SCOTLAND’S EURO 2024 CAMPAIGN

DO WE DARE TO DREAM?

Michael Hamilton

To support Scotland in most sports requires the same amount of durability and resilience as a journeyman boxer. Brief moments of joy give you just enough hope to keep coming back for more, even if the entire experience has a certain degree of inevitability that you’re getting knocked out. My time as a fan has seen us draw level with Brazil at France ’98 only to see us lose to a Tom Boyd own goal; win a penalty against England only for it to be saved and to then watch Gazza run up the pitch and score that goal; and let’s not even go there with Leigh Griffiths and Harry Kane! This Euros campaign, we thought maybe the tide had turned. Incredible displays against Spain and Cyprus were backed up with gutsy wins against Norway and Georgia allowing Scotland to seal major tournament qualification number four in my 38 years on earth. That’s the hope I was talking about, but after a run of seven games without a win, has that feeling of inevitability now arrived? Scotland face Germany, Switzerland and Hungary at Euro 2024 and I have looked at all three teams to see if this is the case, or if we can still be hopeful.

Scotland face the tournament hosts in the opening match on 14th June. As hosts, Germany did not need to qualify, but with an incredible record in major tournaments and a recent turn up in form they can never be taken lightly. With only three wins from 11 games in 2023 the German national team was in crisis. Hansi Flick was sacked, the first time Germany has ever sacked a head coach since the role was created, and Julian Nagelsmann took over until the end of the Euros. They have won four out of their last seven, beating France twice in that spell, and also Scotland’s recent conquerors, the Netherlands. Their squad is full of star quality – Leroy Sane, Toni Rudiger and Jamal Musiala to name a few. Luring Toni Kroos out of retirement could be a master stroke from Nagelsmaan as having watched him live for Madrid this season he is still an incredible footballer. Joshua Kimmich is still their star man even if he now features at right back, and in Kai Havertz, they now have a player full of confidence and more worryingly for Scotland, full of goals.

We all know that Scotland usually perform better against the good teams, but can we beat Germany for the first time in 25 years? I’m sadly not so sure. I’m predicting a 3-1 Germany victory with a Scott McTominay header opening the scoring, sprinkling that hope and joy before Germany prevail.

Game two sees us up against Switzerland. Finishing second to Romania in a qualification group that I’m confident Scotland would have qualified from, Switzerland don’t come into the tournament in a rich vein of form either. One win in their last six is a concern for Switzerland, especially when the standard of opponent has been nowhere near that of Scotland or Germany. Their squad is a mixture of experience and young talent with Shaqiri still pulling the strings and Granit Xhaka flourishing at 32 years of age in an excellent Bayern Leverkusen team. Zeki Amdouni only has five goals in the EPL for Burnley this season but his six goals in qualifying shows he must be taken seriously. Their star man is Manuel Akanji, the former Dortmund man who has been integral for Manchester City this season, and in Fabian Schar they have a centre half with an eye for goal.

After watching them in qualifying for this tournament and their sluggish 1-0 win over Ireland, I’m feeling unusually confident for this game and going for Scotland 2-0. I think our preparation has been better, playing better teams, and even if we didn’t get the results, the confidence from some of our displays will be too much for the Swiss.

This will bring us nicely full of hope to the Hungary game, and we wouldn’t have it any other way! Hungary topped their group in qualification but, like Switzerland, a group devoid of quality and one I would have expected Scotland to also top. Even though the opponents may not have been to the same standard they are coming into Euro 2024 high on confidence. They last tasted defeat in 2022 and have had two great qualifying runs in a row, putting England and Germany out of the last Nations League as well. A team not littered with stars but a great team, and in Dominic Szoboszlai they have a star player. A good first season in the Premiership will have helped his game and he is clearly the player Scotland must be most wary of in Germany, even if his form has dipped like the rest of the Liverpool team in the last few weeks. Scotland fans will also be permitted to think that one of Hungary’s strikers is one of our own. Martin Adam not only has a Scottish name but looks like a Scotsman as well!

I’m feeling optimistic about this one as well, and I’m going for 1-0 Scotland with 30 nervy minutes of backs to the wall defending, sealing our first qualification from the group stage of a major tournament.

Of course, due to the fact that I’m feeling confident, my hopes will probably be dashed like they always are, but I’ll dare to dream. I think our squad is in pretty good shape, with Hickey and Gilmour set for pre-tournament returns, Che Adams in good goal scoring form and captain, John McGinn, having another fantastic season at Aston Villa. Ryan Christie has been a big surprise for me this season, his performances at Bournemouth have been excellent and I’d love to see him play just off the striker against Switzerland and Hungary, and for Scotland to have a real go. If we can start this tournament more confidently than Euro 2020 where I feel the big occasion got to us in the opening game, we will be right there in every game and this group of players could deliver the best result the national team has ever had.

Whatever happens, the support will be immense, Germany will fall in love with the Tartan Army and Super Ally’s superlatives will fill our living rooms as we watch on in hope. Will we hear the usual phrase of “Scotland can still mathematically qualify if…” or will this time be different, will we throw the punch you don’t see coming? I’m hopeful, more so than I have been at any other time as a Scotland fan. Either way, I’m ready for another Scotland rollercoaster because one thing is for sure, it’s never boring!