Why Scotland need to get streetwise to show national team is going places after Denmark disparity

Steve Clarke’s new shaved head look seems appropriate since Scotland need to start getting streetwise. They were innocents abroad on Wednesday night while succumbing to Denmark on a somewhat dismaying evening in the Parken stadium.

Denmark's Mohamed Daramy (L) fights for the ball with Scotland's Ryan Fraser. (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

It felt a bit like the bad old days again. The contrast between the two teams was stark. It might be unfair to rate Scotland against a team quite clearly going places but then it seems perfectly reasonable to wonder why there was such a gulf in quality between two countries of very similar populations.

Denmark are what Scotland should aspire to be. Their fast, free-flowing football was a joy to behold at times and while this is something Steve Clarke is trying to implement at Scotland, keeping possession of the ball is not currently a strong point. Billy Gilmour is a beacon of light but there’s only so much a 21-year-old can do and even he was guilty of a couple of slack passes in those frantic opening stages when Scotland were exposed time and time again.

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Worryingly, it is only necessary to go back as far as the game prior to Wednesday’s dejecting experience in Copenhagen to find the last time the Scots were taught a footballing lesson by a country with a broadly similar population.

Denmark's midfielder Pierre-Emile Hoejbjerg (L) fights for the ball with Scotland's midfielderBilly Gilmour during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification football match between Denmark and Scotland in Copenhagen on September 1, 2021. (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

That occurred at Hampden in the must-win Euro 2020 group clash with Croatia that saw Scotland crash out of the tournament. Dreams of making a quick return to a major finals are fading fast though there is still hope of putting together a run that can secure second place behind the currently rampant Danes. The trouble is, Scotland might need to beat Denmark at Hampden to achieve this and even against a side already likely to have secured qualification, that could be a tall order. Denmark are surfing a wave of emotion all the way to Qatar. It was fascinating to observe a team in clover because it serves as a reminder of what’s possible.

There is a real connection between fans and players, strengthened by both the sense of shared horror at Christian Eriksen’s collapse during Denmark’s opening game of Euro 2020 against Finland and the fact the team is really very good. The noise to acclaim striker Jonas Wind – a substitute! - when he wandered out to take his place on the bench was something else. He is of course an FC Copenhagen player but it set the tone. As did a large banner at one end of the ground, I Har Samlet Nationen Pa Ny: You Have Reunited A Nation.

In four World Cup qualifying games so far this year Denmark have four wins, sixteen goals and no goals against. They even took a break to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020, where they were controversially eliminated by England.

Scotland, by contrast, have only won two of their last dozen games, against the Faroe Isles and Luxembourg. They most probably need at least four points from their next two games to entertain thoughts of finishing second in Group F. The feel-good vibes generated by that night in Belgrade are dissipating. There is growing criticism of the SFA’s decision to hand the manager a new contract. It seems strange that Ian Maxwell has had to come out and defend giving a new deal to someone who was a national hero less than a year ago but that is where we are.

Denmark's Joakim Mahle scores during the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier group F football match between Denmark and Scotland at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on September 1, 2021. - Denmark OUT (Photo by Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

Clarke will be disappointed with himself because, in the early stages against Denmark, Scotland looked so disorganised. That’s not a trait of a Clarke team and it meant the game had gone before the visitors had even started to resemble a functioning unit. The manager admitted Scotland must learn from teams like Denmark.

Steve Clarke is pictured during a Scotland training session at the Oriam, on August 31, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

“We have to learn to do that in the first 15 or 20 minutes when the opposition are flying,” he said yesterday as he picked through the bones of the comprehensive defeat. “That’s what we have to learn to do. We have to have the same composure.

“We let Denmark disrupt us. We have good players in our team, but the number of times we gave the ball away quite cheaply because of their press causes a problem.

“If you ask the defenders, they’ll say that’s why they dropped, because we couldn’t retain possession.

“It’s a Catch 22. Pushing up makes it easier for the midfielder, but if the midfield players lose the ball cheaply, it makes your defenders want to drop a little bit.

“We’re not the finished article. We are a team that is working to improve and the only pleasing thing from Denmark is that we showed a bit of character to stay in the game in the second half and managed to create some better chances.”

John McGinn misses the clash with Denmark. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

And so we go again. Moldova are due at Hampden tomorrow meaning Scotland will have just one full scale training session to get it right before then. At least Clarke expects to welcome John McGinn back as well as some right backs. No discussion about Scotland at this time can neglect to mention some very telling mitigating factors. Yes, Clarke’s side were beaten by the better team in Denmark but they were hamstrung by such limited options, at right back particularly, due to the complication of different countries following slightly different Covid rules.

This isn't to say Stephen O’Donnell or even Nathan Patterson would have coped any better than the out-of-position Andy Robertson when faced by the twin dangers of Joakim Maehle and Mikkel Damsgaard.

The Danes are on another level just now. They might have reunited a nation but they have also given another one something to think about.

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