Scoring a Goal Just Before the Break: A Myth That Doesn’t Score

The European Football Championship is currently running in France. This has occasioned, of course, multiple self-declared experts and whatnots to discuss various aspects of the game (sometimes called “soccer”): how the players, the fields, or the coach’s tie color might be influential to the match’s outcome.

image by freeimageslive.co.uk - gratuit

Image by freeimageslive.co.uk – gratuit


One of those things—one which I really thought to be true, too—involves the benefits scoring a goal just before half-time. The idea, which seems plausible indeed, is that this gives the scoring team a confidence boost during the break, and helps them psychologically when they come back for the second half. The other team might be more stressed during the break, and know they need to really score now in order to just have a tie. This pressure might hinder their break and recovery, and make them less confident for the second half.

But is it true? Professor Stijn Baert from the University of Ghent here in Belgium came out with a well-timed study (published in Dutch), where he analyzed all goals made in Champions and UEFA Europa League matches between 2011 and 2014 (1,179 in total), together with his assistant, Masters student Simon Amez. They even made the distinction between teams having home advantage and playing in another stadium.

For those playing elsewhere, there is no significant difference. And for the home team, the effect is even negative! A goal scored between the 45th minute and the end of the first half (a couple of minutes later depending on the number of interruptions in that half) has the net effect of decreasing the total number of goals in that match for that team, and it doesn’t improve their chances of winning. It seems scoring before the break may decrease concentration, and could make that team less eager to score some more goals.

The result is similar to some studies of the “hot-hand fallacy,” which derives from the assumption that athletes score more when they’ve just scored, like being on a winning streak. Studies of that phenomenon have produced mostly negative, but mixed, results.

Baert and Amez’s research speculates on some explanations, but the main point is clear: football experts (and yes, also me) are wrong in thinking that scoring just before the break is a good thing. It is actually quite the opposite! So, once more: science 1, common sense 0.

About Bruno Van de Casteele

Philosopher by education, IT'er by trade. Allround Armchair Skeptic, History Enthusiast, Father of Three. Twitter @brunovdc Personal website: www.puam.be
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7 Responses to Scoring a Goal Just Before the Break: A Myth That Doesn’t Score

  1. Panama1958 says:

    You don’t “make” a goal and there are no quarters in soccer.

  2. erique says:

    Just statistics, and statistics, mostly, sees patterns in complex randomness where there are none, if we follow these kind of things over eternity, we may find it all evens out…true, some simpler systems have statistical significance, like flipping a coin, but academics don’t get paid for saying there is nothing real in statistics…

  3. Nathan Daniels says:

    I’m curious if this same pattern exists with American Football? Does a touchdown right before the half help one team or the other?

    • I understand that American Football is already much farther concerning Sports Analytics… I couldn’t find anything but the hot-hand fallacy certainly exists:
      http://www.wired.com/2012/09/nfl-momentum/

      “The widely held and devoutly believed idea that a big play can change the momentum of a game is, in a word, bunk. So say a trio of MIT stats geeks with a decade of data to back them up.”

    • Alexandria Nick says:

      There’s something that does make a meaningful impact to scoring before the half for American football that doesn’t exist the same way for Other football: offensive possession is virtually guaranteed for one particular team at the start of the second half.

      I’m not saying it benefits from a “momentum” angle, but if you score immediately before the half, then get the ball to start the second half, you’re already at an advantage. As much as if you’d got an interception or something. Back to back offensive drives is always a positive.

  4. Swampwitch7 says:

    If this is a serious issue for you, I believe you spend too much time indoors watching TV.

    Go outside and play soccer (or football) with your kids. It would do you all lots of good.

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