Date: 22nd June 2021
A look ahead to Scotland’s final group stage match against 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia by Ben Ramage, Reach Plc sports journalist and SFSA writer.
We’ve tamed the Three Lions, now Scotland must be brave again despite Gilmour blow
It’s hard to believe that after so many years of pining just to be back at a major tournament, Scotland are now just 90 minutes away from writing a piece of history they never have before.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy. But if you’d offered us a shot at making the last-16 by winning our final group game at the start of this tournament, the Tartan Army would probably have snapped your hand off.
Especially given our final group game is at Hampden. While so many dreams and hearts have been broken inside that stadium, sometimes the grand old lady gives you some of the best memories football can give you.
And for the lucky few thousand inside the national stadium for this crunch clash with Croatia, they might just get a front row seat for a monumental occasion that could well go down in the country’s history.
Scotland have every reason to be confident after their impressive trip to Wembley. After a disappointing result against the Czech Republic, some English pundits were left pleading with Gareth Southgate to rest players and wondering just how many goals the Three Lions would smash past their northern neighbours.
As it turned out, they were lucky to even escape with a point – just as they were the last time the two old foes met at Hampden Park.
Inspired by a simply wondrous performance by Chelsea starlet Billy Gilmour, along with Hurculean efforts from defensive rocks Grant Hanley and Stephen O’Donnell, Scotland were more than a match for their much-fancied adversaries and could well have nicked all three points on another day.
Of course, the loss of Gilmour to Covid-19 is a hammerblow for Steve Clarke’s side. The 20-year-old proved exactly why he’s adored and rated so highly by his coaches, teammates and the Chelsea faithful after showcasing his outrageous self-belief and close control on the biggest stage in European football. No task appears too daunting for the precocious youngster.
To be ruled out by coronavirus is gutting for him and his country, and simply typical of this nation’s luck when it comes to international football, but it’s vital that Scotland and Clarke don’t let themselves be derailed by the disappointing news.
Clarke must also resist the temptation to be too pragmatic and ensure we take the game to Croatia, just as we did so effectively against England. At the end of the day a positive and attacking team selection will give us the best chance of a positive outcome.
Thanks to other group results going our way we already know a win over Croatia will definitely see us through to the promised land of the knockout stages for the first time in our history.
When you look at the long list of incredible players who never tasted that success – Bremner, Dalglish, Law, Souness, Strachan, McAllister, Fletcher, Ferguson, McFadden and so many others – it’s a remarkable opportunity for the current squad Clarke has assembled.
And make no mistake, no matter what the English pundits say this Scotland side is stuffed with talent bordering on the world class.
Andy Robertson has been phenomenal so far this tournament, finally relishing the extra responsibility that comes with donning the armband.
Kieran Tierney’s also shown exactly why Arsenal fans believe he’s their future captain after an imperious showing in London on Friday night.
John McGinn has shown in flashes why he’s being linked with a huge switch to Liverpool, while Scott McTominay reminded us why he’s so highly thought of at Manchester United with a much stronger performance against England.
Having got to this promising position, it’s so important that Clarke and his men don’t forget how resilient they’ve been to get here.
Yes it’s going to be a seriously nervous affair against Croatia, who while not as dangerous a side as they were a few years ago are still stuffed with international quality players and led by talisman Luka Modric.
But this is a group of Scottish players who came through a nerve-wracking play-off final with Serbia. Even when Luka Jovic equalised in the last minute of normal time, they didn’t falter.
They stood tall, stuck together and pulled off a win when they needed it most.
If they can manage that one more time at Hampden on Tuesday night, they’ll write themselves into Scottish football folklore forever.
Let’s prove to the football fraternity, and to ourselves, once and for all that in bonnie Scotland, dreams come true.
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