The Euro 2020 qualifier group stage ended last night with the final automatic places being decided.
The high levels of predictability and imbalance in European international football have shone true once again.
All Pot 6 team finished bottom of their groups (where there were six teams). One team – San Marino – failed to register a point (and only scored one goal). Except for two teams from Pot 3 (Turkey and Finland), all of the other automatic qualifiers came from Pot 1 and Pot 2. The seeding is a strong predictor of finishing position.
The chart shows that average points earned by pot – a clear monotonic relationship exists.
Looking at the fixtures between the top and bottom seed, Pot 1 teams took 58 out of 60 points – a major shock happened when Azerbaijan drew 1-1 at home to Croatia. Pot 1 teams scored 84 goals in these fixtures compared to the meagre 7 scored by the bottom seeds. The most salient mismatch was Belgium beating San Marino 9-0 last October.
What about Pot 1 teams against their second from bottom seed (Pot 5 or Pot 4 depending on group size)?
This is more of the same, Pot 1 teams took 57 out of 60 points. Again, Croatia were shocked when they lost 2-1 to Hungary. Similarly, to the bottom seeds, these Pot 4/5 teams score few goals against the big boys, only scoring 8 times but conceding 67. Italy’s recent 9-1 thrashing of Armenia stands out.
For me this begs the question of whether this type of competition design should continue. The non-economic argument for continuity is that the “dream is kept alive” for small countries. Many economic reasons also exist to keep things as they are, with plenty of inventory for broadcasters, and big occasions for smaller countries.
Perhaps UEFA could take insights from the ‘Eurovision model’ – where the big countries automatically qualify. These Pot 1 teams could compete among themselves in the run-up, maybe in a league style format (surely appealing to broadcasters?), while the rest battle it out for the remaining European Championship places.