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12/06/2008 No.47
Kevin Pullein
Thurs June 12, 2008
The European Championship may become very exciting in the next few days. The final round of group fixtures, which begins on Sunday, is traditionally the only stage when games become open and high-scoring.

Think back over some of the most dramatic contests of recent international tournaments: Australia 2-2 Croatia in Germany 2006; Senegal 3-3 Uruguay in the previous World Cup; Spain 4-3 Yugoslavia in Euro 2000; Czech Republic 3-3 Russia in Euro 96. These matches were all played in the final round of group fixtures.

Teams who need points to qualify for the knockout rounds realise they have only 90 minutes left in which to get them, but the more desperately they try to score at one end, the more susceptible they become to conceding at the other.

Consider these figures from the past seven European Championships, from 1980 through to 2004. The average goals per game in the opening round of group fixtures was just under two. In the final round it was three. In the opening round of group fixtures only 28% of games produced more than 2.5 goals. In the final round that figure was 65%.

The first set of group fixtures in Austria and Switzerland were very low-scoring, as previous tournaments taught us to expect. It could all change for a while, though, at the weekend.

In the third round of group fixtures some teams have already qualified for the knockouts and some have been eliminated. It is tempting to assume, then, that they will not be trying. Resist this temptation, especially in the case of teams who have already qualified.

In the past three European Championships and the past three World Cups, only three of 14 teams who had already qualified lost their final group game. In Euro 2004 the already qualified Czech Republic fielded their reserves and still beat Germany. Be aware, however, that in the 1982 World Cup Austria produced a mutually convenient result with their neighbours West Germany. Austria play Germany in their final Group B game on Monday.
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