There is always much focus on the tournament favourite ahead of any European Championship. Sometimes there is a clear front-runner who ends up passionately backed by many fans and pundits alike thanks to a combination of great form and an extremely strong looking squad. In other instances, the market is a more open affair and you can start a tournament with two, or even three nations battling it out for the top dog status.
To see how the shortest-priced option has fared over the years, we have dug deep into the archives to bring you a tournament by tournament guide. We will go as far back as Euro 1980 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, betting was far less common and less mainstream in the earliest days of the Euros. In addition, there were fewer bookies and the availability of reliable historical odds is limited. Perhaps more importantly though, before this point, the European Championships only included four teams in the finals, meaning there was not a great deal of variety in the betting market and certainly no possibility of a huge upset.
How the Favourites Performed Historically
Safe to say that you would not have spotted any 100/1 dark horses in the early days simply because reaching the finals in the early editions of the Euros was such a challenge in itself. This usually resulted in the finals being extremely competitive, rarely featuring a one-sided clash. In 1976, for instance, both semi-finals went to extra time and the final went to penalties while in 1968, Italy first beat the Soviet Union on a coin toss and then required a replay to see off Yugoslavia! As fascinating as early Euro history is though, we will save a more thorough investigation for another time.
For now, our focus is on examining how the favourites have performed in this tournament over the years. Have they crumbled under the weight of expectation or thrived on all their pre-tournament hype?
Favourite: France – 16/5
Second Favourite: Germany – 9/2
The 2016 edition of the Euros was shaping up to be a repeat of 1984 in which the host nation, France, were heavily backed to triumph with the help of a star-studded squad. For all their early plaudits though, it seemed as though the pressure of being the home side worked against Didier Deschamps men at first. After scraping past Romania in the tournament opener thanks to a 89th minute Dimitri Payet goal, the French then needed two late strikes (90 and 90+6) to see off Albania. An unconvincing group stage was then rounded off with a goalless draw with the already qualified Switzerland.
Even by the time of their round of 16 clash, the hosts still looked a little nervy and disjointed as they unconvincingly eliminated a 10-man Republic of Ireland 2-1. Following this, Les Bleus brushed aside a hearty but unquestionably limited Iceland side 5-2 before riding their luck a little in a 2-0 win over Germany. Ultimately though, their lack of genuinely impressive form came back to haunt them in the final against Portugal. Even after seeing Cristiano Ronaldo hobble off injury after just 25 minutes, the French were unable to capitalise and eventually succumbed to a long-range Eder goal in extra-time.
Favourite: Spain – 11/4
Second Favourite: Germany – 3/1
Having won Euro 2008 and then backed that up by claiming the World Cup in 2010, Spain were the unsurprising favourites to lift the trophy in Europe’s 2012 showpiece footballing event. They did however have a talented Germany very hot on their tail though. This was for very good reason too, as the Germans only lost to Spain by a single goal in the previous two major tournaments. Focussing back on La Roja though, and a 1-1 draw with Italy and a 4-0 win over the Republic of Ireland marked a good start to life in Group C. All they needed was a draw with Croatia in their final game to secure safe passage to the knockout stages.
Although Spain ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a Jesus Navas strike, they were made to work extremely hard for it. In the second half, with the game goalless, the Croatians created several extremely presentable chances as they truly made Vincente del Bosque and his men sweat. Having seen out several scares then, more nail biting awaited two games later in the semi-finals when facing neighbours Portugal.
With no goals scored after 120 minutes, the game went to a tense penalty shootout but misses from Joao Moutinho and Bruno Alves ensured yet another final for Spain. It was here where Spain faced a re-match with Italy, only this time rather than a hard-fought draw, the favourites crushed their opponents 4-0 in the biggest final victory the Euros has ever seen to well and truly justify their status as pre-tournament favourites.
Favourite: Germany – 3/1
Second Favourite: Portugal – 5/1
Despite their 3/1 odds, Germany were unable to top their group in 2008 after suffering defeat to Croatia during their second group stage bout. This loss set up a must-win final group game clash with rivals Austria, one that was decided by a bullet free kick by Michael Ballack. It was a touch of magic Joachim Low desperately needed as his tactical approach prior to this point had not been reaping any sort of reward. After unconvincingly booking their place in the knockouts, Die Mannschaft ended up edging a pair of five-goal thrillers against Portugal and Turkey.
In the final the Germans met Spain who, unbeknown at the time, were about to begin their era of dominance. Having crashed out of the last 16 of the World Cup two years prior, they were back with a point to prove in 2008. Loaded with a squad that oozed class from front to back, not to mention a real Barcelona core at a time when the Catalans were dominant, La Roja were certainly fierce competitors coming into the final. Ahead of the game, Germany enjoyed a huge boost when Michael Ballack was declared fit but even he could only watch on as his side was dismantled by the Spanish. The final score may only have been 1-0 but it could have easily been more as La Roja ended their 44-year trophy drought in style.
Favourite: France – 7/2
Second Favourite: Italy – 5/1
So far in our list, the tournament favourite has not been handed an opening game defeat but this was almost the case in 2004. Facing England, the French went 1-0 down and only avoided going further behind thanks to Fabien Barthez saving David Beckham’s penalty. They remained in a losing position as the game crept into injury time but up popped none other than Zinedine Zidane, the French legend firing in a special 91st minute free-kick. A mere two minute later and he converted a penalty to complete the most unlikely looking of turnarounds.
A 2-2 draw with Croatia and a 3-1 win over Switzerland followed with the reward being a clash with Greece in the quarter-finals. Despite starting the tournament priced at 80/1, the Greeks stunned their opponents in what was something of a David versus Goliath battle. It was nothing more than the tireless Greeks deserved either as their hugely energetic approach proved too much for a timid France. Unable to must a response to Angelos Charisteas’ goal, the favourites bowed out with a whimper, lacking a single clean sheet during their time in Portugal.
Joint Favourites: France & Netherlands – 9/4
The group stage draw for Euro 2000 was very unkind to both the Czech Republic and Denmark as the pair ended up sharing company with the two tournament favourites Netherlands and France. As expected, the much-fancied pair made their way out of the group with the Netherlands edging the battle between the two 3-2. Although most neutrals wished for a re-match at a later day, they were denied one as the Dutch lost on penalties to Italy in the semi-finals. This is after they put on a mouth-watering attacking display in a 6-1 demolition job of FR Yugoslavia.
France also found life tricky in their semi-final but prevailed courtesy of the much-criticised golden goal rule. The rule was replaced with the silver goal rule in 2004 but not before France benefitted from it not once but twice. A Zinedine Zidane penalty in the 117th minute instantly eliminated Portugal in the semi-finals while a David Trezeguet strike in the 103rd minute against Italy in the final secured them the European title. Another Euros win for the favourites.
Favourite: Netherlands – 9/2
Second Favourite: Italy and Germany – 5/1
Despite having a negative goal difference in the group stages, pre-tournament favourites Netherlands managed to advance to the next round by the skin of their teeth. The usual tiebreaker of taking the head-to-head record of teams level on points could not separate Netherlands and Scotland, who drew 0-0, but the Dutch prevailed thanks to a better goals scored record. Their underwhelming effort would not last much longer though as Guus Hiddink’s men lost on penalties to France after a second goalless draw of the tournament.
Second favourites Italy fared little better in 1996 in what was a good year for the bookies. In their case their head-to-head tiebreaker worked against them as they faced group stage elimination. In the end it was Germany, who had been joint-second favourites, who prevailed. The Germans edged past England in that famous semi on penalties before beating Czech Republic 2-1 thanks to a golden goal.
The 1992 edition of the European Championship was the last to include eight teams. So for this and the three tournaments before it, we will only focus on the outright favourites rather than the second favourites as well. Note that the odds are not omitted due to choice, rather that reliable information proved impossible to find prior to this date. We still know however that the Netherlands were the top pick heading into the competition, off the back of their triumph four years earlier.
It was all going smoothly enough for the Flying Dutchmen at first, winners of their group and then handed a semi-final bout with Denmark. Although the Danes were not total pushovers, they had initially failed to qualify for the tournament and had little time to prepare when they eventually took Yugoslavia’s place. With a group stage record of one win, one draw and one loss too, there was little indication the tournament favourites were likely to slip up. But that they did, losing 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw, which even then, they only managed thanks to a late Frank Rijkaard goal.
Favourites: West Germany
This competitive looking Euros had Germany as the slight favourites, partially of course because of the fact they were the host nation. Backed by plenty of support, they safely navigated their way through the group stages, conceding just one goal in the process. Facing them in the semis was a Netherlands team who were only a few minutes away from not making it out of the group stages. Had it not been for Wim Kieft’s goal in the 82nd minute against the Republic of Ireland, the Germans would have been up against the Irish, not the Dutch.
As it was though we had a familiar game of the Dutch versus Deutschland. The tournament favourites initially took the lead but were pegged back by a contentious penalty given following an alleged foul on legendary striker Marco van Basten. Ronald Koeman duly dispatched the penalty as he so often did while that man Van Basten broke German hearts with two minutes of normal time to go.
In 1984, France completed the clean sweep of being the tournament hosts, the tournament favourites and the tournament winners. Any fans truly doubting the French coming into the tournament, of which there were not too many, were surely having a re-think following a stellar group stage showing. The hosts won all their three games with a red-hot Michel Platini getting his name on the scoresheet a sensational seven times. His reputation is tarnished to say the least but it should be remembered that he was a truly world class talent.
In the semi-finals, Platini of course got himself on the scoresheet again, this time popping up in extra time as France complete a late and nail-biting comeback against Portugal. Their opponents initially struck first in the additional 30-minute period but Jean-Francois Domergue and Platini complete a very rare extra-time turnaround. Luckily the golden goal rule, which the French so prospered from in 2000, had not been rolled out by this point! After this win, the home nation topped off a great campaign with a 2-0 win over Spain in the Parc des Princes, Paris.
Winner: West Germany
Favourite: West Germany
The 1980 European Championships had the four-team group stage we are so accustomed to but here, the winner of each group qualified directly for the final while the second place took part in a third-place play-off. This led to the rather interesting prospect of Belgium being able to win the tournament having failed to win half of their matches (The Red Devils topped the group with one win and two draws). As it was though, this piece of Euro trivia never came into existence as the favourites West Germany edged out a competitive final 2-1 thanks to a late Horst Hrubesh header from an 88th minute corner.
Conclusion: How Often Does the Favourite Win the Euros?
As you can see from the chart above, the favourites generally fare well at the Euros. For the purposes of the chart, a semi-final loss is considered a 4th place finish as there has not been a third-place play-off match since Euro 1984. A quarter-final defeat on the other hand is considered 8th although some other sites may consider this to be 6th. Despite a couple of close scares, the favourite has never failed to make it out of the group stages before.
The Move Away from Four-Team Tournaments
Since moving away from the extremely limited four-team tournaments, there have been 10 editions of the European Championships. From this number, we have seen four winnings favourites (one of them as joint favourites) which actually represents around what we would expect based on the numbers available to us. From the odds we have been able to gather, the favourites between 1996 and 2016 began the tournament with an average price of 16/5. This is gives us an implied probability of 23.8%. The fact that the favourites have won 40% in this time, or 36% if we include losing joint-favourites Netherlands (2000) does initially suggest an overperformance and could indicate that simply backing the favourites is the way to go.
The only trouble with this approach is that we would imagine that both France in 1984 and West Germany in 1980 would have been trading shorter than 16/5, especially as there were only seven other teams competing. As they rather skew the results somewhat, it is better to assume that a bet on the Euros favourite is not inherently a smart one but nor is it an unwise one.
Shopping Around for the Best Price
In future, we would have to expect a fair share of favourites to justify their position in the betting and lift the trophy but certainly not every time. Based on past trends and odds, the ratio could well be that we have one winning favourite for every two or three losing ones. If you do decide to place your bets on the tournament favourite, just be sure you shop around for the best price.
While we have provided a market average price in this feature, prices can fluctuate fairly substantially among different bookies. In truth, this is less the case when it comes to favourites but certainly if you want to oppose the bookies’ pick, making sure you get the best available odds is vital.