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How important is age and experience at the Euros?


How important is age and experience at the Euros?

When building a squad to compete at an international tournament, age and experience often prove crucial elements capable of assisting a team to perform at a higher level than their general ability might indicate. With this in mind, what role might age and experience play at Euro 2020? Read on to find out.

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What role has experience played at the Euros?

Match outcomes and goal scorers in club football can be hard enough for bettors to predict when teams play every week and stick to a relatively small pool of players. However, betting on these markets for international soccer involves a heightened level of difficulty.

For instance, England played 11 matches between September 2020 and March 2021, of which nine were competitive. For these, manager Gareth Southgate named 39 different players in match day squads, with all but one of them making at least one appearance. With turnover levels such as these, forecasting the England squad for Euro 2020 is challenging enough, let alone how they might perform at the tournament.

It is the same for all 24 nations who will be taking part at Euro 2020, and ultimately it will most likely be one of the outright favourites who will prove to have the best players and go all the way and lift the trophy on July 11. However, it is always worth looking for any trends from previous editions to see if there are any similarities shared between teams who progressed far into the tournament.

To make this assessment, we can rank the finishing position of the teams in an edition of the Euros by collating which round they were knocked out in, and then ordering the teams who exited at each stage by their points per game, average goal difference, and average goals scored. We can also order each country’s squad on the average number of caps they had per player and their average age.

Using Spearman's Rank Correlation Coefficient, we can then compare those standings to their finishing position to see if there is any significant link between the statistics. Yet doing so for the previous five Euros reveals there has often been little correlation whatsoever, and it has frequently been a negative relationship. In other words, a team has been more likely to succeed with a younger squad who have earned fewer caps.

Correlation coefficients for average caps and age compared to finishing position

Tournament

Average caps vs. Finishing position correlation

Average age vs. Finishing position correlation

Euro 2000

-0.018

-0.236

Euro 2004

0.412

-0.015

Euro 2008

-0.294

-0.348

Euro 2012

-0.121

-0.202

Euro 2016

0.107

0.116

The correlation is often next to non-existent though, so we need to drill down deeper to see if any other trends or running themes are worthy of our attention.

Is the average age and number of caps for a Euros squad important?

Studying the average caps and age of countries by their finishing position across the last five Euros reveals what appears to be a remarkable anomaly.

The squads of the winning teams (France, Greece, Spain twice, and Portugal) sported 35.9 caps per player and were an average of 27.4 years old entering the tournament. Among the finishing positions from first to 16th, this represented the second-most caps and fifth-oldest selection of players, directly implying that age and experience carry a lot of weight in the European Championships.

However, in the top five for both categories were also the countries who finished 14th, 15th and 16th, which undermines that idea entirely.

Average number of caps and ages for the top 16 teams at the last five Euros

Final position

Average caps

Caps rank

Average age

Age rank

1

35.9

2

27.4

5

2

28.3

13

27.2

11

3

31.0

10

26.4

16

4

32.7

6

27.0

12

5

31.2

8

27.3

6

6

29.0

12

26.7

15

7

32.1

7

27.2

10

8

29.2

11

27.6

3

9

31.0

9

27.2

7

10

36.2

1

27.2

8

11

28.1

14

26.7

14

12

27.7

15

27.2

9

13

26.1

16

26.8

13

14

33.7

5

27.5

4

15

34.6

3

27.9

2

16

34.4

4

28.0

1

When analysing previous tournaments, it is perhaps best to primarily concentrate on Euro 2016, which was the first time the tournament featured 24 teams (as will compete this year).

The data from five years ago in France paints a confusing picture. On one hand, seven teams at Euro 2016 had a maximum of 10 players with no more than 25 caps in their squads, and four of them (Germany, Iceland, Poland, and Wales) reached the quarter-finals. That would indicate that experience is important, particularly as Iceland and Wales were widely regarded to have exceeded expectations.

However, only two of the 10 squads with the most caps in total progressed to the quarter-finals, and only one of the seven oldest squads did the same. Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad was the oldest among the 88 teams that qualified for the previous five Euros, and while they did progress from Group E, they also won only one of their four matches in total.

In the latter stages of the tournament, the older teams were more successful, with the country with the older squad winning both semi-finals and the final. The latter offered an interesting discrepancy though: Portugal’s 23-man squad had 849 caps to France’s 629 and was 0.6 years older per man, yet France’s starting eleven both had more caps and were older, and went on to lose the match in extra time.

How experienced were previous squads that have won the Euros?

A tournament is ultimately about more than the final, even if obviously that is the most important match, and it is worth noting that 21 members of the Portugal squad made at least one appearance at Euro 2016 compared to just 18 for France.

With this in mind, we can divide caps per player by average age to get a very simplistic Experience Score metric. While this doesn’t throw up any strong correlation across tournament finishing positions overall, notably at four of the last five Euros, the more experienced squad by this measure won the final.

Experience scores for teams that reached the final at the last five Euros

Tournament

Team

Caps per player

Average age

Experience score

Euro 2000

France (Winner)

39.1

28.0

1.40

Euro 2000

Italy (Runners-up)

21.0

27.0

0.78

Euro 2004

Greece (Winner)

32.3

28.3

1.14

Euro 2004

Portugal (Runners-up)

29.5

26.8

1.10

Euro 2008

Spain (Winner)

23.3

26.0

0.89

Euro 2008

Germany (Runners-up)

36.1

26.7

1.35

Euro 2012

Spain (Winner)

47.8

26.7

1.79

Euro 2012

Italy (Runners-up)

27.7

27.9

0.99

Euro 2016

Portugal (Winner)

36.9

27.9

1.32

Euro 2016

France (Runners-up)

27.3

27.3

1.00

These stats reveal some interesting observations. The Italy squad at Euro 2000 were led by 105-cap captain Paolo Maldini, but also featured 16 players with no more than 25 caps. Only five of the 88 teams who have competed at the last five European Championships have sported more players with such little international experience, and none of them progressed as far as the quarter-finals.

Euro 2000 winners France only had eight squad members with fewer than 25 caps, and the same was true of the Greece squad that lifted the trophy in 2004. Only two teams this century have entered the tournament with fewer such players in their squad. This appeared to help Otto Rehhagel’s underdogs, as Portugal’s squad was undoubtedly more talented but also light on caps - just two of their final starting eleven had more than 26 caps when the tournament began.

The Euro 2008 final is the lone exception to the rule, as the less experienced group of players lifted the trophy in Vienna. However, even on that occasion, Spain could call upon immense experience in key positions. Their most capped player Iker Casillas was in goal, and the three players in their final line-up who were aged 30 or above played in defence or holding midfield.

Of the 11 players in Luis Aragones’ squad who had collected the most caps, eight started against Germany, while another (Xabi Alonso) was their first substitute. Euro 2008 Golden Boot winner David Villa, another of their 11 most-capped players, would have presumably featured too had an injury suffered in the semi-final not ruled him out.

Spain then reaped the rewards of utilising an established group of players four years later, by arriving with the most experienced squad (as per the above metric) witnessed at the last five Euros. Indeed, six of their starting eleven in the 2012 final were returnees from 2008, and four of the other five players had at least 40 caps too.

However, once again we can’t automatically equate caps and age with success. The squad with the second-highest Experience Score from the last five Euros were the Netherlands at Euro 2012, who finished bottom of their group after losing all three matches.

While player quality and managerial nous may ultimately decide which teams go further than others, history suggests that when it comes to the Euros, bettors could benefit from a quick calculation of the squads’ experience level to predict clashes between teams of a similar standard.

Looking forward to Euro 2020? Win Your Way by checking out the latest Euro 2020 odds on every match and group, outright markets, and more with Pinnacle.




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