Is ‘growing into a tournament’ a myth?

Germany kicked off their home tournament with an impressive 5-1 win over Scotland.

Opinion is, however, divided over their chances of lifting the trophy for a fourth Euros victory. Some see their thrashing of Scotland as a sign that Germany has come to play. They have the home advantage and some of their key players have certainly hit the ground running.

However, others are more sceptical. Some even believe that the German team may have sealed its own fate after having such an impressive win. To them, winning a tournament means peaking at the right time and building during the competition. A tricky start can both bond the team and encourage them to look for alternative strategies, which can prove useful in the latter stages of the tournament. These fans would have been happier with a tight 1-0 win, a draw, even a loss in the opening game.

While this may make sense over the course of a whole season, the Euros are over in only a month! So, is ‘growing into a tournament’ actually a myth? Let’s assess what this result really means for Germany.

In UEFA EURO 2020, Italy won the competition over England at Wembley Stadium in a game many of us will still remember, not least because it was postponed by one year due to the pandemic. One game we may struggle to remember however is Italy’s opening fixture. Their first game was a 3-0 win over Turkey. They won comfortably and the goal difference of 3 isn’t that dissimilar to one of 4, enjoyed by Germany in their opening fixture this year.   

In Euro 2016, Portugal won the competition. Their opening game was a 1-1 draw with Iceland. Famously, they would win only one game within the 90 minutes during the entire tournament and still managed to lift the trophy. With Ronaldo dictating play from the bench due to injury, this is a side that never really grew into the tournament at all and was, arguably, the luckiest side in all of international football. You do make your own luck, and their opening game was not all that impressive. That being said, neither were any of the others.

The UEFA EURO 2012 and 2008 were both won by the tiki-taka tournament-winning Spain. Both of these Euros were major triumphs during their decade of dominance in international football, with a World Cup win sandwiched in the middle. In 2008, Spain won their opening game 4-1 against Russia. This was a strong first win and like Italy in 2020, it indicates that a low-scoring opening game isn’t necessarily the rule. It is possible to hit the ground running and continue that momentum until the end.

Their triumph in 2012 however opened with a 1-1 draw to Italy. Italy have faced Spain in every Euros since 2008 and this year is no exception with the rivals due to face each other again in the group stage.

As we can see across recent Euros history, whether you win the opening game or draw, it is a meaningless measure of Euros’ success. Growing into a tournament is a myth, perhaps perpetuated by those who need comfort after a poor result in the opening game. However, losing the first game is not a good omen for winning the tournament, sorry Scotland!

But, if it happened during the 2022 World Cup with Argentina emerging as the victors, hope may still be on the horizon…

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