The Data Day at Euro 2020: No.7
Soccer

The Data Day at Euro 2020: No.7

Welcome to The Data Day, our daily Euro 2020 blog where we try and make sense of what just happened.


Memphis De-Pi

After doing their best to incorrectly show that 2-0 is a dangerous lead in their opening game against Ukraine, the Netherlands had no such problems against Austria, comfortably winning 2-0 and becoming the third team, after Italy and Belgium, to take a definitive step into the last 16. It was the ninth game in a row in which the Dutch had scored two or more goals, equalling a national record that has stood since 1935.

And if 1935 sounds a long time ago, it’s not as long ago as Austria’s last and only win on Dutch soil, in 1933. Austria seemed to be stuck in a whole range of eras in this game, just not the current one. In a nod to the 1980s they had selected their best player, David Alaba, as a sweeper, as they had against North Macedonia, only to create more chances once again after he was given more freedom in the second half. And despite playing with a back three, Austria still pushed high up the pitch, leaving plenty of room for Memphis Depay and company to run in behind.

netherlands austria xG
Austria’s only shot on target came in the 84th minute

Fittingly for a side containing Depay, the Netherlands ended the game with a total xG of 3.15, the closest any side has come to actual Pi so far in Euro 2020. Depay bagged an early penalty, only the second player after Cristiano Ronaldo to do so in the tournament. More memorable was his miss just before half-time, a 0.57 close range failure after being played in by Wout Weghorst, who could have shot, but chose to pass. What was the right decision there? Trick question: there isn’t one. Had Depay scored, then Weghorst would have looked like Kevin De Bruyne, rather than Kev Indecisive.

But just like in the Netherlands’ first match, it was Denzel Dumfries who caught the eye. Having come into the tournament with no international goals to his name, he now has two in two at the Euros, the first Dutchman to score in his first two appearances in the competition since Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004. At that stage van Nistelrooy was playing his club football in England. Dumfries may soon be making a similar geographical pivot.

So a night to forget for Austria, but according to our predictor, they still have a 87% chance of making it through to the knockout stages, thanks in part to the fact they have a goal difference of zero and three points in the bag. Just a draw with Ukraine in the final match will see them finish third but with a record very likely to see them bag one of the four ‘best third place’ berths. Expect a reasonably cautious game between those two on Monday.


Subs-Optimal

After the distressing events in Denmark’s opening fixture against Finland, the atmosphere in Copenhagen for their second game was always going to be emotionally charged. Then Yussuf Poulsen went and set it alight. Kevin De Bruyne just didn’t allow it to last.

To the casual observer, Jason Denayer, making his tournament bow for Belgium in this game, had a composed first half – by the numbers at least. The defender misplaced just one of his 42 passes in the first-half for Belgium. But that one error dug Belgium an early hole. 

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg pounced on his loose pass and slipped the ball through to Poulsen. The striker cracked a finish past Thibaut Courtois to send the stadium into rapture. The strike came after just 99 seconds, making it the second-fastest goal in European Championships history. Only Dmitry Kirichenko for Russia (against Greece at Euro 2004) has scored an earlier goal (65 seconds).

It was all part of a roaring start for Denmark as wave after wave of red shirts crashed into the Belgium defence. It took them just 13 minutes to register as many shots (five) as Russia mustered in the full 90 minutes against Belgium.

Romelu Lukaku cut an isolated figure up front, managing just 17 touches in the first half. Only Poulsen registered fewer among outfield players. In total, Belgium managed only one attempt in the first half of a game under Roberto Martínez for just the second time – with the only other game being his first in charge (vs. Spain) in 2016.

But this game really was … [grits teeth, winces] … a game of two halves.

On came De Bruyne to start the second half, replacing Dries Mertens, whose centenary cap won’t be one that lingers long in the memory. The midfielder’s impact was instant, showing his customary class to cut the ball back for Thorgan Hazard to level, but not before faking out two Danish defenders with a cute dummy. It was De Bruyne’s eighth assist for Belgium in major tournaments (World Cup and Euros) since the 2014 World Cup. At that stage, no European player had made more across the two competitions.

That was until Eden Hazard teed up De Bruyne for the second, taking the Real Madrid player’s assist tally to nine. Turns out it really helps being able to bring on those two.

De Bruyne has a good bond with the Hazard fraternity it seems. Both the Hazard bros – Nintendo, we’ll wait for our royalty cheque in the post – have scored a goal apiece at the European Championship, both being assisted by the Man City player.

He also displayed an instant connection with Lukaku, frequently finding him with raking through balls. The pair were at the heart of Belgium’s winner. Lukaku first bullying and then dancing his way down the right-hand side of the box, carrying the ball as only he can. De Bruyne lasered the ball into the corner to finish off the move.  

Belgium had very much reached the Turning It On™ stage.

The Danes rallied, pushing, straining for the equaliser. Martin Braithwaite clipped the bar with a header. Mathias Jensen fired wide from a good opportunity. But they couldn’t turn their shots into the equaliser.

Belgium v Denmark xG plot

Belgium’s win means they’re now the second team to book their place in the last 16, after Italy last night. The Red Devils have lost just one of their last 25 matches in all competitions, winning on 21 occasions in the process (D4).

For Denmark, zero points from their first two games feels unfair. They deserve a lot better, with their shot column reading: Shots for 43, goals for 1. Shots against 7, goals against 3.

Their chances of progressing a still reasonable though, with our predictor giving them a 45.1% of qualifying. Beating Russia is, clearly, a must.


The Ukrainian Y-Axis

It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from Euro 2020 yet with the tournament less than a week old but one thing that can already be said with confidence is that Group C is for the entertainers.

Ukraine’s 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands in their first outing justifiably became an early contender for ‘ultimately superfluous game of the tournament’, a trend that also transpired in the group’s other fixture between Austria and North Macedonia. The nine goals scored across Group C’s Matchday 1 games were the same number as Groups D, E and F could muster collectively across the opening round of fixtures. As such, Group C was also the only group not to witness a clean sheet on Matchday 1.

Roll around Matchday 2 and it was business as usual for the electrifying Group C. Ukraine fired themselves into a two-goal lead over North Macedonia within 34 minutes, with Belgium (two) the only other team to score multiple times during the first half of Euro 2020 thus far. The group stage will reach its halfway mark by the end of tonight’s action and at this point only five games have seen both teams score so far at this European Championship – fittingly three of those have been Group C affairs.

Despite Euro 2020’s best-dressed goalkeeper Stole Dimitievski’s attempts to steal the Group C show with a barrage of early saves, Ukraine were eventually able to find a way past North Macedonia. In doing that, the Ukrainians put to bed the joint-longest run of defeats (six) in European Championship history.

Ukraine v North Macedonia xG map

It was Andriy Yarmolenko who once again scored the Ukrainians’ first goal of the game, netting with his fifth – and final – shot of the match after just 29 minutes in a trigger-happy first half for the West Ham man. Following that, Ciro Immobile (10) is now the only player to have attempted more shots than Yarmolenko (eight) at Euro 2020 so far.

In terms of xG, Yarmolenko’s goal against North Macedonia was around 14 times more likely than his strike against the Netherlands, but given Yarmolenko’s deadly reliance on his left foot, you could argue that long-range drive was more predictable than his right-footed finish on Matchday 2.

Yarmalenko xG map euro 2020

Five minutes later, Yarmolenko would play through Roman Yaremchuk to score, with the former now directly involved in four of Ukraine’s six goals in European Championship history (two goals + two assists). Both Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk have scored in three straight appearances for the national team, with this Ukrainian Y-axis becoming the first duo to both score in both of their side’s opening two matches at a single European Championship tournament.

Pulling the strings alongside that pair, Roman Malinovskiy was directly involved in 10 of Ukraine’s 17 shots against North Macedonia (four shots + six chances created), with the Ukrainian now leading the Euro 2020 charts for chance creation (seven). That should come of little surprise to fans of Gian Piero Gasperini’s swaggering Atalanta outfit, with Malinovskiy ranking just outside the top 10 for chances created (78) in Europe’s top five leagues this season – two behind Kevin De Bruyne (80) and one ahead of Lionel Messi (77).

If the entertainment on offer wasn’t of a high enough calibre for you, the match then proceeded to become the first in European Championship history since at least 1980 to see both sides fail to score from a penalty kick when Malinovskiy’s penalty found Dimitievski’s gloves. That’s another trend befitting of Euro 2020, with four of the five spot kicks so far failing to find the net – Euro 2000’s five (of 13) was the last time more were missed at an edition of the tournament.

Ukraine’s attacking ingredients pass the litmus for tournament football, but how far can they realistically go at Euro 2020?

Our predictor rated Ukraine’s qualification chances pre-game at 68.6%, the highest for any of the teams to lose their opening match bar Germany (82.4%), but the victory over North Macedonia has provided a real shot in the arm towards the knockout stages. The model now predicts the Ukrainians are dead certs for the knockout stages (91%), with a further 40%- chance of progressing to the quarter-final stage. Anywhere beyond that may be beyond them with Ukraine’s overall chances of winning the tournament sitting at a lowly 0.7% – though that is the best of any team with less than a 1% chance, which is something at least.

As for North Macedonia, they came into the tournament with tags of debutants and minnows. North Macedonia’s pre-tournament 21.2%-chance of progression had already diminished to 12.8% ahead of kick-off against Ukraine, but now sits at a doom-and-gloom low of 1% – a fate that would become 0% with a Netherlands victory tonight.


The Devils or the Danes?

Italy became the first team to qualify for the Last 16 of Euro 2020 with another emphatic 3-0 victory last night, and there’s a chance that another side could join them today from Group B or C.

Second-favourites in our tournament predictor, Belgium, face Denmark in Copenhagen looking to make it two wins from two, while the Danes will be looking to pick up their first points in Group C.

It’s been a difficult tournament for Denmark for obvious reasons. The unexpected ‘on-paper’ 1-0 defeat to Finland on the opening weekend of the tournament was more than expected in the circumstances. Following that loss, their chances of progressing to the Last 16 are now at 51.5% – down from 81.9% before

Belgium impressed on MD1 in Russia with a 3-0 victory, with Romelu Lukaku helping himself to two more goals for the Red Devils. He’s now been directly involved in 26 goals in his 19 games for Belgium since the end of the 2018 World Cup (22 goals, four assists). During this run, Lukaku has only failed to score or assist in three of those 19 appearances, but one of these was against Denmark in September 2020. Belgium are currently given a 13.3% chance of glory at Euro 2020 this summer in our tournament predictor, behind only France (22.3%), with the chance of topping their group at 76.9%.

Denmark v Belgium prediction

Is there much chance of a Danish shock in this match? Our match predictor gives them a 24.7% chance of doing just that, but the more likely outcome is a Belgium victory at 48.5%. After all, Belgium have lost just one of their last 24 matches in all competitions, winning on 20 occasions in the process.

The late kick off tonight sees the Netherlands face off against Austria following both teams’ victories on the opening matchday.

The Netherlands’ win came in slightly nervous fashion, as they blew a two-goal lead in the space of just four minutes and five seconds of action. However, a late Denzel Dumfries goal saw them come away with a 3-2 victory.

Netherlands v Ukraine LWP

Austria relied on two substitutes to guide them to a 3-1 victory against the unfancied North Macedonia on the opening matchday, but one of those – Marko Arnautovic – will be suspended for this game.

Expect goals in this match, as the last seven games between the Netherlands and Austria have produced 30 goals, an average of 4.3 per game. Our match predictor gives the Netherlands the edge in this one, with a 64.8% chance of victory against Austria’s 14.2%, with whoever wins this game in pole position to top the group.

Netherlands v Austria prediction

Ukraine and North Macedonia both started Euro 2020 with defeats, but at least one of them will get points on the board today.

North Macedonia’s 37-year-old striker Goran Pandev scored his nation’s first ever goal at a major tournament in their first game against Austria. Should he score in this match, he’d become the oldest player to score in consecutive matches in the same European Championship tournament, five years older than the current record holder Rui Costa for Portugal at Euro 2004 (32 years, 87 days).

Ukraine have lost each of their last six matches at European Championship finals, but our match predictor fancies them to end that run here, with a 58.6% chance of victory.

Sweden v North Macedonia preview