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Euro 2012 – Group stages aren’t as dull as you’d think

by Aidan Elder | June 8, 2012

By Aidan Elder | Chief Sports Writer

Yay! It’s Euro 2012!
Boo! There’s a load of group games to go before it gets interesting.

The enthusiasm we have for major international tournaments is often compromised by the fact they start with group games. Generally humdrum, occasionally tedious and rarely compelling. Outside of your patriotic or bet-riotic interests, they can be less than appealing. If you’ve ever been settling down to watch a game only for that nagging voice at the back of your head to say ‘sorry Greece v Slovenia, but there’s gutters that need unclogging’, you’ll know what I mean.

But are they really that bad? Well, ‘no’ is the short answer and ‘yes, kind of’ is the slightly longer and more vague answer. This started off by trying to disprove the theory group games are tediously cagey games of cat and mouse and ended up proving that yes, they probably are, but they can also be more entertaining. Here’s a look at the results of all group stage games ever played at the European Championships and the most frequent scorelines that emerge.

Euro Group Stage Stats

% of results in the history of the Euros group stage

One nil to the anyone’ would be the chant of choice to celebrate the most popular result in the group stages of the Euros. One in five games played at this stage of the tournament ends with the kind of result that leaves one team happy and another team blaming a referee or Lady Luck for not giving them a helping hand.

It’s not largely a binary code sequence of the results. Not all games rival watching paint dry for entertainment. The next most popular result is a 2-1 win, which maintains the closeness you’d expect from group stage games, but doesn’t make you want to poke your eyes out. That happens 16 per cent of the time and combined with 14 per cent of the more comprehensive scoreline that is a 2-0 victory, the two results account for 30 per cent of all group stages games, which is certainly more often than I would have guessed.

Then come the stalemates. A 1-1 draw generally provides just enough entertainment to have you thinking ‘this isn’t precious minutes of my life’. But 0-0 draws at international level are another story. Scoreless stalemates tend to reach levels of tedium you normally only get from watching the entire box-set of Jamie Redknapp punditry. Thankfully they don’t happen as often as I first suspected, coming in at 13 per cent and 10 per cent of the time.

Teams do take the handbrake off from time to time, sometimes serving sumptuous footballing feasts. Although probably not the Greeks. Altogether, 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2 scorelines happen 19 per cent of the time, which is none too shabby.

The data behind the ‘Any Other Scores‘ is interesting. Provided you’re a football uber-nerd like me. As the name suggests, it’s a category that encompasses every other possible result not listed to elsewhere on the graph. Strangely, there have been more 5-0 wins in the group stage of the Euros (3) than there have been 2-2 draws (1). Yes, it’s not the most interesting thing you’ve ever seen, but neither will a lot of these group games, apparently.

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