Geographies in Depth

Can data predict the winner of Euro 2016?

Match referee Jon Moss uses vanishing spray to mark the boundary of the ball during a free kick in the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Crystal Palace at the Emirates stadium in London August 16, 2014.

A referee draws the lines at a football match. Image: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Will Martin
Markets Reporter, Business Insider UK
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Goldman Sachs' economic research team circulated a note predicting the results of the UEFA European Championship, which begins on Friday night in Paris.

Goldman is backing host nation France to win the tournament, saying that its models suggest the French team has a 23.1% chance of victory, compared to 19.9% for 2014 World Cup winners Germany. Coming in third place are current holders Spain, with a 13.6% chance. Perhaps a little surprisingly for British fans, England is seen as the fourth most likely to win, with a 10.5% chance of doing so.

At the other end of the scale it is bad news for Albania, which the bank's analysts say has literally no chance of being crowned champions. Home nations Wales and Northern Ireland shouldn't get their hopes up either: Goldman estimates the likelihood of either side taking home the cup is 0.1%. Here's Goldman's chart showing all of its predictions:

Global Investment Research
Image: Business Insider

To come up with the ranking, bank researchers used data from thousands of previous games:

Using historical performance data for each team-most importantly the Elo rating system originally devised to rank chess players-we estimate a set of probabilities that a particular team will reach a particular round, up to and including the championship. We also provide a modal "most likely" case for how the tournament will unfold (although "most likely" does not mean "likely").

Goldman didn't just predict the overall outcomes however but went into great detail forecasting the outcome of every game in the championship's knockout stage. If the predictions are to be believed, England will triumph over Romania in the last 16, then beat Portugal in the quarter-finals, before a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Spain in the semi-finals. Here the full bracket:

Model Forecast for Knockout Stage in Euro 2016
Image: Business Insider

Researchers Jan Hatzius, Sven Jari Stehn, and Donnie Millar may have spent a serious amount of time and effort generating their predictions, but note that they're not 100% confident of the results. Here's the key quote:

It is difficult to assess how much faith one should have in these predictions. On the plus side, our approach carefully considers the stochastic nature of the tournament using statistical methods, and we do think that the Elo rating-the most important input into our analysis-is a compelling summary of a team's track record. On the minus side, we ignore a number of potentially important factors that are difficult to summarize statistically, including the quality of the individual players unless they are reflected in the team's recent track record. And there is no room for human judgment (which may not be such a bad thing given that none of us are really football experts but some are enthusiastic Germany supporters).

This year's European Championship isn't the first time Goldman has had a go at predicting a major football tournament, and in 2014 predicted that host nation Brazil would win the World Cup, giving them a 48% chance of doing so. Brazil was knocked out at the semi-final stage of the tournament, losing 7-1 to Germany in a game that shocked pretty much everyone watching.

While it failed to pick Germany as the eventual winner, Goldman notes that its modelling, when fully updated, "predicted the winner of every match in the knockout stage except for the 7-1 semifinal between Germany and Brazil."

The bank's predictions are pretty much in line with the odds being offered by bookmakers right now. Ladbrokes currently has the same four teams as the most likely winners of the tournament.

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