Updated: Jun 30, 2020
In this blog post I look at why Scotland have looked so disappointing in the Euro 2020 Qualifying Campaign. We just can't stop losing!
Walking away from Hampden on Monday night, having seen Scotland comfortably beaten 4-0 by Belgium, there was a feeling of acceptance in the air. Long gone were the days when we were crazy enough to think we could compete with the ‘bigger countries’ and it wasn’t even worth getting annoyed about it.
We came here to see a Kevin de Bruyne masterclass and we got one. Let's take that as a small victory.
But things aren’t looking so rosy for Scotland. Home defeat to Russia and Belgium over the weekend all but ended our chances of qualifying for Euro 2020 via the Qualifying Group.
Being a fan of the Tartan Army Boys is not a fun experience. You get drawn in time and time again for your hopes to be painfully dashed. There’s a genuine belief at the start of every campaign that ‘this is the year’ we finally qualify for a tournament before it’s quickly taken from you. It’s only been 21 bloomin’ years since we did so!
Where has it gone wrong recently?
Lack of belief
The first point has to be the lack of belief which translated as a lack of desire against Russia and Belgium. It’s tempting to say the players aren’t really up for it but it can’t be that simplistic, can it?
Kevin de Bruyne assisted three and scored once himself, leading his country to an easy 4-0 victory, which, in reality, was four going on eight. Scotland barely laid a glove on Belgium and we’re lucky the Red Devils never got out of second gear.
Scotland had 48% of possession and could knock the ball around in midfield but there was no one there with the confidence to make anything happen. It was aimless, passionless and it was safe pass followed by safe pass. Even worse was how we allowed Belgium all the time in the world to play their game and tear us to pieces.
This lack of belief was also felt in the stands. Hampden was less than half full and it was noticeable how flat the atmosphere was. A couple of guys behind us were giving the Scotland team sarcastic ‘ole’s’ after they’d completed anymore than three passes in a row (which wasn't that often!) but who can blame them for trying to find some humour in such a brutal performance?!
The players aren’t performing
Whilst we're nowhere near the level of Belgium, we still have players who should be able to compete at the very top level rather than concede victory in the tunnel before the game has even begun.
We have Liverpool’s Champions League winner, and one of the best left backs in the World, Andrew Robertson, Scott McTominay, who has been one of the better performers for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Man Utd this season, and John McGinn, who has caught the eye with some brilliant performances for Aston Villa in the Premier League.
There's also Ryan Christie, Callum McGregor and James Forrest who have all started the season brilliantly for Scottish Champions Celtic, Ryan Fraser, one of the top rated attacking midfielders in the Premier League, and a host of other players playing in the English Championship or Premier League. We should be doing better with the resources we have. It's that simple.
Comparison with Northern Ireland
Let’s compare our situation to that of Northern Ireland’s. When you go through the squad lists, it's clear that Scotland have a better team of individuals. However, the Ulstermen were unlucky not to get something in their game against Germany in Belfast on Monday night. At least they competed.
The Northern Ireland starting XI going into Monday night’s game featured Conor Washington of Hearts, Niall McGinn of Aberdeen, with Shayne Lavery of Linfield coming off the bench.
A worse standard of player and a population a third of Scotland’s, but manager Michael O’Neill has led them to the knockout stages of Euro 2016 and were unlucky to be knocked out by Switzerland in the World Cup Play offs. It’s amazing what some belief and a good manager can do for a team!
Picking the wrong players
Steve Clarke has given us little sign his Scotland team is any better than the team managed by Alex McLeish. In fact, since Gordon Strachan left two years ago, we’ve gotten progressively worse (who knew that was possible?!).
It’s harsh to criticise Clarke after only four competitive games but after a wave of enthusiasm for his appointment, he has made many errors and needs to buck up his ideas. International football managers rarely get a lot of time.
Charlie Mulgrew has played centre back against both Belgium and Russia and was horribly exposed. Here’s a player whose main position isn’t even as a centre back playing against world class strikers Romelu Lukaka and Artem Dzyuba and looking painfully out of his depth.
Then you have the continued fascination with playing Kilmarnock’s right back Stephen O’Donnell, another player who looked like he didn’t belong in a Scotland jersey. Add to that the much criticised decision to play Oli McBurnie upfront on his own against Russia, and then a similar plan used for Matt Philipps. Neither player had any kind of impact and were isolated.
Several of the goals scored against us recently have looked so easy and could’ve been avoided. Leaving yourself exposed against World Class countries just doesn’t make sense, at least organise yourself. It’s not rocket science.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
It’s important not to be too downbeat on things though (Scotland make it darn easy though!).
Steve Clarke needs to learn from his mistakes quickly and if he does then 3 of the next 4 games are very winnable. I’m taking away the game against Russia for obvious reasons! But a better performance in Moscow followed by three wins against Cyprus, San Marino and Kazakhstan and we'll go head into the Euro 2020 play off with a bit of confidence.
I still believe…