Why Scotland have nothing to fear from England, Croatia, Czech Republic in their Euro 2020 group
When the whistle blows at Hampden Park at 2pm on Monday to signal the start of Scotland's involvement at Euro 2020 it will be 8,392 (EIGHT THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY TWO) days since the humbling 3-0 loss to Morocco in the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard stadium at France 98.
It has been a long, exhausting, frustrating and somewhat soul-destroying wait for the country to return to the finals of a meaningful tournament.
Across the past 23 years there have been some mammoth matches, the England play-off, Italy in Mount Florida and the contrasting Netherlands double header to name but a few.
However, Czech Republic will be the biggest game Scotland have participated in since the sorrow in St Etienne. Even bigger than the relief and exaltation in Serbia back in October.
Back at the top table, there is an incredible chance to make proper history. Getting to the tournament was a success but more than anything it ended a run of failure.
Now, this group of players can upgrade the ‘got us back to a finals’ tag and become the group who will forever be known as the first in the country’s history of progressing through a group stage.
Considering the players, the squads, the managers who have tried and failed in the past, it would be a golden badge of honour.
Qualify as VIPs
Of course, the possibility that three teams can progress from the group makes it even more achievable but no less admirable.
You know what, though? This Scotland side don’t need to rely on getting to the VIP area of the last-16 through the side door having originally entered the main party through the back door.
There is no reason Steve Clarke’s men can’t finish second. Or, whisper it, as group winners.
The latter could be considered a pyrrhic victory as the likely last-16 opponents would be one of: Germany, France or Portugal. A team in a fallow period, a country who have lost two of their last three games against Scotland and a side who finished behind Ukraine in qualifying. Scary? Nah.
Alas, that is getting ahead of ourselves.
Focusing on group matters, some may look at the Czech’s history, Croatia as World Cup finalists and England as one of the tournament favourites. In reality, there is little to be feared.
Czech Republic have some really good players, yes. Tomas Soucek and Vladimír Coufal have impressed at West Ham. Patrik Schick is a classy striker. Then they have one of the most promising talents in Europe in 18-year-old Adam Hložek.
They lost to Wales earlier this year and were recently pumped by Italy.
They don't like it when you get in their face. Albania showed that in a recent friendly. Adams, Lyndon Dykes, John McGinn, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie all charging around, buoyed by an excitable home crowd, in their first tournament match, the visitors won’t like it. There is a real chance to hound, hunt, harry and essentially suffocate Jaroslav Šilhavý's side who have exerted plenty of mental energy defending Ondrej Kudela who was found guilty of racially abusing Rangers ace Glen Kamara.
Clarke v Southgate
Start the tournament with a win and imagine the feeling going into the England game. Do it just now. Close your eyes. Allow yourself to get carried away. Scotland have won the opening game and now it’s Friday. You've taken the day off work. It’s 20 degrees. The sun is shining. It’s a late kick-off. That momentum builds throughout the day. You have a lager or two to take the edge off. You play Leigh Griffiths’ free-kicks on loop to the tune of Kingdom of Scotland. Scotland are winning at Wembley for the first time since 1999.
Seriously, why not?
Scotland have a better manager than England.
Gareth Southgate seems like a lovely man and has spoken so well regarding taking the knee in the face of condemnation from some England fans.
But when we get down to football management it’s a different story.
Southgate is that friend who everyone gets on with. But one who crumbles under pressure. When it comes to planning and organising a trip you absolutely do not put him in charge. A weekend in Munich. He books flights to ‘Munich West', 112km from the city. A great deal on Airbnb becomes four of you sharing a windowless box room, in an apartment where the host lives, complete with 10pm curfew and a toilet which is guarded by a sassy cat. The hell ends with a flight back to Edinburgh via Amsterdam then Dublin to save £15.
As for Clarke. He's the organiser. The logistics man. He’s immersed himself in the Munich transport system for weeks, developing an encyclopedic knowledge of the S-Bahn and U-Bahn network. He knows his Marienplatz from his Heimeranplatz.
That’s before you even get on to the fact they have vulnerabilities in defence. The positive qualities of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and John Stones are always followed with a ‘but...’.
Then there is Croatia. A nation which should be admired for their ability to produce top talent. The nation of Robert Prosinečki, Davor Suker, Darijo Srna and Luka Modric. But a nation which can’t beat Scotland.
We are their hex.
Going into the last group game with four, maybe six, points. The 12,000 in Hampden Park that sound like 1.2million. John McGinn running over the top of a dazed Modric. Lyndon Dykes wearing Dejan Lovren like a cape. Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson turning into the Bash Brothers up against Ivan Perisic.
The next few weeks are going to be a whirlwind which should be enjoyed because something special could happen.
Are Scotland going to win Euro 2020?