Oliver Burke’s impressive first-half goal secured a famous win for Scot Gemmill’s Scotland Under-21s at the Toulon Tournament, putting them on the brink of qualifying for the semi-finals.
It was the first time a Scottish side had defeated the French at any level since James McFadden’s iconic goal in 2007 in Paris. If the young Scots can defeat South Korea on Saturday, they will almost certainly qualify for the last four for the second year in a row.
Last year the Scots beat Brazil at this tournament but coach Gemmill rated this win as even more impressive.
Burke, the West Bromwich Albion winger, deservedly put Scotland in front and, although it was a backs against the walls display after the break against France’s Under-20 side, Scotland hung on. Gemmill was full of praise for his youngsters, with 16-year-old Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour, pictured, becoming the youngest player to feature for the Under-21s since Stamford Bridge colleague Islam Feruz in 2012. Gilmour looked composed and assured and is easy on the eye. He rarely wasted a pass in an impressive debut.
Gemmill said: “It’s brilliant for the players. It was a really solid performance and it was about the players being good enough to execute the game plan. They’ve stood up to the challenge.
“The intelligence of the players was brilliant and so was their willingness to work. You don’t win games like that by chance. It’s not just about energy or technical level – there’s so much more to it than that. You have to get everything right. And the goalie’s got to come up with a big save at the right time.
“I think it’s fair comment to say it was a better win than Brazil last year.
“It’s about opportunity and that’s why this tournament has given our players the opportunity to play against the best. And to challenge them to find a way to win. They did it last year and they had a decent tournament and we’ve put ourselves in a position to do it again.
“Billy Gilmour had a really effective and influential game, not only on the ball but in terms of distances covered and his positional sense. You could even see him offering instruction and advice to other players. He wouldn’t be here if we weren’t fully confident in his ability. We shouldn’t be surprised at him, but I do agree that it’s great when they take the opportunity and it’s great for us to be in a position to give him the opportunity and it’s great for him to be able to take it.”
Gemmill made two changes from the side that drew with Togo 1-1 in the opening game, with Rangers keeper Robby McCrorie, brother of Ross, replacing Celtic’s Ross Doohan in goal, and Gilmour starting.
Scotland took a deserved lead five minutes before the interval when Burke got on the end of a Fraser Hornby knock on from an enormous clearance from McCrorie, accelerated into the box and drove a powerful angled drive past Dimitry Bertaud into the corner of the net. Scotland were dropping deeper and deeper in the second half, but for all France’s second-half possession it took until 11 minutes from the end for McCrorie to make his first save when he leapt to his right to claw away a header from Wilifred Kanga.
Then St Johnstone’s Jason Kerr had his heart in his mouth when he sliced a clearance which looped up and landed on the roof of the net. But that was the last scare for the young Scots who held on with relative comfort for a brilliant victory.