For the briefest moment, David Marshall stood in suspended animation, unsure whether to celebrate, waiting for referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz to give him the thumbs up and end 23 years of international heartache for Scotland.
Having failed to secure qualification to Euro 2020 via the conventional route, Scotland tried their luck in the play-offs, where they faced two gruelling tests against Israel and Serbia in Path C, the latter of whom they beat 5-4 on penalties in Belgrade and entered a first major tournament since 1998.
Marshall was the hero on the night, saving Aleksandar Mitrovic’s decisive spot-kick last November to send the Scottish players into raptures and end over two decades of agony. No longer will they have their faces pressed up against the shop window, now Scotland have the volition to enter the store on their own terms.
However, Euro 2020 got off to the worst possible start, losing 2-0 to Czech Republic thanks to a Patrik Schick brace including the future Goal of the Tournament winner. But it is not over, so let’s remind ourselves of who Scotland have in their squad and what their odds of winning Euro 2020 are.
The best players Scotland will bring to Euro 2020
It will remain an evocative image in Scottish lore, Marshall just postponing his celebrations while the referee gave the all-clear that he didn’t accidentally stray off his line, but not even the emotion-sapping framework of VAR could dilute the sheer ecstasy that followed once the green light was given.
Marshall, now 36, remains a sturdy and commanding goalkeeper, captaining Derby County this season after Wayne Rooney traded turf for dugout, and while a back injury has seen Kelle Roos deputise towards the end of the campaign.
The Glaswegian does have stiff competition from 38-year-old Craig Gordon, whose 13 clean sheets last season helped Hearts romp to the Scottish Championship title, but Marshall remains the preferred choice between the sticks, and he will bring not only an authoritative voice further back, but a wealth of experience, athleticism and, evidently, confidence in shootouts. Marshall is expected to continue in goal for the England game, despite being caught out for Schick’s second goal.
Skipper of the national side, Andrew Robertson is absolutely indispensable to Clarke in every aspect of Scotland’s play, from energising the left flank with inexorable zeal to providing a world-class attacking threat and crunching into challenges with an obsessive dedication to winning back possession.
The latter trait has been deeply embedded in his football psyche owing to the press-and-possess principles upheld at Anfield, with Jurgen Klopp deeply wedded to a high-octane system in which closing down and winning back possession are the cornerstones of his philosophy.
In years gone by, Scotland’s creativity and forward-thinking menace have naturally come from higher up the turf, chiefly Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law, but now it’s further back where fans are treated to exhibitions of attacking panache through Robertson, who was the standout player against Czech Republic despite the defeat.
It’s a tantalising prospect, the midfield trident of Scott McTominay, John McGinn and Billy Gilmour, and one that may go on to define an era in Scottish history, but for now the latter remains unable to elbow his way into the team.
As such, Clarke’s most influential midfield option remains McTominay, who continues to go from strength to strength at Manchester United, and will bring a variegated presence in the nation’s XI, with his blend of athleticism, defensive resilience and driving runs offering a full range of the talent spectrum.
Such versatility will work wonders to complement the terrier-like exploits of McGinn, whose persistent harrying somewhat belies his ability on the ball. Combined, the duo should work well in tandem to provide Scotland with a resolute platform so the likes of Robertson and Tierney can surge forward.
Clarke has utilised McTominay as part of a three-man backline with mixed success in the past, but the Man Utd midfielder looked returned to the centre of the pitch against Czech Republic and is expected to continue there when Scotland take on England.
Leicester-born Adams was the go-to No.9 for Clarke in the March internationals after switching allegiance to Scotland and making his debut, and while he did not start against Czech Republic, he may be used for the remainder of the tournament.
The Southampton striker has played four times for Scotland so far, coming off the bench for his debut against Austria in World Cup qualifying, before starting against Israel and Faroe Islands. In a 1-1 draw with Israel, Adams set up Ryan Fraser for Scotland’s equaliser, before getting the third in a 4-0 win over Faroe Islands. It was a surprise to see him on the bench against Czech Republic but with Scotland needing something big in their remaining two games, Adams has to start.
Scotland’s record under Steve Clarke
Clarke has worked alongside some of football’s most venerated figures, including Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Ruud Gullit at Newcastle and Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool. He’s also assisted Gianfranco Zola at West Ham, secured West Brom their best top-flight finish since 1981 and guided Kilmarnock to Europe.
So, the former Chelsea defender has pedigree and quite the illustrious coaching CV, and that has translated to the turf for Scotland. In 19 games, he has managed 10 wins and three draws, but qualifying for a first European Championship since England ’96 has already made his stint a success no matter the outcome this summer.
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Tierney has a chance to face England
There were a few gripes from Scotland fans over Steve Clarke’s starting XI against Czech Republic, but one decision he had to make was to exclude Kieran Tierney. The Arsenal defender, who would have been the left-sided centre-back in Scotland’s back three, picked up what was described as a “little niggle”.
His absence was described as a blow by former Scotland striker Ally McCoist, as Clarke’s side looked shaky at the back at times, especially for Schick’s opener. However, Clarke is hoping Tierney should be fit for the big game against England on Friday.
“I’m hopeful (Tierney will return), I wouldn’t get over-excited about it but I am hopeful,” he said.
“He’s been good and an integral part of how we’ve played recently.
“The boys who came in defended, by and large, well if you take out the set-play and the wonder strike from their striker. We defended reasonably well. We miss Kieran.
“It was a big effort today, different players available. I’ll have a good think about it.
“We’ll go back to base camp and lick our wounds for 24 hours then we’ll be ready for the game on Friday.”
There were more than a few eyebrows raised when McTominay was deployed on the right side of a back three in last September’s Nations League games, in which Scotland failed to keep a clean sheet against either Israel or the Czech Republic, with the auxiliary centre-back not looking entirely at ease in an unfamiliar role.
McTominay returned to the midfield against Czech Republic, joined by John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong, flanked by Stephen O’Donnell and Robertson either side. The midfield trio wasn’t great when on the ball, missing a player that could make things happen with even the simplest of passes, and it’s something Clarke may look to change for the next game.
Robertson was the main attacking threat for Scotland and spent a lot of his time in the Czech Republic half, combining with Armstrong to try and force an opening that just wouldn’t come.
The starting strike partnership was Lyndon Dykes and Ryan Christie, but the latter was brought off at half-time after struggling, with Che Adams coming on to replace him. There was a problem with Adams and Dykes playing on top of each other, rather than spreading out, giving Scotland’s wide players very little to aim for. For Scotland fans this was the wrong starting XI and tactics, and Clarke will need to step up.
Of Scotland’s final Euro 2020 squad, three weren’t alive the last time the nation were in a major tournament, as they have been absent since the 1998 World Cup. With the tournament being 23 years ago, of course all members of that team have required, taking various paths.
Paul Lambert went on to have a decent managerial career, including spells in the Premier League with Norwich City, Aston Villa and Stoke City, most recently leaving Ipswich Town in February 2021. The likes of Craig Burley have turned to punditry post-retirement.
The form guide
Euro 2020 qualifying (including the play-offs): WWWWWLLL
In a daunting Group I, Scotland finished third with five wins and five defeats, finishing some way off Russia in second and a considerable distance from flawless Belgium, who sealed victory in all 10 of their games. They did manage to win their last three matches against Kazakhstan, Cyprus and San Marino, which generated some momentum heading into the play-offs, ultimately sealing successive penalty wins over Israel and Serbia.
Recent fixtures: LWDDLLWWWWW
In Group B2 of the 2020/21 Nations League, which took place between September and November, Scotland finished in second, just two points behind table-toppers Czech Republic, who ultimately sealed promotion to League A for 2022/23 as a result. Clarke’s men lost their last two games, which came just a few days after their generational win over Serbia, so they can perhaps be forgiven for taking their foot off the pedal slightly. They’ve since made an unbeaten start to World Cup qualifying, drawing with Austria and Israel before a big win over the Faroe Islands.
Scotland’s Euro 2020 odds
It would be one of football’s biggest upsets, Scotland winning the Euros, but stranger things have happened, and they may take inspiration from Wales’ semi-final finish at France 2016. So, if you fancy Clarke’s men to go all the way even after their opening game defeat, Sky Bet are offering odds of 500/1 for Scotland to win Euro 2020 outright.
For the nation to pull that fairytale off, though, they would first need to qualify from Group D, and you can get odds of 4/1 for them to make it through, or even 33/1 to top the table and win the group.