This is the third entry in a series that considers inequality in European International football. The earlier parts can be read here and here. The story so far is that inequality in European International football is on the rise since the 1980’s. This rise is primarily caused by the weaker performances of bottom seeds at home over the last twenty years.
It has been suggested that these small states need the opportunity to be beaten to allow them to learn and subsequently improve. So does ‘learning’ occur? Have the bottom seeds improved over time in European International Football?
I'm classifying improvement as breaking out of the bottom seed pool of teams for European Championship Qualifiers. There seems to be some evidence from the data that nations can break out of this bottom seed ‘trap’.
Albania broke out of the bottom seed group in 2008, Estonian broke out after Euro 2000, Kazakhstan broke out soon after entry in 2008 and it appears that Azerbaijan will soon climb out as they have steadily increased their points haul since they entered the European Championships in the 1996 qualification stage.
Some of this improvement is caused by entry of new states and hence the opportunity to get points against them, so there was almost a natural rise for certain teams.
Several teams however can’t escape the trap – Andorra, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Malta and San Marino can't get out. Andorra and San Marino have never scored a point in any qualification match for the European Championships. The other three nations have scored points, but have shown little sign of improvement and at times have regressed. My hunch is that this is due to the low population of these states and small pool national sides have to draw from. All hope is not lost however as Liechtenstein has a population of approximately 37,000 but managed to break out of the bottom seeds buthave since slipped back in.
Even if a team breaks out there is no guarantee that they will qualify for the finals in the future - Slovenia made their debut in the qualifiers for Euro 2000 and are the only bottom seed to ever qualify for the finals as a bottom seed. Other than Slovenia no team that was every a bottom seed, regardless of whether or not they have broken out, has qualified. Iceland may become number 2 for Euro 2016!