantage, which may make all the difference.

The European Championships Final is England against Italy, with England enjoying the home advantage. Playing at Wembley – England’s home ground – does matter – the Three Lions’ probability of winning on neutral territory would be 33% (Italy’s 41%), but in London it’s 40%, compared with Italy’s 33% (see Table 1).

Table 1: Euro 2020 chances, by location

OutcomeLondonRomeNeutral ground
England win40%25%32.5%
Italy win33%49%41%
*Leading to penalties
Source: Author’s calculations

These probabilities are a little low as they allow for a draw to occur (which would then mean going to penalties). They are calculated using our Scorecasting model, which in turn is based on Elo ratings. Italy have an Elo rating of 1,421, and England 1,405. The Elo rating system can be interpreted as a probability of each team winning the game but assumes a neutral venue. Under this system, there is a 52% chance that Italy win.

Our model then adjusts for home advantage by factoring in historically how much more often teams win when they play at home, given the Elo ratings of the teams competing.

Looking at past performance can also give clues to how the match will pan out. But the historical record is quite sparse, as the two nations haven’t competed all that much – just 27 times, with England winning eight, nine draws (one draw in 2012 going to penalties), and Italy winning ten (11 including the 2012 penalty shootout). England have scored 33 goals to Italy’s 31.

These have been tight encounters over the years. Also, most of the England wins were in the early days, pre-1966 (W4 D4 L0). Since 1966 there have been just four wins for England, and only one of those (1977) in a competitive match – a World Cup qualifier. In World Cup and European Championship matches, England have won once, there have been two draws (including 2012), while Italy have come out on top five times.

Figure 1: Elo rating history for England (red) and Italy (blue) since 1900

Source: World Football Elo ratings

The Elo rating history, shown in Figure 1, suggests that, by and large England and Italy have been fairly evenly matched, with the exception of the 1930s when Italy won two World Cups, and the 1980s and 1990s when gli Azzurri were a dominant team.

With home advantage factored in, England are expected to score 1.25 goals, and Italy 1.1. As such, a 1-1 draw is the most likely outcome at full time (13%). England to win 1-0 has 12% chance of happening and Italy to win 1-0 has an 11% chance. These are fine margins, and there’s a 78% chance that each team scores at most two goals – it’s not likely to be a high-scoring encounter. There’s only about a 1% chance that both teams score more than two goals.

Table 2: Overall records

 In EnglandOverall
England wins68
Italy wins410
England goals1933
Italy goals1431

Returning to the outcome probabilities, there is the likelihood of a draw, which after extra time means penalties. Here, Elo ratings can tell us something. Faced with the prospect of penalties, evidence suggests the better team usually wins, and so England’s rating of 1,405 and Italy’s rating of 1,421 means that England’s probability of winning is 48% and Italy’s is 52%.

To get to an outright probability, assume that 48% of draws turn into England wins, 52% of draws into Italy wins, so that we scale up 40% and 33% (from Table 1) to get that the probability England wins is 53%.

It just might be coming home!

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Author: James Reade
Editor's note: This is an update on three previous Economics Observatory articles, published on  11 June,  24 June30 June and 6 July 2021.
Photo by cchana on Flickr
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