Scotland ready to rewrite the history books
Rethink: Steve Clarke (pic: SNS Group).
Scotland can rewrite the history books by qualifying for the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time with victory over Croatia this evening.
The equation for progression to the last 16 was simplified after last night’s results in groups B and C favoured Steve Clarke’s men, with both third-placed teams finishing on three points.
Austria’s 1-0 win over Ukraine saw them finish as runners-up behind group winners Netherlands and leave Ukraine on three points. Group B results also went Scotland’s way with Denmark’s first win of the tournament over Russia, and Belgium’s 2-0 triumph over Finland, leaving both losers on three points.
It’s therefore do-or-die for the Scots at Hampden Park, their Euro 2020 destiny now very much in their own hands.
A Scotland win would take them to four points and ensure they would at least qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams. Clarke’s men can still finish second – if the Czechs beat England at Wembley and they overturn a three-goal deficit on their neighbours.
Croatia go into the clash knowing that victory for them would see them progress at the Scots’ expense.
Former Kilmarnock boss Clarke stands on the cusp of history but he has warned the Tartan Army about the quality possessed by Croatia, World Cup finalists in 2018.
The Croats have yet to impress in the tournament, losing to England and drawing with the Czech Republic, but Clarke said: “You’re talking about a team that played in the last World Cup Final. They have quality players but they are obviously looking for a little spark in the tournament.
“But they are good players, make no mistake about it and they are going to cause us a lot of problems. We’re going to have to play our best game. We’re going to have to play as well as we can to get the result we want.
“People may say they are past their peak, but they are the No. 1 seeds. They always qualify for tournaments, have top, top players in their team and we need to respect them as we do with all our opponents.
“Then we have to go out there and find a way to beat them because, as much as they want to make it to the knockout stages, so do we.
“Croatia will have enough legs in their team, don’t worry about that. It’s a big game, they are professionals and they know better than us what it takes to get into the knock-out stages of a major tournament because they’ve been there before and we haven’t.
“They are wily old foxes, but we’re ready for them.”
Clarke was forced into a rethink over his team after Billy Gilmour tested positive for coronavirus.
The Chelsea midfielder was scheduled to start tonight’s game after catching the eye in Friday’s 0-0 draw with England but instead has started a 10-day self-isolation period.
“Obviously it’s a blow for us in terms of the team,” said Clarke. “Billy would have started now he won’t, so it’s a chance for someone else to come in and make themselves a national hero.
“The players know exactly what they need to do once they get out on the pitch.
“Hopefully, we will keep on improving. If we reach the same performance levels from the other night at Wembley, I think we will be very competitive.”
With no other close contacts identified by the Scottish FA after talks with Public Health England, and the remainder of the 26-man squad returning negative tests, the players have all been given the green light for the game.
England’s Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell are self-isolating as a precaution after coming into contact with their Chelsea team-mate Gilmour after Friday’s 0-0 draw at Wembley.
They remain doubtful for their country’s clash with the Czech Republic in London tonight, although England are already assured of qualification from Group D thanks to the results elsewhere last night. Gareth Southgate’s side will go through as Group D winners with victory over the Czech Republic.
Despite losing 1-0 to Italy in Group A, Wales qualified as runners-up and will face Denmark in the last 16 on Saturday 26 June in Amsterdam.