What we learnt from Scotland’s Euro 2020 warmups
After 23 agonising years of hurt, despair, and failure, Scotland will be going to a major tournament and competing with Europe’s elite. The countdown is ticking ever closer to the opener against the Czech Republic on Monday, and the anticipation is building, but for some Scots fans, the warmups will have felt rather different. A generation of fans have never seen Scotland play a warmup fixture and actually be a team that is going to a tournament. Most summers, we have been the dead wood that the heavyweights have warmed up against, but this time all eyes were on Scotland as they flexed their squad of 26 and showed a nation of hopefuls what is to come this summer. The Dutch have waited seven years for a tournament after missing out on the 2016 Euros and the 2018 World Cup, but seven years pales in comparison to Scotland’s 23. Yet this fixture was seriously intriguing to those wondering how Scotland would fare against such a high calibre opponent. In truth, they came away looking pretty damn good. An early opener from Jack Hendry showed us why his individual excellence should put him in the team against the Czechs, but the defence felt rather scrambled when Gini Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay combined to score and outrageously silky equaliser seven minutes later.
Frank De Boer didn’t have the result on his mind however, he had player protection as the priority, and Wijnaldum and Frenkie De Jong left the field after half an hour, so it was clear that the result itself was not the priority here. That could be said for Scotland, but when Kevin Nisbet scored just two minutes into his debut, it suddenly felt as if we had to go an get the result. A questionable decision from the referee however resulted in a 2-2 draw after a second from Depay which was even more stunning than the first, as his free kick curled past the hands of Craig Gordon. In September 2018, Scotland lost 3-0 to Kazakhstan in a shambolic affair; we have come an awful long way in the time to say a 2-2 draw with Holland was disappointing.
The second and final friendly taught us very little. A solid strike from Che Adams bagged the 1-0 victory, but after a red card for Vahid Selimovic killed the contest dead and it really felt as if neither set of players wanted to bother with the event, but we did learn an awful lot more from that game than we did from the clash with the Netherlands. Billy Gilmour only played around ten minutes after a cynical collision saw him removed from the field, that really should have been a second red card, but his sheer brilliance on the ball and his ability to frustrate players was raising the temperament amongst the opposition. Ardrossan’s own tore the side apart with his unpredictability, and he almost looks like a seasoned veteran rather than a teenager, so for me, he has to start against the Czechs. Nathan Patterson too showed a level of confidence, but for me I would have to stick with Stephen O’Donnell as the starter at right back. Scott McTominay has earned rave reviews up and down the land, and it isn’t hard to see why. He again looked solid as did his partner John McGinn and it is very easy to distinguish the best midfielders available to Steve Clarke for the opener. Adams and Lyndon Dykes also must start that fixture as they had a terrific partnership up front despite the lack of goals. The results will come from the pair of them, and their finishing will get better, we just need to keep at it with the pair and we will see the goals trickle in. The main question lies around the defence as to who leads the charge. David Marshall made a fantastic save early on to deny any doubters about his shot-stopping capabilities, and he should get the nod ahead of Gordon. Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney must take to the park, because again they looked confident and worked well, and Robertson’s assist and build up play for Nisbet’s strike against Holland was highlight reel stuff. My main question surrounds the other two centre backs, and after watching Liam Cooper against Holland, I would be much happier to see him on the team sheet than Grant Hanley, because he looked so calm and composed and had no major concerns for Scotland fans at the back. Hendry should partner him, but his challenges against Holland were brought into question on occasion, but the 26-year-old keeps getting better with every game. It really isn’t often there is this level of confidence within the Tartan Army, but Scotland look like they could really challenge for the last 16 at the Euros the summer. All I can think about is who starts each game, what we need to do for a best runners up finish, what will I be drinking in honour of our lads on Monday afternoon. The excitement is similar to that of a young child in the run up to Christmas, but let's hope we get a big win over the Czechs to give us a real chance of the last 16 and not the equivalent of a pair of socks and a humbling defeat. Only five more sleeps to go folks, 23 years doesn’t feel all that long now.