Scotland had to wait 23 years to play at a major tournament. Not many of The Tartan Army made it to Euro 2020, though, with Covid-19 restrictions at the time restricting the number of fans for matches at Hampden Park. Euro 2024, however, could be very different. Scotland might not be hosting the party in Germany, but they could still bring it.
Five wins from five matches have put Steve Clarke’s team top of Group A in Euro 2024 qualifying. A point against Spain on Thursday night will be enough to confirm Scotland’s place at next summer’s tournament. Even if that doesn’t happen, a Spain win or draw against Norway on Sunday would also complete the job.
Qualification would highlight how far Scotland have come since Euro 2020. Three years ago, qualification for a major tournament came too early for a group of players that was still being forged into a team unit. Scotland qualified through a playoff that went to a penalty shootout. This time, they are cruising to qualification.
Clarke has settled on a system that gets the best out of his players. Scott McTominay embodies this better than anyone else in the Scotland team. At Euro 2020, the Manchester United player was used as a central defender. Now, he an attack-minded chaos merchant with an incredible six goals in five qualifiers.
At Euro 2020, Clarke was still figuring out how to fit Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney into the same line-up. Tierney was used as a centre back and even on the right side of the defence. Since then, though, the pair have been deployed down the left side with Tierney on the left side of a back three where he can still get forward. The system is perfect for the pair.
Aaron Hickey has emerged as a reliable Premier League performer meaning Stephen O’Donnell – a limited Scottish Premiership player for Motherwell – no longer has to play at right back. Jack Hendry and Ryan Porteous have also established a strong understanding in the backline. Scotland’s current team, who have kept four clean sheets in five qualifiers, is built on strong foundations.
In midfield, John McGinn has been harnessed as Scotland’s primary difference-maker with the Aston Villa man now among the country’s all-time top scorers. Billy Gilmour made his Scotland debut in a goalless draw against England at Euro 2020, but he is now a proven member of the national team and often the controller at the base of Clarke’s midfield unit.
Che Adams only played one match for Scotland before Euro 2020. Lyndon Dykes had played a handful more, but Clarke’s attack was still a work-in-progress three years ago. Three years on, the pair have contributed to Scotland’s upward trajectory. Adams and Dykes offer something different and Clarke knows how to use both with the latter an international football talisman.
It’s not just Euro 2024 qualification that would highlight how far Scotland have come. Scotland also won their last Nations League group which means they will be a League A team when the competition comes around again. Scotland won’t be short of opportunities to test themselves at the top level over the next couple years.
First, though, Clark and his players must find a way to punch their ticket to Germany. Scotland have done the majority of the hard work in qualification, but the line is still to be crossed. Once it is, though, Scotland should start plotting how they can have a similar impact on Euro 2024 itself. Qualification might be the start of something even more special for this team.