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Why are there so many own goals at Euro 2020?

Spain own goal, Euro 2020
(Image credit: Getty)

Perhaps we should have sensed something unusual was coming from the moment Turkey’s Merih Demiral unceremoniously knocked the ball into his own net with his midriff, rather gifting Italy the opening goal of Euro 2020. It was, after all, the first time the Euros had got underway with an own goal.

The last World Cup should have provided more of a hint about the increasing prevalence of own goals in recent years, mind you. The history books will tell you that Harry Kane won the Golden Boot in Russia with six goals – but, with 12, eclipsing its previous record of six, Own Goals ought to have collected the prize.

Still, the World Cup is a 32-team, 64-game tournament. The Euros, on the other hand, is only 51 games long, and when we’ve seen 10 own goals after 45 of those, it’s pretty fair to ask what the hell is going on. Euro 2020 has produced more own goals than the previous 15 editions put together; regardless of the fact that the finals featured only eight teams as recently as 1992, this is extreme.

What can we attribute it to, though? Does the way football is predominantly played these days make it fundamentally more conducive to own goals? Has the ridiculously intense nature of the pandemic-impacted 2020/21 season taken its toll? Or is this just one of those inexplicable, unforecastable anomalies that so firmly underpin our love for the game? Truth be told, it’s probably a bit of all four.

If we break down the 10 own goals of Euro 2020 so far, we can see that three – the aforementioned face-palm moment from Demiral, Mats Hummels’ cracking slice which proved enough for France to see off Germany in their Group F opener, and Ruben Dias’ volleyed shank in Portugal’s 4-2 loss to Germany in the same group– have come after cut-backs from, or near to, the byline. These kinds of balls are on the increase – as are percentage passes into the box, the type which can force defenders into split-second, evidently sometimes very costly decisions – and the dreaded corridor of uncertainty is fertile ground for diverting the ball past one’s own goalkeeper.

Generally speaking, shots are being taken from closer and closer range. In fact, 2020/21 was the first Premier League season since 2010/11 that the number of shots taken from outside the box went up – albeit only by 30 from the previous campaign. It’s no coincidence that average shot distance has fallen so sharply since the advent of expected goals in 2012, with greater emphasis now placed on high value chances. Ten years ago, the average Premier League game saw 12.6 shots from outside the penalty area; last season, that figure was 8.6. It seems to stand to reason that if teams are working the ball into the box more – trying to ‘walk it in’, as the cynics might put it – that there will be more own goals.

Of course, some of the own goals at Euro 2020 can’t be attributed to football’s data revolution and subsequent stylistic developments at all. By far the two most comical have been Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka’s borderline slam-dunk in their 5-0 group stage thrashing at the hands of Spain, and Pedri’s 50-yarder for Spain against Croatia in the last 16, helped in no small part by ‘keeper Unai Simon’s, er, relaxed demeanour (a beautiful tribute to Gary Neville and Paul Robinson’s infamous mix-up against the same opponents 15 years ago, it must be said).

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Two moments of absolute hilarity don’t point to any great trend, although it does feel like we’ve seen an unusually high number of mistakes in general at these finals; Raheem Sterling’s almost-assist for Thomas Muller (have you worked out how he missed yet?) in England’s already iconic round of 16 victory over Germany was incredibly uncharacteristic, for example. But then we should probably have expected more lapses than normal at a tournament following the most ridiculously intense season of all time. It would be naive to discount fatigue – mental as much as, if not more than, physical – as a factor, however small.

Whether they dry up now or not, Euro 2020 is unlikely to be surpassed on the own goals front. And whatever the science (or otherwise) behind it, the madness of the last few weeks feels almost reassuringly befitting of football in the time of Covid-19. Own Goals to bag the winner in the final and bring it home, anyone?

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Tom Hancock

Tom Hancock started freelancing for FourFourTwo in April 2019 and has also written for The Analyst and When Saturday Comes, among others. He supports Wycombe Wanderers and can also occasionally be found watching Wealdstone. A self-confessed statto, he has been known to watch football with a spreadsheet (or several) open...