# France Euro 2016: “group of death”?

Tomorrow will start the UEFA Euro 2016. Fans all over Europe start getting excited by it. This year’s competition is played in France, with some matches taking place in Toulouse, one of them Spain – Czech Republic, which some friends and I will be able to watch live!

This post is intended to be a quick one to discuss, as I did for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which groups are the most difficult ones, the so-called “group of death“. Media all over Europe states that it is group E, with Belgium, Ireland, Italy and Sweden the one which is the toughest. To discover which is effectively such group I’ll focus on a couple of rankings: FIFA’s and ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, as I did in 2014.

In its website, FIFA explains the procedure which it uses to compute the ranking, which is based on the following formula:

M x I x T x C = P

M: winning, drawing or losing a match

I: importance of the match

T: strength of opposing team

C: confederation strength weights

P: points for a game

According to that formula, the latest ranking (June 2nd), filtered for European teams, has the following teams at its top:

With the information of both the ranking and the points I went to check which of the groups of the Euro 2016 were the strongest, both taking a look at the overall group and looking from the perspective of the “favourite” team (the one with the highest ranking), which was the one facing a toughest group (total points of the other 3 teams composing the group). See the results below:

As you can see the most difficult groups in terms of total points are:

• C (Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine) with 3,897.
• F (Austria, Hungary, Island, Portugal) with 3,895.
• E (Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Sweden) with 3,869.

Looking at the average ranking, the most difficult groups are:

• F (Austria, Hungary, Island, Portugal) with 18.
• C (Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine) with 18,75.
• D (Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey) with 20,25.

And excluding the points of the favorite team in each group, which is the favorite facing the toughest group?

• Portugal in group F, facing 2,714.
• Germany in group C, facing 2,587.
• Spain in group D, facing 2,576.

Then, combining the 3 approaches, to me, it becomes clear that the toughest group is F, with Austria, Hungary, Island and Portugal, by the total amount of points (2nd), ranking of the teams (1st) and in relation to what Portugal will face (1st).

The second most difficult group would be C, with Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland and Ukraine, by the total amount of points (1st), ranking of the teams (2nd) and in relation to what Germany will face (2nd).

You can see that, using FIFA ranking, and despite of conventional “wisdom” (press), group E would be nothing but the 3rd or 4th most difficult group, i.e. an average group out of 6.

ESPN Soccer Power Index (SPI) ranking was introduced by the economist Nate Silver of worldly fame, who many readers will know from his forecasts on elections in the USA (check his blog FiveThirtyEight).

In a post from 2009, when the SPI was introduced, just before the 2010 World Cup, he explained how the index was computed (“A Guide to ESPN’s SPI rankings”). As he explained, the process had 4 main steps:

• Calculate competitiveness coefficients for all games in database.
• Derive match-based ratings for all international and club teams.
• Derive player-based ratings for all games in which detailed data is available.
• Combine team and player data into a composite rating based on current rosters; use to predict future results.

The main difference in relation to FIFA ranking algorithm is that it takes player-based ratings for those players who play in clubs in the Big Four leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany) and the UEFA Champions’ League. The player-based rating is merged into the national team coefficient. The player-based rating weighs heavily in national teams with many players playing in the main leagues (e.g. England or Spain national teams) and less heavily in other nations which roster is composed of many players not playing in clubs of the 4 main leagues (e.g. Russia).

Other details of the ESPN’s approach are similar to those used by FIFA: e.g. giving weights to results depending on the opponent, measuring the competitiveness of the match, the different confederations, etc.

ESPN provides a daily update of its ranking, however it includes only the top 25 world-wide teams, out of which 15 are European and only 13 represented in the UEFA Euro 2016, that is about half of those 24 competing.

In order to review which one would be the group of death using the ESPN SPI I took the latest available complete ranking I could find, dating from October 2015, which is half a year away, but reflected the situation at about the end of the qualifying phase for the Euro 2016. See the ranking below:

As I did with the FIFA ranking above, with the information of both the ranking and the ESPN SPI ratings I went to check which ones of the groups of the Euro 2016 were the strongest, both taking a look at the overall group and looking from the perspective of the “favourite” team (the one with the highest ranking), which was the one facing a toughest group (total ratings of the other 3 teams composing the group). See the results below:

As you can see the most difficult groups in terms of total ratings are:

• D (Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey) with 309.
• B (Slovakia, Wales, England, Russia) with 307.
• C and E with 303.

Looking at the average ranking, the most difficult groups are:

• B (Slovakia, Wales, England, Russia) with 24.
• D (Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey) with 24.5.
• E (Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Sweden) with 28.

And excluding the points of the favorite team in each group, which is the favorite facing the toughest group?

• England in group B, facing 224.
• Spain in group D, facing 223.
• Belgium in group E, facing 219.

Then, combining the 3 approaches, to me, it becomes clear that the toughest group is B, with Slovakia, Wales, England and Russia, by the total amount of points (2nd), ranking of the teams (1st) and in relation to what England will face (1st).

The second most difficult group would be D, with Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic and Turkey, by the total amount of points (1st), ranking of the teams (2nd) and in relation to what Spain will face (2nd).

You can see that, using ESPN SPI ranking (from October), and despite of conventional “wisdom” (press), group E would be nothing but the 3rd most difficult group.

Some readers may be tempted to think that I arrived at this result because I used a ranking from half a year ago, that if we were to take the latest ratings (if fully available) group E would emerge as the toughest one… not so. See the preliminary table using the information available for those 12 teams:

There you can see that with the latest ratings the most competitive group would be either D or C, very much like with FIFA rating (from June as well).

It is interesting to note how by using FIFA or ESPN SPI the weight given to the group F (Portugal) is completely different.

Finally, in both ratings the big absence in the tournament is the Netherlands, arguably about the 10-14th team in the world, the 6th in Europe. A pity for the competition.