Scientists at Ghent University (Belgium) run rings around the soccer myth that “at the end, the Germans always win”. By analysing more than 1,000 recent soccer games played in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, they show that German teams do not score more often in the dying seconds compared to teams from other countries.
By contrast, French and Spanish clubs are less likely to concede a goal at the end of the game.
After losing the semi-final of the 1990 FIFA World Cup against Germany, England’s former striker Gary Lineker declared the famous words “Soccer is a simple game: twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win”. This quote has become one of the most famous ones in international soccer. To date, it is widely used in online and print media. But is this statement true?
Lineker’s quote can be interpreted as a hypothesis stating that German teams score a goal at the end of a soccer game (and thereby win the game) substantially more often than teams from other countries.
To test this hypothesis, Belgian researchers analysed 1008 recent games in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, the two most prestigious international club tournaments in soccer.
More concretely, they analysed country-specific scoring behaviour in all games played between 2008 and 2014 by clubs from the most prevalent countries in these leagues. Besides Germany, these countries are England, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
“By means of this research, we not only deepen the recent research on culture-related performance determinants in soccer but also, by extension, contribute to the scientific literature investigating success determinants in soccer generally. As soccer is nowadays big business, it is natural for economists to attempt to explain success in this business,” Professor Stijn Baert (Ghent University) said.
After controlling for factors such as the teams’ relative strength and the score at the end of the 89th minute of the game, no evidence for Lineker’s quote was found. That is, German teams do not score significantly more often a goal in the 90th minute or later.
On the other hand, French and Spanish teams are less likely to concede a goal during the dying seconds. In addition, Dutch teams are more likely to end the game in a tie as a consequence of (scoring or conceding) a late goal. Finally, English teams are less likely to concede a late goal, but only if they have an English coach.
“To the best of our knowledge, we are worldwide the first to investigate Lineker’s quote within the context of club tournaments. However, the Dutch researchers Jan van Ours and Martin van Tuijl already investigated it for nation tournaments (such as the Copa América and the World Cup). The main finding of their research was that, of the eight investigated national teams, Argentina, Germany, and Italy were more likely to score in the dying seconds of the analysed games. However, in contrast to Lineker’s theory, the German national team was also more likely to concede a goal at the end of these games,” Louis Van Den Broucke (Ghent University) said.