England vs Italy: Mathematicians predict how likely that It’s Coming Home

With tensions rising as we draw ever nearer to the nail-biting conclusion of Euro 2021, everyone and their mothers seem to have an opinion on how the final score will look.

And while it’s easy to question the legitimacy of a so-called psychic octopus or the auntie who has a craving for spaghetti and meatballs every time Italy is about to score, it’s hard to argue with maths.

The very nature of using maths as a predictor relies of a huge amount of data, and as the old saying goes – numbers don’t lie.

With that in mind, we looked to some mathematicians to find out England’s chances of lifting the cup this weekend.

Firstly, we looked to celebrity maths teacher, Bobby Seagull, for an answer.

And he certainly gave ITV London an optimistic if a little tongue-in-cheek view of Sunday’s match.

Taking into account both countries’ international finals, Seagull said: “Italy have only won four of their nine finals, so a 44% track record. While England, 1966, one out of one. We have a 100% track record. So the stats say it’s coming home.”

Taking a more cautious approach to Sunday’s meeting, Ray Douse, director at virtual maths tutoring service, Maths-Whizz, said: “We usually start teaching probability by providing children with clear-cut examples, like ‘what is the likelihood of you growing two heads?’ or ‘what is the chance of it being night at a place on Earth picked at random?’

“We would not be asking them until they are much, much older to estimate the probability of England winning the Euros.

Support for England on the Kirby Estate in London

“With more than 55 years having passed since England’s solitary win at a major senior football competition, is it a coincidence that the implied chance of England beating Italy on Sunday from the odds on Betfair is about 55%?

“What other guides do we have to assess the probability of an England victory? Well, the head to head record of England against Italy is not encouraging. In eight meetings between the teams in World Cup and UEFA European Championships, Italy have won 7 and lost only 1 so that suggests England’s probability of winning is only 12.5%.

“Italy have been in ten World Cup and Euro finals and won five of them compared to England’s record of only ever having been in one final – but at least we won it. So on those facts England’s chances look better.

“Goldman Sachs have a very sophisticated model that has processed data from 6,000 matches since 1980 to conclude that England have a 58% chance of beating Italy.

“The only trouble with that model is that it was predicting Belgium to win the Euros until they got beaten.”

If you’re into your betting, you’ve probably heard of Goldman Sachs before, as the model is widely used to predict major sporting events.

And needless to say, analysts at Goldman Sachs have already given their two cents on the final, as reported in the Financial Times.

They believe that it will be another absolute nail-biter (goodbye our poor nerves), but England will eventually triumph 2-1 in extra time.

Oxford professor, Dr Tom Crawford, has been following both teams closely, and agrees that the chances of an England victory is very much possible but that they’ve had an easier ride than Italy in terms of getting to the this stage.

He said: “Crunching the numbers, we see that Italy have had a much more difficult route to the final than England in terms of the quality of teams they have faced.

“On average, England have faced a team 11 places below them in the European rankings, whereas Italy’s opponents have only been four places worse off.

Head coach Italy Roberto Mancini and Gareth Southgate, manager of England
Head coach Italy Roberto Mancini and Gareth Southgate, manager of England

“The difference in perceived quality of opponents is particularly clear in the group stages, where England (fourth in the world and third in Europe) faced Croatia (tenth in Europe), Scotland (25th) and the Czech Republic (22nd). This gives an average opponent 16 places below Gareth Southgate’s men.

“In comparison, Italy found themselves in a tougher group with Turkey (18th ), Switzerland (ninth) and Wales (12th). The average here is only 7 places below Italy’s ranking of sixth in Europe (and seventh in the world).

“The knockout rounds were also much kinder to the Three Lions, with the last-16 clash against Germany the only real exception. England’s triumph over the Germans (eighth in Europe) was much more impressive than Italy scraping to an extra time victory over the Austrians nine places below them in the rankings (15th).

“However, Italy’s triumph over the number one ranked Belgian team in the quarter-final was a real upset. England’s victory over Ukraine (16th in Europe) at the same stage played out as expected, although perhaps a little easier than it should have been.

“With Italy and Spain (fifth) only being separated by a single place in the rankings, there was no surprise to see the semi-final decided via a penalty shootout. Denmark also proved a tricky opponent for England, which isn’t too surprising given they were the highest ranked team they had faced so far in seventh .

“As for the final, with home advantage and a European ranking 3 places higher than the Italians, the expectation is that England should have more than enough to finally bring football home on Sunday. Come on England!”

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