Date: 10th June 2021
A preview to Scotland’s first major final campaign in 23 long years by Ben Ramage, Reach Plc sports journalist and SFSA writer.
Scotland have the perfect blend to shake up Euro 2020
I’m ashamed to say this as a dyed in the wool Scotland fan, and as someone who is – very fortunately – paid to write for a living, but I’ve been subconsciously putting off writing about our long overdue return to the international main stage.
I think on some level I’ve been afraid that I couldn’t possibly do the significance of the impending event justice.
But looking back many years from now when I’m, hopefully, much older and a lot greyer, I know I’d be disappointed in my younger self if I didn’t at least give it my best shot.
As Del Amitri crooned before our last trip to a major tournament in 1998, even long shots make it, right?
Fast forward 23 years and after many years of suffering we’ve finally found our way back to the top table of men’s football in Europe.
All the various different failed campaigns, stuffed with self-inflicted wounds and unforgivable referee injustices, were washed away in the most glorious of fashions as David Marshall’s God-like hand pawed away Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty to secure the Tartan Army a coveted spot at Euro 2020.
In typical Scottish style there’s a fairly large fly in the ointment in that, after so many years spent dreaming of travelling to another country to follow in the footsteps of the TA soldiers who have spread love and cheer in Italy, Spain, Argentina (the list goes on) in recent years, not only is the competition in our own back yard – but only a tiny percentage of the Tartan Army will see our games in the flesh.
That’s a cruel blow. I’ll be honest, when me and my brother’s tickets for the Croatia game at Hampden were cancelled in the covid-enforced ballot I felt emotionally crushed.
I’m sure that feeling was shared by many other fans who’ve travelled far and wide supporting this team but didn’t quite have enough points to qualify through the SSC membership scheme at this pivotal point.
But against the backdrop of a global pandemic that’s claimed thousands and thousands of lives, I’ve comfortably made my peace with the fact I’ll be watching these games from the safety of home and – most importantly – with my family healthy and happy alongside me.
So, onto the tournament itself. Do we have a chance in hell?
You better bloody believe it.
Two losses in 16 games under General Clarke. That’s strong form by any international team’s reckoning.
A core spine of hard-working, top quality, experienced players who have bought into the gaffer’s system. Drilled and determined.
Genuine, world class talent in the boots of Tierney and Robertson.
The swashbuckling drive and mercurial talent of Super John McGinn.
The fearless youth of Gilmour, Turnbull and Patterson. Ready to make their mark on the biggest stage on the continent. Brimming with the unbridled confidence that only youth and talent can produce.
I was fortunate enough to speak to legendary Scotland boss Craig Brown ahead of the last time we travelled to Wembley hoping to upset the Auld Enemy.
Like so many managers I’ve spoken to in recent years, he highlighted the importance of mental fortitude ahead of, and during, the big occasions.
With millions of eyes set to tune in to our clash with England, we desperately need to hold our nerve in that historic derby clash, the momentous opener against the Czech Republic and the potentially seismic and nail-biting decider against Croatia.
Thankfully, something tells me this group have got the steely grit and mental fortitude required to do just that.
Clarke has brought the winning formula he learned under master Mourinho at Chelsea, and forged himself at Kilmarnock, to the international stage and it’s suited us down to a tee.
Solid and consistent at the back, dangerous and adventurous going forward. What’s not to like?
Add that in to a new-found confidence solidified by two incredible play-off penalty shoot-out wins and we’re seriously sucking diesel ahead of this campaign.
So what would represent success for this Scotland team, given they’re at best joint-third favourites for the group behind England and Croatia?
Given our recent results against Croatia and the Czech Republic, and England’s capacity to capitulate at major tournaments, we’ve every right to believe we can make it into the latter stages of the competition.
If we don’t manage that? Simply do us proud boys.
We have to anticipate that we might not make it through the group stage, at the end of the day we never have, but come the end of this tournament at least make us dare to dream that the next wait to return to a major tournament won’t last more than two decades.
Perform to your potential. Make us roar again, even if it’s just in our own front rooms.
And, if you can, give us some memories to cherish as we grow old and look back on the time that we really shook ’em up after far, far too long watching major tournaments from home.
One things for certain. Though we won’t all be inside the stadium together as we should be, we’ll still all go together in spirit.
This is a chance to carve out a glorious piece of history in one of the most difficult and challenging times in decades.
If any country can triumph in the face of adversity and shine against the odds, Scotland can.
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