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Scotland to open Euro campaign after long international exile


Glasgow (AFP) – Scotland return to the international stage for the first time in over two decades at Euro 2020 on Monday as Covid-hit Spain prepare to launch their bid for a record fourth continental crown.

The Scots, absent from a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, take on the Czech Republic in front of 12,000 fans at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

Day four’s action then moves to Saint Petersburg where Robert Lewandoski’s Poland face Slovakia before a new-look Spain tackle Sweden in Seville without captain Sergio Busquets who tested positive for coronavirus.

Scotland’s fans will be sure to relish the occasion at Hampden, with their side finally back at the top table.

“I hope it inspires a nation, I hope we can make them happy. You can feel a real buzz around the country already,” said captain Andy Robertson.

 “A lot of kids, teenagers, even people in their early twenties haven’t witnessed us ever in a major tournament,” said the Liverpool left-back, who was four when Scotland played in the 1998 World Cup.

The Czechs’ preparations for the Group D match have been clouded by the racism ban which ruled defender Ondrej Kudela out of the tournament.

The Slavia Prague player was suspended for 10 games for racially abusing Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara on a Europa League visit to Scotland in March.

“I believe that he did not tell him anything racist, there was no evidence, but a lot of people on the islands (the UK) condemned him and he received a severe sentence,” said Czech Republic Tomas Soucek, who plays in England for West Ham.

The Scots go into battle after their neighbours and Group D rivals England made a successful start to their Euro campaign with a 1-0 win over Croatia on Sunday.

Raheem Sterling scored at a sun-baked Wembley as Gareth Southgate’s England won their opening game of a European Championship finals for the first time at the 10th attempt.

“I always said if I played at Wembley in a major tournament, I’m scoring. I had to score in my back garden and delighted to do that,” he said.

England, seeking to end a 55-year wait for a major trophy, are playing all three group games at their London home. If they top Group D they will also play there in the last 16, while London is also the venue for both semi-finals as well as the final on July 11.

Also Sunday the Netherlands, back at a major tournament for the first time since 2014, defeated Ukraine 3-2 in a thrilling Group C encounter in Amsterdam.

– Eriksen ‘stable, good’ –

Dutch captain Georginio Wijnaldum put the hosts ahead early in the second half before Wout Weghorst doubled their advantage.

Ukraine equalised with two quick goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk, but a Denzel Dumfries header five minutes from time earned Frank de Boer’s side victory.

North Macedonia lost 3-1 to Austria in their first match at this level as an independent nation in Bucharest, despite an equaliser from 37-year-old captain Goran Pandev.

The action on the pitch in the pan-European tournament – delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic – continues with Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen still in hospital following Saturday’s shocking collapse.

The 29-year-old’s condition was described as “stable” and “good” by the Danish Football Union 48 hours after his cardiac arrest playing for his country against Finland in Copenhagen.

Teammate Kasper Schmeichel questioned the decision the team faced over whether to restart the match after Eriksen’s mid-game medical emergency. When the match did resume, Denmark lost 1-0.

“We were put in a position that I personally feel that we shouldn’t have been put in,” said the Leicester City goalkeeper.

Schmeichel said he wished someone more senior had stepped in to say “that it wasn’t the time to take that decision, and that we should maybe wait until the day after to decide”.

“What has happened has happened, and hopefully they’ll learn from this,” Schmeichel said, as he praised what he considered the real “heroes” of the game, the medics.

The players were able to talk to Eriksen via a video call on Sunday.

“He said in his own way that we should look forward to the game on Thursday (against Belgium). It meant a lot,” said midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who missed a penalty against Finland after the restart.

World Cup holders France are the favourites to win the continental crown and they begin their campaign against Germany in Munich on Tuesday, with holders Portugal facing Hungary in the other Group F match.

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