Scotland’s Euro 2024 hopes alive despite recent form dip

Scotland’s Euro 2024 hopes alive despite recent form dip

At one stage during qualifying for Euro 2024, Scotland were the best team on the continent.

They had won their opening five matches with an aggregate score of 12-1 — including victories over Spain and Norway — and the only goal conceded was an Erling Haaland penalty. They have been knocked from their perch in the nine months since.

There was genuine hope of Steve Clarke’s side beating England at Hampden Park when they met for a friendly back in September. A 3-1 defeat, and a scoreline that flattered Scotland given the gulf in class, marked the start of a run of one win in nine matches. That lone victory, it should be noted, was an uninspiring 2-0 win in Gibraltar last week.

The defeat by England was followed by Spain, France, the Netherlands and even Northern Ireland, while draws with Georgia and Finland could be viewed as a reality check of Scotland’s level.

Factor in, too, several injuries to key players, another scare when Andy Robertson hobbled away from training in Germany this week and a daunting draw that sees them open against the hosts on Friday night, and any talk of being Europe’s top side seems like a distant whisper.

Scotland are preparing to take on Germany in the opening game of Euro 2024 on Friday night

At one stage during qualifying for Euro 2024, Scotland were the best team on the continent

At one stage during qualifying for Euro 2024, Scotland were the best team on the continent

But has that dampened the mood? No chance. Not even a typically Glaswegian downpour upon their arrival in the Alpine ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen could wash away their spirit, especially not when John McGinn donned a Bavarian hat and joined in a traditional dance with lederhosen-wearing locals.

The Aston Villa midfielder may have been playing the joker, but he will be deadly serious come the big kick-off in Munich. He needs to be as one half of a talismanic duo upon whom Scotland’s hopes rest. And no, the other half is not captain Robertson.

Scott McTominay scored seven goals in qualifying and at one point — when Scotland briefly ruled Europe — that had him ahead of Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Manchester United midfielder, schooled as a holding player at Old Trafford, has no such conservative instruction with his national side. Likewise McGinn, scorer of three en route to the finals and the team’s top marksman with 18 in total. He credits Clarke for a potency which, until this season, had not been seen at club level, either.

‘He came in and pushed me higher up,’ said McGinn. ‘He noticed something in my game that he felt could help the team. And he has echoed that with Scotty, he has pushed him higher up. The credit I will give the gaffer, Villa have copied that with me, and Erik ten Hag has copied him as well (with McTominay).

‘Scotty is so athletic, he gets in the box and hits the ball harder than anyone I have ever played with, so it’s no surprise he is getting goals.’

Scotland’s ‘McAttack’ will have to be at their sharpest given the cruel loss of striker Lyndon Dykes to an ankle injury last week. Also missing are right backs Nathan Patterson and Aaron Hickey and, disappointingly given his brilliant season in Serie A, Bologna’s Lewis Ferguson, who won midfielder of the year in Italy and this was supposed to be a breakthrough summer with his country.

It's been a tough period for Steve Clarke, but his side are still full of optimism ahead of Friday

It’s been a tough period for Steve Clarke, but his side are still full of optimism ahead of Friday

John McGinn (centre) donned a Bavarian hat and joined in a traditional dance with lederhosen-wearing locals when Scotland arrived at their base, showing the good spirit Scotland are in

John McGinn (centre) donned a Bavarian hat and joined in a traditional dance with lederhosen-wearing locals when Scotland arrived at their base, showing the good spirit Scotland are in

When Robertson’s ankle was struck by a ball in a freak incident in training earlier this week, the coaching staff winced and feared the worst. Alas, he should be fine to lead out the team at the Allianz Arena.

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Scotland dancing to John McGinn’s tune again as midfielder embraces German culture to lift spirits

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And what an occasion that promises to be, Scotland’s biggest moment beneath a global spotlight since opening the World Cup in 1998 against holders Brazil. They were not overawed then — beaten 2-1 by a late and unfortunate Tom Boyd own goal — and they won’t be this time.

Paul Lambert played in that game in Paris and remembers a defiant and hostile attitude that his compatriots would do well to replicate in Bavaria. ‘They were all there in the tunnel before kick-off — Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu,’ said Lambert.

‘They looked brilliant — the gold shirts, they smelled good, not a hair out of place. I then looked in front of me and there was big Jim Leighton, with vaseline on his eyebrows and no teeth! We had Colin Hendry with his big blonde hair, Craig Burley, no teeth, and we didn’t have a sun-tan between us.

‘There was deathly silence. Then, from nowhere, a voice shouted down the tunnel from behind us, “Don’t worry, lads. They’re f****** s******* themselves!”. I turned around and there was our manager, Craig Brown. It was priceless. We gave them a right good game on the back of that.’

But the absence of Bologna's Lewis Ferguson is a huge blow for the Tartan Army's hopes

But the absence of Bologna’s Lewis Ferguson is a huge blow for the Tartan Army’s hopes

Andy Robertson also gave Clarke an injury scare, but he should fine to play against Germany

Andy Robertson also gave Clarke an injury scare, but he should fine to play against Germany

The version we have seen of Scotland in recent months will not be giving anyone a ‘right good game’. But it should be remembered that their fast start in qualifying meant their place at these finals was confirmed before the drop-off in form. In theory, this is the first truly competitive game they have played since.

Clarke will not make the mistake he did at the onset of Euro 2020, when he started with Che Adams and Billy Gilmour in reserve against the Czech Republic at Hampden Park. The team sheet had the feel of air escaping a balloon and a flat performance followed in a 2-0 defeat.

They may well lose against a strong Germany, but a strong showing of their own can set the tone for winnable games against Switzerland and Hungary. Do that, or even win one of them, and Scotland will likely qualify for the knockouts for the first time.

They might not be the best team in Europe, but they will certainly think that way if they are making their own piece of history.

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