What next for Scotland after Euros exit? Nations League fixtures, World Cup draw, Steve Clarke future

Little time for Scotland to wallow with internationals on the horizon

The post-mortem on Scotland's early Euros exit will continue throughout the summer as the management team, players and fans reflect on a disappointing campaign in Germany.

A tournament that started with a whimper in Munich, flickered into life in Cologne, only to end in despair in Stuttgart followed a similarly agonising storyline that the Tartan Army have been so accustomed to over the years.

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The wait to reach the knock-out stages of a major finals goes on after Sunday's last-minute 1-0 defeat to Hungary – following on from the 5-1 tanking against the hosts and the 1-1 draw with Switzerland – left Steve Clarke's side bottom of Group A and out of the competition at the first hurdle once again.

Scotland head coach Steve Clarke consoles his players after the 1-0 defeat to Hungary which knocked his side out of Euro 2024. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)Scotland head coach Steve Clarke consoles his players after the 1-0 defeat to Hungary which knocked his side out of Euro 2024. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Scotland head coach Steve Clarke consoles his players after the 1-0 defeat to Hungary which knocked his side out of Euro 2024. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

"It will take a long time to get over this," reflected captain Andy Robertson as he faced TV cameras just moments after full-time in the Stuttgart Arena with dejection written all over his face. How long is a long time? Well, not very long at all as it turns out. Scotland have just over 10 weeks to get their Euros heartache out of their system before the next round of international fixtures come around in early September. It is exactly 72 days until Robertson pulls on the armband once again as the Liverpool talisman, fitness permitting, leads Scotland into their Nations League A opener against Poland at Hampden Park on Thursday, September 5.

The match will mark a first appearance for Clarke's side at the top table of UEFA's biennial league system, which was introduced in 2018 as a replacement for meaningless international friendlies. Portugal and Croatia make up the other nations in Scotland's four-team group and with the bruising defeat to Germany in the Euro 2024 opener still fresh in the memory, you can only hope lessons have been learned. The return of some injured players such as Aaron Hickey, Kieran Tierney and Lyndon Dykes would be helpful to Scotland's cause.

Scotland were promoted to Nations League A after winning their Nations League B group in 2022. A goalless draw against Ukraine, played in Poland, got them over the line as they topped a section also containing Republic of Ireland and Armenia. Scotland will go into the competition with a record of just one victory in their last 12 matches which came against minnows Gibraltar in a pre-Euros warm-up friendly. It will take a significant improvement for them to hold their own in formidable company.

The opening fixture against Poland will be crucial to Scotland's hopes of achieving something in the group. Dare we call it a must-win given how such a scenario against Hungary played out? Three points are surely a necessity if Scotland are to give themselves any hope of, at the very least, consolidating their place and avoiding relegation straight back to the second tier.

After the opener against Poland in Glasgow, Scotland have a short turnaround for their toughest group assignment – a trip to Lisbon to face Portugal on September 8. The next round of fixtures do not get any easier with an away match in Croatia on October 12 followed by Portugal's visit to Hampden three days later. The campaign then concludes the following month with Croatia visiting Hampden on November 15 before Scotland travel to Poland for the final group game on November 18. Six fixtures for Clarke and his players to attempt to restore some pride and pay back the Tartan Army for their incredible backing in Germany.

Whether Clarke is the right man to lead Scotland into the Nations League A and beyond is up for debate. The Scotland head coach hit out at "negative Normans" on the eve of the Euros. But his critics are now claiming it is his own negative tactics that were to blame for Scotland's exit. The stats don't lie – Scotland registered the fewest shots of any country in the tournament with just 17 goal attempts across the three matches. And being honest, it felt like less. The two goals that were scored were an own goal and a massive deflection. The overly cautious approach in the do-or-die clash with Hungary until the very last moments of the match felt like an opportunity that Scotland allowed to pass them by, regardless of the penalty they should have been awarded.

But Clarke has credit in the bank with a fair amount of supporters and his employers at the Scottish FA after leading the country to back-to-back Euros, ending a 22-year wait for tournament football in the process, on top of earning promotion to Nations League A. The 60-year-old also has two years left on the new deal he signed last year. The safe money would be on Clarke seeing his contract out.

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That would take him up until after the 2026 World Cup, the qualifying campaign for which will be the next objective on the horizon after the Nations League business is taken care of. The one thing missing from Clarke's Scotland CV is qualification for a World Cup after missing out on Qatar 2022 and he will be desperate to lead his side to the tournament in North America in two years time, hosted jointly by Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Scotland must wait until December, when the draw for the UEFA section of World Cup qualifying is held, to find out their group opponents. The qualification campaign will run from March 2025 until March 2026 with 12 groups of four or five teams, and will see Scotland compete for one of 16 European spots up for grabs in the newly-expanded 48-team tournament. The winner of each group will qualify for the World Cup, while the second-placed teams will advance to the play-offs, along with the four best-ranked group winners from the Nations League which finished outside the top two of their qualifying group.

Anyone starting to feel excited again?



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