EURO 2024 Preview: Scotland looking to rediscover form and make history


EURO 2024 Preview: Scotland looking to rediscover form and make history

Scotland players celebrating a goal against Finland in a recent friendly
Scotland players celebrating a goal against Finland in a recent friendlyAFP
Three years ago, after more than two decades, they finally played at a major tournament, and it just so happened to be in a COVID-19 limited time. Now, the renowned Tartan Army is once again heading to Germany, where in 1974 they celebrated Scotland's first tournament win.

Although they have only recorded a single win from their last nine games (against minnows Gibraltar), Scotland are having by far their most consistent period in this millennium.

They have qualified for a major tournament directly for the first time since the 1998 World Cup and have bounced back from an unfortunate World Cup play-off defeat against Ukraine in 2022 by qualifying for the elite group of the UEFA Nations League. 

The squad is stable and the final 26-man selection includes a respectable 13 players with at least 30 starts on the international stage.

Also, the position of Scottish football is changing for the better, and in general, we are witnessing a vast improvement of the until recently regularly failing football nation. Last year's home qualifying scalp of Spain with a clean sheet will long be remembered.

Scotland's recent form
Scotland's recent formFlashscore

Rangers made it all the way to the Europa League final in the season immediately after the last European Championship, while Celtic have recently supplied two managers to ambitious Premier League clubs.

John McGinn led Aston Villa to the Champions League this season with the captain's armband. Andy Robertson, a Champions League winner, is already the Premier League record holder for assists by a defender.

Elsewhere, Aberdeen are reaping the rewards of a spectacular 'AberDNA' initiative, which, with the backing of Sir Alex Ferguson, has seen over 6,000 contributing fans get involved since 2018. The club has dominated the national junior (U-16) and senior (U-18) competitions this season, with 16-year-old Fletcher Boyd making an instant impact in the Scottish Premiership.

After decades of embarrassment against outsiders like the Faroe Islands and Liechtenstein, Scotland are once again back on the top stage. The oldest team in the championship is ready to make a splash this time after having three years to reflect on their previous showing.

Road to the finals

The Tartan Army won all five of their opening qualifying matches, including their first triumph over Spain in nearly 40 years. The last time the Scots managed such a streak within one international campaign was 1995.

In the final standings, Clarke's side could boast a goal scored in every qualifying match except one, in Seville, where VAR controversially wiped out Scott McTominay's direct free-kick.

As a result, the Scots recorded their second most prolific European qualifying cycle after Euro 2016 (an average of 2.1 goals per game), despite only two players - McTominay and McGinn - managing to score more than once.

Scotland have recently gone through an unprecedented dry spell (seven games without a win for the first time since 1998), but all round they are one of the most successful sides in the nation's recent history.

Steve Clarke the man in charge

The last European Championships took place during the 12 months when Steve Clarke signed off on the most wins in a single calendar year in Scotland's history (8). He was still relatively fresh in the job at the time.

Today he is the fourth-longest serving Tartan Army manager and the first coach to be lucky enough to lead Scotland to two editions of one tournament in a row.

Add to that, the 18-goal McGinn who has consistently fired under Clarke's tutelage (he's just three goals away from equalling the record of one player under the same coach - Denis Law under Ian McColl).

But while the Scotland of 2019-21 mirrored Clarke's Kilmarnock of 2017-19, when he turned zero expectations into first, a fine fifth place, and then a sensational third, Scotland are now in different territory. 

Firstly, this is now firmly a Clarke team. Jose Mourinho's former right-hand man at Chelsea has stayed true to an experienced core, stubbornly ignoring the calls for fresh blood.

Secondly, the situation is also complicated, with the knowledge that David Moyes will be free in the summer after parting company with West Ham. In Moyes' own words, he wants to lead his country at some point in the future, and at 61, there might not be any other time.

Scott McTominay a key figure

McTominay has always had a high floor, below which he rarely dips and is therefore heavily relied upon (which naturally impresses managers), but also a not-so-high performance ceiling.

However, the Scots are not demanding and compared to recent times when he was used predominantly in a defensive three, they are now supremely happy with him - unsurprising after a record seven goals in one calendar year (2023).

But goals aren't everything. Some fans see him as the reincarnated Darren Fletcher, the heart and lungs of a collective that could easily form the core of a successful team. On the other hand, some see his obvious limitations as a major obstacle to building a truly successful side.

McTominay's recent stats
McTominay's recent statsFlashscore

What is perhaps most important for Scotland at the moment is the fact McTominay hasn't added any goals since February, mainly because of health problems - the most recent of which came after the FA Cup final, thus preventing him from being involved in the last two matches.

Lawrence Shankland one to watch

If the Scots are to identify a truly goal-scoring striker for this tournament, there may be no better bet than this 28-year-old. With his age, Shankland is an unusual choice for this section, but the trajectory of his career is a fascinating one.

More than 20 goals in the third tier, then twice in the second tier, and finally twice in the top flight (most recently to win the Golden Boot), make him the Luca Toni of Scottish football. 

Shankland's recent stats
Shankland's recent statsFlashscore

Just as the legendary Italian striker was awaiting his first big transfer at the age of 28 (to Fiorentina), the big teams in Scotland are circling around Shankland. And who knows, if he does indeed join Rangers after the Euros, a big move to a European side in a couple of years might not be out of the question.

Given the withdrawal of the injured Lyndon Dykes, there is a solid argument for Shankland as the best Scottish striker currently available to Clarke, which he partly proved with his recent contribution against Gibraltar (assist) and Finland (goal).

Group A fixtures

14.06.2024 - Germany vs Scotland - Munich 

19.06.2024 - Scotland vs Switzerland - Cologne 

23.06.2024 - Scotland vs Hungary - Stuttgart

Group A standings
Group A standingsFlashscore


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