You’d be forgiven for assuming that the two nations that faced each other in the semi-finals of the last World Cup would be battling it out for top spot in their Euro 2020 group.
England and Croatia are the two sides in question, but a resurgent Scotland outfit will have other ideas. They were cruelly denied a morale-boosting win over the Netherlands on Wednesday evening as Memphis Depay struck late to salvage a draw in Faro.
Having been good value for a share of the spoils, a victory for Steve Clarke’s men would have been all the more impressive given that seven of their players were unavailable due to Covid-19 precautions.
The Netherlands are well-fancied heading into the tournament, with only six nations ahead of them in the Betfred betting. However, Scotland’s Euro 2020 squad is made up of 10 Premier League stars, with half of the remaining 16 spots taken up by the two powerhouses of Scottish football in Celtic and Rangers.
Centre-back Jack Hendry puts one past Tim Krul from 25-yards out! 🎯
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The Tartan Army aren’t here to make up the numbers, and their showing against Frank de Boer’s side proves just that. In fact, Scotland have only been beaten twice in their last 15 outings, both by single goals in their UEFA Nations League campaign. That run of form included the double over fellow Group D contestants Czech Republic which will inject plenty of confidence into a nation desperate to reach the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time in their history.
Another Glasgow win over the Czechs in their opener on 14 June will provide the perfect platform for a successful campaign, with a trip to Wembley and the visit of Croatia to Hampden Park to follow.
Sir Alex Ferguson is football royalty north of the border, and the Manchester United legend believes that two games at their national stadium in front of a reduced capacity of 12,000 can still make all the difference.
“I know it’s only 12,000 people, but 12,000 at Hampden when they get going is like 50,000 at Wembley,” Ferguson said. “We can create the atmosphere, alright, there’s no doubt about that.”
Since the 1954 World Cup, Scotland have qualified for 10 major tournaments, failing to progress beyond the group stage in any of them. There have been near misses, plenty of them. Willie Ormond’s side were eliminated from the 1974 World Cup without losing a single game, before missing out on goal difference in the 1982 World Cup and again at Euro '96.
Kevin Nisbet scores his first goal after a superb cross from Andy Robertson! 🎁
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Ironically, they’d be perfectly set for a crack at the knockout phase, winning their first and second ever competitive penalty shoot-outs in qualifying without missing a single spot-kick.
While Scotland are the outsiders to qualify from Group D, no one in their camp will have any interest in playing to the script. They possess Champions League winners in Andrew Robertson and Billy Gilmour, a Europa League Squad of the Season entrant in Scott McTominay, and an array of European pedigree in the likes of Kieran Tierney, Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor.
The message from the top will be to put the England game to the back of their minds for now. A win against the old enemy is always welcomed north of the border, but three points over Czech Republic sends Scotland into that Wembley showdown with more than pride to play for.