It’s never wise to read too much into the customary warm-up matches that precede a major tournament, but Scotland’s 2-2 draw with the Netherlands on Wednesday only added to the growing sense Steve Clarke’s team will do much more than just make up the numbers at Euro 2020.
Against a close to full strength Dutch side boasting a number of world class players, Scotland held their own. In fact, they looked the better coached outfit for large periods of the match, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Netherlands, where certain sections of the press labelled the performance “embarrassing.”
For Scotland, though, it was proof of how Clarke has found a system and an approach that suits an ever improving group. On paper, this is the country’s best crop in a generation – Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay, John McGinn, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Fraser, Che Adams, Billy Gilmour – but most crucially they are putting it together on the pitch.
The 2-2 draw against the Netherlands means Scotland have now lost just two of their last 15 games in all competitions, with both of those defeats coming in the days after the playoff final win over Serbia (when celebrations resulted in an emotional, and maybe literal, hangover).
Scotland are a difficult side to play against, as de Boer and his players discovered. Clarke’s team have landed in the ultra-competitive Group D alongside England, Croatia and the Czech Republic, but nobody at Euro 2020 this summer should take Scotland lightly – including England.
One recent English tabloid newspaper headline that read ‘Och aye the who?,’ referencing Scotland’s perceived lack of household names, has been noted north of the border, and treated with bemusement given the country boasts a team full of recognisable Premier League talent.
claimed England will be “looking to score six or seven” when they meet Scotland at Wembley on June 18 (for context, England have scored six or more goals in a major tournament match only once). This reflects a gross misunderstanding of the quality of Clarke’s team and the threat they could pose.
Much of that threat will come down the left side. For a long time, it appeared impossible that Scotland would be able to fit Robertson and Tierney into the same team without forcing one into an unfamiliar position. Tierney was played at centre back in a back four and even right back before Clarke devised a system that gets the both out of the Arsenal player and Robertson.
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Teams that haven’t done their homework this summer will be caught off guard by how willing Tierney is to surge through the centre of the pitch with the ball at his feet. The 23-year-old did this to great effect against the Dutch, breaking the lines of transition time and time again to open up space in the final third.
This space is frequently exploited by Robertson in the wing back role and the likes of McGinn, who is more of a goal threat for his country than he is for his club, Armstrong and Fraser. As an attacking unit, Scotland are still something of a work-in-progress, largely due to Adams’ late decision to represent the country, but the structure is there.
Having spent 23 years longing to just appear at a major tournament, the temptation for Scotland might be just to enjoy being at the party. After all, The Tartan Army knows how to party better than most fanbases. But this team is capable of making their mark at Euro 2020. England, and any other side Scotland face this summer, must recognise this.