Monday 11 June 2012

Do the Tournament's Best Performers Always Win The UEFA European Championship?

Short tournaments,especially ones with a knockout phase are more likely to be won by one of the lesser lights.Over the 38 games of an English Premier League season team talent will tend to overcome the randomness of chance and the crown will go to that year's most outstanding side.Defeats are part of almost every Championship winning team's season and unlike the FA Cup or the elimination phase of a major club or country competition,a defeat does not prove terminal to a club's title ambitions.The spread of FA Cup winners is wider than the distribution of EPL winners over the duration of the latter and the impact of random chance is well illustrated in the more generous odds offered on the best sides winning a cup compared to a league.

Manchester City are currently being offered at around a 40% chance to retain the Premiership Championship compared to just under a 20% chance to regain the FA Cup.So the phenomenon is well established.Those betting on tournament outsiders in such competitions as the Euros will find that the odds on offer,while appearing generous will be shorter than expected to account for the extra chances that the truncated format affords such nations.Favourite followers will appear to be getting more generous odds,but may have failed to factor in the role of chance.A team can lose a game in the group phase of the Euros,but still go onto lift the trophy by avoiding defeat in the three or in the case of Denmark in 1992,two knockout games.By contrast a team can be perfect in the group stages and be eliminated in the knockout rounds despite remaining unbeaten in open play.Such a fate felled the Dutch in 2000 and the spoils went to France,a team Holland had already defeated in a Group D match.

The Euro format gives the opportunity to mid and lower ranked teams to succeed by producing a short term run of unlikely outcomes.But fortune can also play a role in allowing any team to overcome relatively poor performances in the more forgiving early group games.France may be Euro 2000 victors in the record books,but did Holland produce that tournament's overall best results?

Since 1996 16 teams have taken part in the finals,so with three group games and three further knockout matches,even the finalists can only play about a third of the available teams.Half of the competing countries are eliminated at the group stages and they will play against just three opponents.Therefore the problem of evaluating each countries performance at the finals becomes an issue of incomplete head to head records,leading to variable strength of schedules.In a normal league format,once the number of games played by a group of teams exceeds the number of teams taking part,it becomes inevitable that inter connecting formlines will exist for each team.In tournament play these formlines usually come about during the knockout phase.

For example in Euro 2000,Spain who won Group C didn't actually play against Denmark who propped up Group D,but they did play and lose to France in the quarter finals.France did play Denmark in the group stages,therefore there is a collateral line of form linking Spain to Denmark that goes through France.For the current Euro Championship format,this type of problem can be broken down into the solution of 16 simultaneous equations,one for each team,where the answer is a performance related indicator such as tournament goal difference and the components of the equation comprises the teams that each side played against.The subsequent ratings are sometimes referred to as Power Ratings.

In short,a rating for each team is derived that best describes the actual results that were achieved over all the tournament matches and the higher a team's rating,then the better that team performed over the duration of the competition.

There's little doubt for example that Greece weren't the best side in Europe in 2004,they went into the competition as the lowest FIFA ranked side.But putting aside their unlikely run of narrow victories,did the results they actually achieved over 22 days in Portugal entitle them to win the tournament.Or did their rating suffer from such things as group game defeats and progression in the later knockout stages via penalty shootouts rather than victories,enabling them to lift the trophy more through their results appearing in a fortuitous pattern rather than through consistently good results .

To try to answer this question,below I've tabulated the post tournament ratings expressed as goals derived from games played by the sides at the last five Euro Championships and compared them to the stage of the tournament when each team was eliminated.The very small game sample size means that the ratings aren't designed to be predictive,but they may add context to their descriptive value by correcting for the varying strengths of opponents faced by each side.

Euro 2008.

TEAM. Elimination Stage. Power Rating.
Spain WINNERS 3.71
Netherlands Quarters 2.71
Germany Beaten Finalists 2.68
Croatia Quarters 2.58
Russia Semis 2.56
Sweden Group(3rd) 2.24
Portugal Quarters 2.15
Turkey Semis 1.89
Switzerland Group(4th) 1.77
Italy Quarters 1.53
Austria Group(3rd) 1.51
Greece Group(4th) 1.50
Czech Republic Group(3rd) 1.27
Poland Group(4th) 1.26
Romania Group(3rd) 0.74
France Group(4th) 0

Spain,the current holders were worthy winners four years ago.They won all their matches in the group stage,needed penalties to progress from the quarters,but won the next two games within the ninety minutes.An unbeaten,almost perfect showing overall and their tournament rating was well in excess of any other team in the competition.A clutch of four similarly rated teams trailed Spain and all made the knockout stages,while the highest rated team not to emerge from a group was Sweden who picked up three points and two narrow defeats against the eventual winners and one semi finalist in Russia.

Euro 2004.

TEAM. Elimination Stage. Power Rating.
Greece WINNERS. 5.44
Portugal Beaten Finalists 5.34
Spain Group(3rd) 5.12
England Quarters 5.06
France Quarters 4.68
Czech Republic Semis 4.62
Russia Group(4th) 4.62
Netherlands Semis 4.12
Germany Group(3rd) 3.51
Croatia Group(3rd) 3.50
Sweden Quarters 3.42
Latvia Group(4th) 2.76
Switzerland Group(4th) 2.75
Denmark Quarters 2.34
Italy Group(3rd) 2.25
Bulgaria Group(4th) 0

Greece may have defied the odds to lift the trophy by producing a clutch of less than likely victories,but their results during the tournament made them worthy winners.They beat Portugal twice and unlike their fellow finalists they didn't need penalties to progress in any of the knockout games.The subsequent strong showing from the two qualifiers from Group A helped to lift the rating of non qualifiers Spain and Russia.Denmark made the quarters,but recorded a relatively low rating by virtue of a matchup with Bulgaria,the tournament's weakest side,a comprehensive defeat in the knockout stages and fellow qualifiers,Sweden's failure to progess past the first elimination stage.

Euro 2000.

TEAM Elimination Stage. Power Rating.
Netherlands Semis 3.74
France WINNERS 3.13
Italy Beaten Finalists 2.70
Portugal Semis 2.60
Czech Republic Group(3rd) 2.44
Turkey Quarters 1.50
Romania Quarters 1.14
England Group(3rd) 1.00
Sweden Group(4th) 0.98
Spain Quarters 0.88
Belgium Group(3rd) 0.73
Denmark Group(4th) 0.44
Norway Group(3rd) 0.31
Germany Group(4th) 0.25
Slovenia Group(4th) 0.06
Yugoslavia Quarters 0

The first occasion when the results of the outright winners weren't of sufficient quality to make them also the tournament's highest ranked side.France lifted the trophy,but Holland beat them and two other opponents in the group games,were then imperious in defeating Yugoslavia before falling,undefeated in open play to a shootout defeat by Italy in the semi finals.The six goal thrashing of Yugoslavia doesn't skew the Dutch rating because it also depresses their strength of schedule.Yugoslavia made the knockout stages,but finished as the tournament's lowest power rated side.They sneaked into second spot in a weak Group C with just one win and the extra second phase game merely afforded them the opportunity to record a second loss.Retrospectively,the Czech Republic's paltry three points and zero goal difference was more impressive than if taken at face value as it was achieved against the tournament's top two sides.

Euro 1996.

TEAM Elimination
Germany WINNERS 3.39
England Semis 3.20
France Semis 2.55
Spain Quarters 2.43
Italy Group(3rd) 2.38
Czech Republic Beaten Finalists 2.36
Portugal Quarters 2.07
Netherlands Quarters 1.98
Scotland Group(3rd) 1.84
Bulgaria Group(3rd) 1.74
Croatia Quarters 1.68
Russia Group(4th) 1.38
Switzerland Group(4th) 1.34
Denmark Group(3rd) 1.25
Romania Group(4th) 1.24
Turkey Group(4th) 0

A routine tournament where the majority of the teams progressed as far as they were entitled to given their results.England were a shade behind outright winners and top rated side,Germany,but some of that rating was a result of home field advantage.Beaten finalists,the Czech Republic were partly out of line because they had the good fortune to record one of their losses in the group games and then emerged from a shootout in the semi finals.

Euro 1992.

TEAM Elimination Stage. Power Rating.
Netherlands Semis 1.49
Denmark WINNERS 1.41
Sweden Semis 1.20
England Group(4th) 0.81
France Group(3rd) 0.81
Germany Beaten Finalists 0.77
Scotland Group(3rd) 0.75
CIS Group(4th) 0

The last European Championship Finals to feature just eight sides.Chaos reigned throughout.Denmark belatedly replaced Yugoslavia who were subject to UN sanctions and ended up winners,if not the top rated side and USSR qualified,but took part under the banner of the Commonwealth of Independent States.Germany qualified as runners up in Group B,narrowly from Scotland,but added one win and one defeat to that record and ended up rated only sixth best in the tournament.As in 2000,the Netherlands were the top rated side who were again unbeaten in open play and eliminated at the semi finals stage on penalties.

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