One last roll of the dice: What to expect from Scotland this summer
After 23 long old years, Scotland are just months away from their first appearance at a major tournament, and their first showing at a European championship in 25 years. The warm up act of three qualifiers for the Qatar World Cup in 2022 gave us a pretty healthy guess as to what the team is going to look like this summer, but will it withstand the almighty task of the Czechs, the Croats, and the noisy neighbours?
Steve Clarke had some major dilemmas to sort out with these fixtures alongside the task of securing nine points to kickstart the campaign, and despite a 4-0 thrashing of the Faroe Islands and a heroic 2-2 draw with Austria, another horror show in Israel left a sour taste in the mouth of fans. But there are many reasons for the Scots to be positive after what we have seen in the March internationals. David Marshall has won over Scots with his penalty shootout heroics against Israel and Serbia, but the poor attempt at saving Dor Peretz’s goal for Israel riled a few fans. Four nights later and Craig Gordon is pulling off a Buffon-esque save against the Faroes, so this poses a tricky one for Clarke. He has to pick players on form, and Gordon has his moments, but he seems to find himself in and out of the squad far too often, and consistency will be key to this side in the Euros. Having two great goalies does provide some confidence however, and the defence has worked very well in front of them. Particularly Grant Hanley. Hanley’s return has been welcomed with open arms, and not just for his header against Austria. He has kept Declan Gallagher and Andrew Considine at bay and shown that despite a tricky time last season with Norwich, he has what it takes to be the rock in front of goal on the night. Flanked by the likes of an impressive Stephen O’Donnell, the ever outstanding Kieran Tierney, and a comfortable centre back pairing with Jack Hendry or Scott McKenna and he will be just fine for the summer. Tierney and Andy Robertson was the big question in the back line, but they’ve proven they can work well together, and it makes sense to have them both on the park, but when moving to a back four, Clarke needs to stop jumping through hoops, and has to go for form which sees Tierney holding the stronger deck of cards on that front. It is frustrating, and it would be better to have a clear answer as to who starts at left back, but ultimately they are just too good to leave off the team sheet, so here’s to praying they can work their magic for Scotland this summer. The midfield is a tricky one given the level of talent available, but John McGinn is now Scotland’s fifth player to score ten goals for Scotland this century, so he starts without a doubt. He needs to play higher up the pitch to be effective alongside Callum McGregor and Scott McTominay who were excellent this March. They showed their credentials when they needed to, so the likes of Ryan Jack, Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Christie will have to have a pretty spectacular end to their seasons to show Clarke why they should move ahead of their teammates.
Ché Adams has burst onto the scene after being persuaded north by Clarke, and his goal against the Faroes was quite something. For Scotland, unearthing a stand out number 9 was the big challenge, and Lyndon Dykes looked like the answer, but a drop off in form raised significant questions, but as we saw against the Faroes, the pair can produce when requested. Throwing Christie up front never provides a quick fix, so getting two strikers in Adams and Dykes showing their worth has been a huge relief. Add in Ryan Fraser as a wing-back option like Clarke did against the Faroes and you create some wonderful chances for Scotland with his crosses into the box. Yes, this display was against the 107th ranked team in the world, but the chances are if you attack well, you will get that breakthrough moment against anyone, and Fraser gave us very good reasons to believe that it’s not all doom and gloom up front. It’s unfair to expect Scotland to get out of what is a very challenging group after a long time away from elite competition, but the disappointment after such a long absence will be hard to bypass. The talent is there, and it can work well when called upon, but the opener against the Czech Republic really is going to set the tone for Scotland’s summer. Only 73 sleeps to go…
Written by Ruaraidh Britton