A message for the ‘other’ nations who make up this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland — brace yourselves.
Because all available evidence about the importance of home advantage — a benefit that each of the four Euro 2020 semi-finalists have harnessed to great effect so far — points to only one outcome. England are clear favourites to be crowned European champions on Sunday night.
Playing all bar one game at Wembley has given them as significant an edge as virtually any ‘host nation’ would have enjoyed down the years.
UEFA have been accused of being unfair for allowing England to play more games at Wembley
When then-UEFA president Michel Platini first dreamed up this madcap scheme to stage a tournament that would belong to no single country — with almost half of Europe sharing the costs and benefits of hosting rights — this surely wasn’t what he had in mind.
And, while Gareth Southgate can point to a spectacular 4-0 trashing of Ukraine in Rome as evidence of his team’s ability to travel, many neutrals are already unhappy about his England team getting an ‘easy’ ride all the way to glory.
Former Scotland star Craig Burley, now a pundit for US-based broadcaster ESPN, let rip on air over the weekend — insisting there is no ‘fairness’ in a format that benefits one team more than any other. Burley, in discussion with a panel including former England star Steve McManaman, accused UEFA of making a ‘complete hash’ of their flagship event.
Former Scotland midfielder Craig Burley hit out at UEFA’s competition format on ESPN
‘If you get to the final — which I think England will, even though Denmark are the best team still in there — you are going to play six out of seven games at Wembley,’ said the former Celtic and Chelsea midfielder.
‘What the hell is that all about from UEFA? You’ve played four games at Wembley already.
‘If you are an elite country, which England supposedly are, you can’t have them playing six out of the seven games in front of their own fans. So UEFA have made a complete hash of it.’
Whatever format you settle on for a tournament, of course, someone is always going to get a better run.
Host-nation status famously allowed England to play every single game at Wembley during their 1966 World Cup triumph. Thirty years later, and with Euro ’96 hosting rights in the bag, England laid out a similar path to glory. Only to trip up in the semi-final at, yes, Wembley.
Burley (right) was part of the Scotland team beaten by England at Wembley at Euro 96
Burley, part of the Scotland team beaten 2-0 by the home side in the group stage in north London 25 years ago, insisted: ‘I’ve got no problem with England, in the tournament I played in, playing their games at Wembley as they were hosting the whole tournament.
‘But we’ve just seen Belgium go out after travelling all over. We’ve seen other countries suffer the same.
‘There has to be an element of fairness to this. Not playing six out of the seven games, if you get to the final, at Wembley when you’re not hosting the tournament. It’s not on.’
Just happy to get any kind of European Championships going ahead in this age of the pandemic, most football supporters didn’t quibble when the schedule for the delayed tournament came out.
But it’s clear now just how much home advantage has helped the four teams that are left standing from the original field of 24.
While Switzerland were racking up 7000-plus miles on their travels, with the Welsh, Swedes, Czechs and Belgians not far behind, Italy played all three of their group games in Rome. No emperor of old was ever given such comfortable passage.
Belgium were knocked out of the competition by Italy after travelling all over Europe
Spain didn’t stray from Seville during their group programme, giving them an obvious lift in tight games.
Denmark are a special case, given everything that’s gone on following Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest. But can you really argue that a full house at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium didn’t play a part in their 4-1 victory over Russia in that final must-win group match?
Then there’s England. Two tight 1-0 wins, against Croatia and the Czechs, either side of a 0-0 draw with Scotland, all at Wembley.
Followed by a last-16 tie against Germany in the same familiar surroundings — a 2-0 win that could have gone either way at different stages.
Spain, Italy and Denmark all had to travel for their matches in the round of 16, heading to Copenhagen, Wembley and Amsterdam respectively.
The Danes then had to drag themselves all the way to sweltering Baku for their quarter-final, while the Spanish headed to St Petersburg. At least Italy only had to endure a short hop over the Alps to Munich.
When set against the English itinerary of just a round trip to Rome, however, it’s fair to say that everyone’s had it tougher than Southgate’s men.
And it matters. If you don’t believe it, just look into the data. It’s what the bookies do — which helps explain the short odds on England even before a ball was kicked.
In the entire history of the European Championships, in games involving a ‘home’ team, the hosts have won almost half of the time, with the number of ‘away’ wins hovering around the 30 per cent mark.
Host nations outscore opponents, on average, by 1.7 to 1.1 goals per match. If trends over the past 20 years have seen an overall narrowing of the gap, the numbers don’t lie.
Home nations have historically outscored their opponents by 1.7 goals to 1.1 goals per match
And that’s before we factor in England’s frankly ridiculous record at Wembley under Southgate.
In 15 competitive games that really mattered — European Championship and World Cup qualifiers, as well as the current tournament — his team have won 14 and drawn just one.
True, there have been a couple of slip-ups in the Nations League, including a 1-0 loss to semi-final opponents Denmark last October. As if anyone really bothered about those games.
The only team to take points off England at Wembley in ‘proper’ matches since Southgate’s appointment back in 2016?
Scotland. A side who, ironically enough, failed to make anything of their own double dose of Hampden advantage against the Czechs and Croatia.
Sure, it takes quality, as well as home comforts, to reach the business end of a major finals. No one denies that. But being on your own stomping ground clearly helps.