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Euro 2024: Can Scotland go from plucky underdogs to genuine threat?

Scotland will be hoping to make history at Euro 2024 by reaching the knockout stage for the first time.

Scotland

Scotland head to Euro 2024 with an unfamiliar sense of optimism in the air.

The Tartan Army are taking part in their fourth European Championship having previously never made it past the group stage – including three years ago in disappointing style at Euro 2020.

But after qualifying with games to spare this time around, there is genuine hope that Steve Clarke’s men may have what it takes to finally go further.

Can this Scotland side take the next step and make their mark on the international tournament stage? Let’s have a deepeer dive to find out…

Sealing qualification… with ease!

Scotland qualifying for a major tournament is rare enough, so the ease at which they did so is something of a relic.

They needed a nail-biting penalty shoot-out in a play-off match against Cyprus to reach Euro 2020 but this time around it was much more smooth sailing.

Pitched as 14-1 outsiders to win a group containing 2012 winners Spain and Erling Haaland’s Norway, the Scots claimed the scalp of both those sides during a memorable campaign, with Scott McTominay transitioning into an unlikely goalscoring machine.

They spent most of the campaign in top spot before being pipped by Spain but only after a place at Germany this summer had already been secured.

Winning five out of eight games overall and also sealing promotion to the top tier in the Nations League, Scotland appear ready to take on Europe’s top teams.

Bad timing?

After qualifying last Autumn while riding the crest of a wave, Clarke may have been forgiven for wanting the tournament to start there and then, with their form since then hitting a sticky patch.

After their Nations League promotion, Scotland organised friendlies against higher-quality opponents – taking on England, France and the Netherlands.

Those three games between September and March ended in 3-1, 4-1 and 4-0 defeats… before they lost 1-0 to Northern Ireland.

It was a stark reminder of the step up required to become a threat on the international stage.

Their warm-up games ahead of the tournament have ever so slightly dampended optimism too. After labouring to a 2-0 win over minnows Gibraltar, they let a two-goal lead slip to draw with Finland.

Their group

Though it could have been worse, qualifying from a group made up of Germany, Switzerland and Hungary will not exactly be a walk in the park and they are unsurprisingly outsiders to win the group at 11-1.

They will have the whole of Europe watching when they kick off the tournament against the hosts on Friday, with optimism growing over their nation’s prospects under Julian Nagelsmann.

Taking anything away from that opener looks a tall order and the Scots will look to the other two games as the chance to get the points needed.

That is easier said than done though. Switzerland will not be a threat to the grand prize but are an experienced tournament team, while Hungary have some notable stars in their ranks.

But with the format likely allowing a third place in the group to qualify for the knockout stages, it could well be anyone’s game.

Clarke told BBC Sport: “The bottom line is we need four points to come out the group, that guarantees that you’ll come out of the group almost forever. That always happens

“Three points and a zero goal difference would probably get out of the group so that’s what we have to look at – every game in isolation, make sure that we’re competitive in every game and realistically you go into the last game with a chance to qualify.

“We play against Hungary in the last game, that’s where we want to be – in a similar situation where we know we can get a result and we can qualify.”

Who will they face if they make it out of the group?

Should Scotland cause a huge upset and win Group A, they would take on the runners-up in England’s group.

That likely means Denmark in the last 16, before qualiying nemeses Spain in the quarter-finals providing they top Group B.

If they finish second in the group, a last-16 tie against one of Spain, Italy or Croatia likely awaits. Come through that and it could be England in the quarter-finals. Yikes!

Finishing third in the group would probably result in drawing a similar high-profile name from Groups B, E or F – containing Spain, Belgium and Portugal respectively.

Who will be key for them?

Scotland are not short of household names we regularly see light up the Premier League but there are aerguably a few noticeable gaps in the side Clarke has to choose from.

Captain Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney majke up a strong left side, with Brighton creator Billy Gilmour also operating in those areas.

Jack Hendry and Nathan Patterson perhaps don’t offer the same threat on the right, creating something of an inbalance in the team.

That is not to say there isn’t plenty more quality elsewhere, with McTominay always coming alive for his national side, as does fellow advanced midfielder John McGinn who has just enjoyed a superb campaign for Aston Villa.

Those two will be tasked with taking the goalscoring burden away from a light set of goalscoring strikers, with Lyndon Dykes ruled out and Che Adams not a prolific No9.

Laurence Shankland certainly has been that with 31 goals for Hearts this season, however. The 31-year-old is full of confidence and may prove something of an unknown quantity on the continent.

Good vibes only

Despite a few disappointing results in the build-up to the tournament, Clarke has got no time for any negativity as they embark on another major tournament adventure.

He said: “Any time I read a little snippet from someone who wants to be a negative Norman I just dismiss it because what’s to be negative about?

“We’re going into another major tournament, the squad is in a good place and we’re all determined to do as well as we can for our country. Why not just relax and enjoy it?

“That’s what we’re going to try and do. Obviously we’ve got to try and produce the goods on the pitch and that’s what we’ll do.

“I just don’t understand why anyone would be negative about a second European Championships in a row and really good squad of players who have shown how good they are for their country.

“Let’s get behind them and give them a real chance.”

Verdict

Scotland have come on leaps and bounds in three years and the way they were comfortably swept aside at Euro 2020 – aside from THATΒ  England draw – is surely out of the question.

Clarke’s troops have a real chance of making history by reaching the knockout stages, something no other Scottish team has achieved, and they have as good a chance as Switzerland or Hungary in that group.

But troubling the bigger nations if they get there might just be a step too far.

Picture of Cian Cheesbrough

Cian Cheesbrough

Cian is a sports journalist with experience writing for national title, including LiveScore, MailOnline, Eurosport and Sky Sports. He has covered a number of key events during his time in the industry, including from the press box at live Champions League fixtures.

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