23 years. 23 long, agonising years come to an end this Monday for a nation that pours its heart and soul into football. Such is the length of time that Scotland have been absent from tournament football, there is a full generation of youngsters who have never experienced it and the excitement around the country is palpable. However, this party atmosphere should not be misconstrued as being one which lacks any expectation, content with making up the numbers. Scotland fans always back their team against any opponent no matter the size, they always hope and they always believe. However, this time round this comes from using the head as much as the heart, so to speak.
Steve Clarke has constructed a strong, dependable side full of top-class talent which over time has translated into a complete sense of belief in the capability of the national team among its supporters. They take on the Czech Republic at Hampden for their opening match of Euro 2020 and you can bet that if they can find a win then many Scots will already be dreaming of going all the way…
A familiar opponent to Steve Clarke’s men, the Czechs prove rather hard to predict: they didn’t fare well against the Scots in qualifying yet in one of the matches they were forced to field a full u-21 side and only narrowly lost. In their recent World Cup qualifiers, they held Belgium to a draw (an impressive feat) then lost to a very poor Wales side who are much lesser than Scotland so its hard to judge how they’ll perform here. In any case, there’s no getting away from the fact that they’re weaker than England and Croatia so if Scotland have any realistic chance of progressing it’ll largely come down to this game. A best-case scenario would see the Scots win whilst England and Croatia cancel each other out with a draw.
Scotland, it can be presumed, will play the tried and tested system incorporating 3 centre-halves and 2 wing-backs; the only thing that will possibly alternate is whether it’s to be 1 or 2 up front. Lyndon Dykes has been a revelation since he pledged allegiances to the country of his grandparents, playing an integral role in qualifying for this tournament. If there’s to be a pairing up front then the big target man will feature however if it’s to be a lone striker then he could lose out to another late comer to the Scotland party in Che Adams. The Southampton striker has brought a different option to the attack and whether it’s him or Dykes, they’ll need to on top form and take any chances that fall their way as the defence can be counted on to do the job at the other end.
Clarke came under huge pressure to see sense and include youngsters Nathan Patterson, Billy Gilmour and David Turnbull in his squad for the tournament. Whilst he duly obliged, he’ll be facing the same pleas again from much of the Tartan Army to start the exciting trio but they’re not so likely to get their wish this time. He’ll probably be inclined to stick with the players who got him here such as Stephen O’Donnell, Ryan Christie and so on but don’t be too surprised to see one of the youngsters deputise – in particular, the immensely talented Gilmour if he can be fit in time.