Viva Scotland – Euro 2020 Group Stage Preview

After 23 years of hurt, Scotland are finally there. Calum Macaulay passionately previews Scotland’s group stage fixtures, looking back on the path that lead The Tartan Army to Euro 2020.

Last November’s victory over Serbia provided Scotland with their best footballing moment this century.
(Photo Credit – Srđan Stevanović via Getty Images)

“We come here with no peaceful intent, but ready for battle, determined to avenge our wrongs and set our country free.”

Words once commanded by William Wallace before the battle of Stirling Bridge, September 11th, 1297. One can hope that on Monday, June 14th, 2021, Steve Clarke’s Scotland players will leave the Hampden Park changing rooms to face the Czech Republic having heard a similar message. After over 20 years of hurt this, group of Scotland players should be more than ready for battle, to avenge every wrong that has been set upon us. Lithuania; Norway; The Faroe Islands; Belarus; Georgia; Italy; North Macedonia; Slovenia; and Kahzakhstan – they’ve all caused the nation pain. After a lifetime of travelling home from Hampden full of anger and despair, with the downtrodden radio presenter bouncing “we came so close” from wall to wall of my dad’s Toyota Yaris, these players have written themselves into history – now, after 23 painful years, they have the chance to make legends of themselves.

Never in my lifetime have I experienced the excitement that builds before a major tournament, having been resigned to supporting anyone playing England – until now. This past week has been spent with “Tartan Tunes” on repeat, being told tales of doomed Argentinian battlefields, John Robertson facilitating a sick man taking a punt at his mother’s head from the penalty spot, and watching a 33-year-old Aberdeen centre back dancing in cross-dress. While these rousing tunes have me excited beyond belief, I still find myself anxious.

Scotland face a tough group, with home matches against the Czech Republic and Croatia either side of a trip down south to take on The Auld Enemy, England. However, this is not a group we should fear. A quick disclaimer – I have touched wood before writing the rest of this piece, so should things go catastrophically wrong, my conscience will remain clear.

The Czech Republic look like a decent, but beatable, side, Jaroslav Šilhavý has them playing with a high press, with Bayer Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick leading the attack as a lone striker. Scotland will go into the game confident that they know how to get a result against the Czechs, as they defeated them twice in the Nations League late last year. 

Ryan Fraser scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic last October.
(Photo Credit – Ian MacNicol via Getty Images)

Croatia have won just three games from their last 10, with those victories coming against Malta (175th in the FIFA rankings), Cyprus (97th) and Sweden (18th). They were also held to a 1-1 draw with 90th placed Armenia in the friendly matches played earlier in the month. Luka Modrić’s best years are behind him at age 35, however after scrolling through his average match ratings this year in La Liga for 30 seconds on the SofaScore app, the Real Madrid midfielder looks to be coming off the back of a couple decent performances, despite his team failing to beat rivals Atlético Madrid to the title. AC Milan’s Ante Rebić bagged himself 11 goals this season in the Serie A, with three of those coming in a 7-0 thrashing against Torino in May, and the Scotland squad should know all too well of Rangers full back Borna Barišić, who will likely cause several problems down Scotland’s right-hand side. However, if Armenia can hold the Croats, so too can Stevie Clarke’s boys in blue. 

England are in a fine patch of form, having won eight of their last ten matches. Although, apart from beating Belgium – who they then lost to two games later – they have not run out victorious over opponents that Scotland would be unable to defeat. With a fancy haircut from Phil Foden, as he attempts to replicate Paul Gascoigne’s style from Euro ‘96, I am not sure that is a tournament they want to be replicating with Gareth Southgate in the set-up. As is with every England squad, their players have been severely talked up and may struggle to rise above the pressure placed on their heads. It would not be surprising if The Auld Enemy underestimated a Scotland team who have proven they can get results when it matters – even though we will not have the safety net of a penalty shoot-out to get us through. A final note on England – if and when Scotland find themselves in front, I hope Stuart Armstrong leaves out the tiki-taka style he tried to impress on the team the last time these two sides faced off, as his passing had consequences that are best left unspoken.

Leigh Griffiths’ free kick heroics sent Scotland fans into rapture in the nation’s last meeting with England.
(Photo Credit – Reuters)

Match Predictions

Scotland 2-1 Czech Republic // England 1-1 Scotland // Scotland 0-1 Croatia

Scotland may need just three points to reach the knockout rounds of the tournament, something never before achieved by the Scottish National Team. This is due to a format which allowed Portugal to win the 2016 European Championships despite winning none of their group games, finishing their group in third place. Scotland are down as 150/1 to win the competition, the same odds bookies placed on Greece to clinch the trophy back in 2004, a nation that had gone a decade without reaching a major tournament before their fairytale story. It is fair to say that it is written in the stars for Steve’s Clarke’s heroes to bring football home – sorry, hame.

If somehow you are not completely riled up for Monday, I highly recommend sticking on the rendition of Flower of Scotland that was belted out before the game against Italy from 2007. I have yet to hear a better rendition of any national anthem to date – it is absolutely magic. Despite a limited capacity in stadiums, I do not believe Scotland’s qualification could have come at a better time. This past year has been very difficult to get through for many, and the prospect of this tournament has provided some much-needed light during a seemingly endless period of darkness.

I have a dream – WE have a dream. Come on Scotland!

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