For the first time since 1998, Scotland has qualified for a major international men’s tournament, and with two group matches in Hampden and a third in Wembley against England, the Tartan Army is dreaming of a landmark summer at Euro 2020.
The penalty shoot-out win against Serbia in November to secure qualification was not only a welcome moment of celebration in a dark winter for the country, but also heralded the return of the national team to the international stage after years of mediocrity.
Like those who came before him in the last 20 years, Steve Clarke was named just that when he was appointed manager in May 2019, but even then there were few expectations that the ex-Kilmarnock boss would be the one to turn Scotland’s fortunes around could.
After all, this was the same team that had started qualifying for Euro 2020 just two months earlier with a 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan when Alex McLeish’s reign came to a miserable end.
After a slow start, Clarke moved resilience to one side and developed harmony within the group. Scotland’s progress in the Nations League and Euro 2020 playoffs was based on a robust streak of nine straight games without loss. While football wasn’t always beautiful, the players accepted Clarke’s plans and delivered when it mattered.
It’s true that Clarke has inherited a roster of more Premier League talent than anyone in recent years. Captain Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay, John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong are England top flight regulars, while striker Che Adams’ surprise arrival earlier this year was a welcome change for a side desperate for goals.
The challenge for Clarke sometimes was to put these pieces together. Scotland’s 26-man squad looks strong in some areas but flawed in others and concerns remain about goalkeepers, center-backs and the front.
Sometimes a 5-3-2 system was used to bring left-backs Robertson and Tierney into the same team, with McTominay being used as the center-back due to the multitude of other options in central midfield.
Clarke took advantage of Scotland’s post-Euro 2020 qualifying games to play in a 4-3-3 formation and the Scotland boss will likely use both in the three group matches as needed.
Group D devices
All times BST
Monday 14 June, 2 p.m .: Scotland – Czech Republic – Glasgow
Friday June 18, 8pm: England – Scotland – London
Tuesday 22 June, 8 p.m .: Scotland – Croatia – Glasgow
goalkeeper: Craig Gordon (Hearts), David Marshall (Derby), Jon McLaughlin (Rangers).
defender: Liam Cooper (Leeds), Declan Gallagher (Motherwell), Grant Hanley (Norwich), Jack Hendry (Celtic), Scott McKenna (Nottingham Forest), Stephen O’Donnell (Motherwell), Nathan Patterson (Rangers), Andy Robertson (Liverpool ), Greg Taylor (Celtic), Kieran Tierney (Arsenal).
midfield player: Stuart Armstrong (Southampton), Ryan Christie (Celtic), John Fleck (Sheffield United), James Forrest (Celtic), Ryan Fraser (Newcastle United), Billy Gilmour (Chelsea), John McGinn (Aston Villa), Callum McGregor (Celtic ), Scott McTominay (Manchester United), David Turnbull (Celtic).
Forward: Ché Adams (Southampton), Lyndon Dykes (QPR), Kevin Nisbet (Hibernian).
No player is as important to Scotland’s chances as John McGinnwho makes a living from playing a leading role for his country. With 10 international goals, McGinn is the top scorer in Scotland on the current squad (no other player has more than five), which underscores how important he is to Scotland’s attack. He will try to take the pressure off Adams by digging his way through midfield and tending to emerge in goalscoring positions.
John McGinn has become a major goal threat for Scotland
(AFP via Getty Images)
Undoubtedly one of those who would benefit from moving to a 26-man squad, Billy Gilmour received his long-awaited first senior team calling for the European Championship after breaking into Chelsea’s first team last season. While not yet being nominated for his country, the 19-year-old could still play an important role in Group D after Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean were injured and Clarke fell short in midfield. With his ability to move the ball quickly and hold the ball, tiny Gilmour could see minutes later in games when Scotland is about to end the game.
Odds of winning tournament
Scotland is 250/1 to win the euros.
An opening game in Hampden against the Czech Republic, a team that beat Scotland at home and away last year, offers a unique opportunity to get off to a flying start in Group D.
Clarke will likely keep it tight, however, and hope to crack a winner. While the opening game is Scotland’s cheapest of the group on paper, one point wouldn’t be the end of the world – as long as the Tartan Army doesn’t travel to Wembley and need a win to keep their hopes alive.
The visit to England is exciting, but fraught with danger. However, Scotland will be confident of frustrating their opponents in a game where all the pressure is on Gareth Southgate’s side. The tactical versatility of Clarke’s plans will be in the foreground here as Scotland could keep up with England’s 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 formations.
Steve Clarke will lead Scotland at the European Championships this summer
The last game against Croatia should decide the fate of Scotland. While the knockout round would be a phenomenal feat, Scotland has already achieved its goal in many ways by getting this far.
But as we saw at Euro 2016, it only takes four points to reach the round of 16. Realistically, a win and a draw against the Czech Republic and Croatia would be enough, regardless of the combination.
And with home advantage, albeit limited, Scotland has every chance of extending its journey in these games.
Scotland reached the round of 16.