UEFA.com delved through the U21 EURO record books to learn that home advantage and flying starts are no guarantee of success – and that Italy are the team to beat.
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The Czech Republic will kick off the UEFA European Under-21 Championship against Denmark on Wednesday with a packed crowd at Prague's Stadion Eden hoping that home advantage will take them far. The records books, however, suggest something else.
UEFA.com has looked through past U21 EUROs seeking omens for the host nation and learned that the Czechs are swimming against the tide of history while also discovering that a fast start is no guarantee of a strong finish at these finals and why Italy might be the team to beat.
Recent history suggest that staging the tournament is little advantage given that four of the last six host teams did not even survive the group stage. Indeed since 1994 – the first year the semi-finals and finals were hosted by a competing nation, as a prelude to the wider expansion of the tournament – only once have home crowds celebrated the sight of their side lifting the trophy, when the Netherlands did it in 2007.
The full record of host teams since 1994 is:
1994 France – semi-final
1996 Spain – runners-up
1998 Romania – quarter-final
2000 Slovakia – 3rd place
2002 Switzerland – semi-final
2004 Germany – group stage
2006 Portugal – group stage
2007 Netherlands – winners
2009 Sweden – semi-final
2011 Denmark – group stage
2013 Israel – group stage
History also suggests that while it helps to start on the right foot, a flying start it is not crucial to a triumphant campaign. Eventual champions Spain may have beaten Russia in their opening match in 2013 but in eight final tournaments this century, the team that ended up on the top of the podium lost their first match just as many times (three) as they won it.
On a similar note, of the six teams since 2000 to record a 100% winning record in the group stage, only one – Spain in 2013 – actually went on and finished champions.
Looking back, group winners have won ten of the 14 semi-final matches played from 2000 onwards but whoever finishes at the top of Groups A and B should not necessarily be installed as favourites. Previous tournament runners-up have averaged one point more in past group stages (7.13) than the eventual winners (6.13).
History with Italy
Perhaps the most obvious lesson from history is that Italy, runners-up in Israel two years ago, are likely to prove difficult opponents for whichever teams cross their path in the Czech Republic. The Azzurrini have demonstrated their strength time and again at U21 level since this competition began, and they hold a number of records which underline this impressive consistency. Their rivals in Group A – Sweden, Portugal and England – can look away now...
Most tournament wins (5) – 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004
Most final appearances (7) – 1986, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2013
Most semi-final apps (11) – 1984, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2009, 2013