First Touch

Scotland Are One Step Closer to Euros

Scotland, the brave, indeed. It took penalties, but Steve Clarke’s side was able to vanquish Israel at Hampden last Thursday, setting up a playoff in Belgrade November 12th against Serbia.

The Full Scottish with Brian P. Dunleavy 


Win that, and Scotland will have qualified for its first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. Of course, that’s assuming the Euros—which were, of course, supposed to be held in the summer—ever take place. It’s hard to plan too far ahead in the future, obviously, during the global pandemic.

Still, Clarke and his squad can take solace in their performances during this international break, which saw them lose several key players—Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie and Kieran Tierney—to either COVID-19 (Armstrong) or quarantine protocols (Christie and Tierney).

In addition to Israel, the Scots were able to grind out a pair of 1-0 victories over Slovakia and the Czech Republic in Nations’ League play. Yes, we know. The Nations’ League is nonsense. However, three wins on the trot are still meaningful, particularly for a Scotland team that has had its share of losses over, well, the past two decades. And they are one win away from the Euros, with only a very beatable Serbia side standing in their way. There’s that.

Next Month

“We’re aware of how big the game is next month and we’re aware of how everyone’s going to build it up,” Clarke told Sky Sports this week. “It’s important for us to stay focused, stay calm and just work at what we’re good at.”

It’s worth noting, though, that Scots have been this close before. Under Clarke’s predecessor, Gordon Strachan, they needed a win against Poland to qualify for the 2016 Euros but managed only a 2-2 draw.

Two years later, in qualification for the 2018 World Cup, Scotland needed a win against Slovenia to finish as runners’ up in Group F and advance to the playoff round. Instead, what they got was a 2-2 draw—sound familiar?—and Strachan was gone.

Once again, there are no questions about the remit for the team this time around. Because of the pandemic, there’s a unique challenge ahead. The playoff against Serbia will be a one off, meaning that one team will walk away in Belgrade as a winner, with a vital place in the Euros in their back pocket. As such, we fully expect that match to go into extra time and, likely, penalties. This is Scotland, after all, and this is still 2020.

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