Scotland will be bitterly disappointed with the news that Billy Gilmour has tested positive for Covid-19 and therefore will be unavailable to face Croatia in their crunch clash at Hampden Park, but his absence does provide an opportunity.
With Steve Clarke unlikely to disturb the back three that performed so admirably against England, John Fleck, Stuart Armstrong or Ryan Christie are likely to come into midfield to replace Gilmour. Although the young Chelsea midfielder will be a big miss given his fantastic ball retention skills against the auld enemy, the energy he brought to the Scotland side must be matched if they are to win their decisive final Group D game, and progress to the last 16.
Scotland simply have to win, but then again, so do Croatia. A draw will see both sides crash out no matter what happens elsewhere but a win for either side should see them through, even as one of the best third place finishers.
From what we have seen from Croatia so far, Scotland have no reason to be fearful. Against England, Zlatko Dalic’s side were second best and despite controlling a decent amount of the ball, failed to make any real inroads into England’s back four. Then against Czech Republic, who have been the surprise package in Group D and could well win the group, they managed just two shots on target as Ivan Perisic scored their only goal of the tournament to date in a 1-1 draw.
This Croatia side was brilliant and their achievements of 2018 were nothing short of spectacular, but they are an ageing side who quite clearly are beatable. Luka Modric is now 35, Perisic is 32 and Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic have both retired from international football. This is not the same side that shocked the world three years ago.
They have pedigree and talent amongst their ranks, sure. When given the opportunity to control games and pick passes, Modric will run the game, but if Scotland can apply a fierce midfield press, then they have a chance of disrupting the experienced World Cup finalists. This is why Gilmour’s replacement is so important. Against England he was able to get on the ball under pressure and take Scotland forward, and with three points needed, Clarke may choose to back the more attacking Christie over Fleck or Armstrong.
Matteo Kovacic is another wonderful player that thrives when given time while Sime Vrsaljko is fresh off the back of a La Liga title with Atletico Madrid, but so far, there has been something missing at Euro 2020 for the Croatians. Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric have not been able to provide a spark up front and Scotland showed they are more than capable of keeping out a more talented attack at Wembley.
A clean sheet, and another heroic performance from the likes of Grant Hanley and Scott McTominay will go a long way to securing all three points. But the celebrations from that night in London must be quickly put to one side. Bragging rights aside, that point against England will mean absolutely nothing if Clarke’s promising side fail to beat Croatia.
Scotland are still alive. Now they have 90 minutes to create history, and reach the knockout stages of a major tournament for the very first time. Hampden Park will roar them on, but Scotland must show that same vibrancy and enthusiasm that they showed against England, this time without Gilmour. Do that and they might just have enough to achieve something no Scotland side has ever done before.