Football isn’t designed to be complex or clever, it really is quite simple – whoever scores the most goals wins. So why is it the Euro 2008 group stage is so complex. If you finish on level points it becomes incredibly complex. Head to heads, mini-leagues of three teams, UEFA coefficents, fair play, drawing lots and even penalties after 90 minutes are all there.
Plain old simple goal difference among every team in the group is only halfway down the list in terms of priority. Goal difference among all teams is used in most domestic leagues in the world and fans all understand it. So why is it less important than head-to-head records in big tournaments?
Penalties to separate tied teams in the last group matches is more exciting when goal difference can’t help. Otherwise goal difference from all group matches is the fairest and easiest method.