Euro 2016 recently concluded with Portugal winning their first major international trophy by beating hosts France in the final at Stade de France.
As the dust begins to settle on the month-long football extravaganza, the realisation of how poor the tournament really was is beginning to set in.
While the increase of the number of teams participating in the final tournament has gone up from 16 to 24 with this edition, Michel Platini’s plan to align the Uefa-organised tournament to closer resemble the excitement of the Fifa-organised World Cup doesn’t seem to have panned out perfectly.
For one, the addition of the teams resulted in the need for the introduction of two more groups before the knockout stages. In addition, a round of 16 was introduced in the knockout stage with the top two teams of each group progressing and a chance for the four-best third place teams to qualify as well.
This format seemed to do little to improve the quality of the tournament as most teams decided to play it safe to progress from the groups.
With a win and a draw being enough to confirm progress as a third-placed team, few teams played for wins in their group stage matches—or at least held back in their first two matches. Eight of the first 24 games of the tournament ended as draws which were the first two games for every team.
Very often, late goals decided games as each team attempted to protect their goal until the final minutes, allowing their players to attack only after the other team had tired out. Of the 51 matches played, 22 were goalless at half-time while 20 of the tournament’s 108 goals were scored in the 85th minute or later.
Although the expanded tournament format inevitably resulted in more goals than ever seen before at the Euros, the average number of goals per game decreased compared to the last two editions. At 2.12 goals per game—108 goals scored in 51 matches—Euro 2016 fell shy of the goal per game average of Euro 2012 (2.45 goals per game) and Euro 2008 (2.48 goals per game).
Even when compared to the last two editions of the World Cup—which has a format of 32 teams participating in 64 games—the recently concluded Euro tournament falls short of the goal per game average. The 2010 World Cup saw 2.7 goals per game while the 2008 World Cup had an average of 2.3 goals scored per match.
The only plus point for Euro 2016 is the increased goal ratio seen in the knockout stages. At an average of three goals a match, there was plenty of action in the knockout stages. However, with five out of 15 matches needing either extra-time or penalties to decide the outcome, the trend of going for a draw seemed to carry on past the group stages as well.
In his column for The Guardian, senior sports writer Barnes Ronay wrote:” The tournament didn’t help itself. The 24-team structure was a failure. Addition is not always increase. There were too many lukewarm matches, too many teams for whom qualification was not reward for some rare seam of talent. The need simply to avoid defeat to reach the knockout stages spawned some turgid, dead-bat football.”
While the format is still in its infancy, Uefa may need to look at bringing the spark back to the game if the European Championship is to continue to gleam as one of the most watched sporting competitions on the planet.
Goal scoring averages
2.12 goals per game
2014 World Cup
2.7 goals per game
2.45 goals per game
2010 World Cup
2.3 goals per match
2.48 goals per game