Glasgow (AFP) – After a 23-year wait to even reach a major tournament, more history beckons for Scotland on Tuesday if they can beat Croatia at Hampden to reach the knockout stage for the first time at Euro 2020.
A hard-earned 0-0 draw against England at Wembley has restored belief in the Scottish support that had been shaken by a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in their opening match.
Victory against the World Cup finalists should be enough to seal Scotland’s place in the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed sides from the six groups, should they not pip England into second place in Group D.
Steve Clarke’s decision to throw Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour in for his first international start on the biggest stage proved inspired as the 20-year-old outshone the Three Lions’ plethora of Premier League stars to walk away with the man-of-the-match award.
At just 5ft 7in (1.7m), Gilmour has had to use his speed of thought and fleetness of foot to become a rising star for club and country.
“Scotland have found a playmaker to build around for the next decade,” former Scotland captain Graeme Souness wrote in The Times. “A proper footballer who can keep the ball in tight areas and does not give it away.”
That description fits perfectly with Croatia’s own pass master Luka Modric.
Now, 35, the Real Madrid midfielder still carries his country’s expectations on his shoulders.
His starring role in Croatia’s run to the World Cup final three years ago saw Modric become the only man since 2007 to break Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s grip on the Ballon d’Or.
– Modric frustrated –
However, Modric has so far cut a frustrated figure at the European Championship.
Like Scotland, Croatia also need to win at Hampden to have any chance of progress to the last 16 after taking just one point from their opening two games.
“We’re far from how we used to play,” said Modric after a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic on Monday.
Without the energy of Ivan Rakitic in midfield and the cutting edge provided by the bulldozing presence of Mario Mandzukic up front, both of whom have since retired from international football, Croatia have appeared one-dimensional in their opening two games.
“Right now we’re not the Croatia we all want,” added Modric, who has already played 61 games for club and country this season.
“We all have to improve, from the first player to the last.”
Scotland may not have Croatia’s experience when it comes coping with the rigours of three energy-sapping tournament games in eight days.
But they will have 12,000 of the Tartan Army on their side at Hampden in their quest for history.
More importantly, Gilmour’s emergence is the latest case of Scottish players having the technical quality on top of the tenacity to compete with the likes of Modric.
“Nothing fazes him, and that’s why I believe he can get as many caps as he wants for Scotland,” said captain Andy Robertson of Gilmour’s emergence. “He’s got a huge future ahead of him but the here and now is pretty good as well.”
The future may look bright for Scotland, but after so long away from the top table of international football, there are no guarantees an opportunity like this will come around again.
Before a ball was kicked at Euro 2020, Clarke remarked that his players were already “heroes” but could become “legends” by making the last 16.
Many of legendary figure of Scottish football’s past such as Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law, tried and failed to make it beyond the group stage of a major tournament.
Less than a month after lifting the Champions League, Gilmour can write himself into national folklore on his first appearance at Hampden.
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