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Scotland Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Scotland Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this summer's Euro 2020 tournament, Sports Mole assesses the chances of Scotland, who are competing in their first major tournament for 23 years.
Sports Mole

Absence from a place among Europe's elite thus far this century has been a painful blow to Scotland, but for the first time in 23 years, the Tartan Army are back at a major tournament, hoping to achieve something they have never managed before, escaping the group stage.

Steve Clarke's side – ranked 44th in the world by FIFA – head into this summer's tournament full of confidence, but with the knowledge that they will need to be on top of their game if they are to advance from their challenging group.

Widespread attacking options may be lacking for Clarke, but he has plenty of strength in depth both in midfield and defence, particularly at left-back with talented duo Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney amongst the squad.

The Scots are not expected to win their group, but they are eager to advance from the group stage, with the hopes of causing one or two upsets along the way.

Here, Sports Mole provides an in-depth assessment of Scotland's chances at Euro 2020.


GROUP

Scotland qualified as a fourth seeded team for Euro 2020, and have been joined in Group D with rivals England, Croatia and the Czech Republic.

Football's oldest international fixture will take place for the 115th time in the middle of June, when the Tartan Army lock horns with the Three Lions at Wembley Stadium, a mouth-watering fixture that every fan is eager to see.

Scotland are also familiar with the Czechs, having faced them twice during their Nations League campaign between September and November 2020, winning on both occasions. However, the Scots will be less acquainted with Croatia, who they have only faced five times in their history, drawing three games and winning twice, most recently claiming a 2-0 victory in October 2013.

Clarke's side are the outsiders to advance from Group D and an impressive showing is required if they are to claim one of the four best third-placed positions up for grabs.

FIXTURES

June 14: Scotland vs. Czech Republic (2pm, Hampden Park, Glasgow)
June 18: England vs. Scotland (8pm, Wembley Stadium, London)
June 22: Croatia vs. Scotland (8pm, Hampden Park, Glasgow)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Scotland were drawn in qualification Group I along with Belgium, Russia, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino, and there was optimism before their campaign began that they could finally advance to a major finals.

The Tartan Army, however, suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat in their opening match to Kazakhstan. Slender victories against San Marino and Cyprus put them back on track, before their campaign was derailed by four successive defeats, losing twice each to Belgium and Russia by an aggregate of 13-1.

Scotland finished the group strongly with three wins in reverse fixtures against San Marino, Cyprus and Kazakhstan, but that was not enough to finish in the top two. In fact, the Scots finished a distant third in Group I, 15 points adrift of group winners Belgium and nine points behind Russia in second.

Hopes of qualification seemed to have faded, however, a further opportunity to qualify for Euro 2020 was provided through their success in the 2018-19 Nations League. They finished top of League C Group 1, promoting them to a higher group and also handing them a place in the Euro 2020 playoffs.

Scotland competed in Path C of the playoffs, winning their semi-final clash 5-3 on penalties against Israel, with Kenny McLean scoring the decisive spot-kick.

Their playoff final, which was held in Belgrade against Serbia, ended with a 5-4 penalty shootout triumph, with goalkeeper David Marshall saving the final spot-kick from Aleksandar Mitrovic, sending the Scots through to their first major tournament in over two decades.


RECENT FORM

Scotland head into Euro 2020 having lost only two of their last 16 international matches across all competitions.

The Tartan Army finished second in League B Group 2 of the Nations League – which took place between September and November 2020 – winning three of their six matches, including two against the Czech Republic, who they are to face in their opening Euro 2020 fixture.

They did, however, lose 1-0 in their final two matches to Slovakia and Israel, which ended their hopes of finishing at the summit.

Since those defeats, Scotland are unbeaten in their last five matches, including both of their pre-Euro 2020 warm-up encounters with the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

An impressive 2-2 draw against the Dutch on June 2 was shortly followed by a narrow 1-0 victory against a 10-man Luxembourg outfit, who rarely tested Clarke's side.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: David Marshall (Derby County), Craig Gordon (Heart of Midlothian), Jon McLaughlin (Rangers)

Defenders: Stephen O'Donnell (Motherwell), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool), Grant Hanley (Norwich City), Kieran Tierney (Arsenal), Greg Taylor (Celtic), Declan Gallagher (Motherwell), Liam Cooper (Leeds United), Nathan Patterson (Rangers), Jack Hendry (Celtic), Scott McKenna (Nottingham Forest)

Midfielders: Scott McTominay (Manchester United), John McGinn (Aston Villa),
Callum McGregor (Celtic), Ryan Christie (Celtic), John Fleck (Sheffield United), Stuart Armstrong (Southampton), David Turnbull (Celtic), Billy Gilmour (Chelsea)

Forwards: Lyndon Dykes (Queens Park Rangers), Che Adams (Southampton), Kevin Nisbet (Hibernian), Ryan Fraser (Newcastle United), James Forrest (Celtic)


STAR PLAYER - Andrew Robertson

In July 2012, an 18-year-old Andrew Robertson – who was working part-time on the tills at a supermarket – made his senior debut in the Scottish Challenge Cup for third division side Queen's Park. Fast forward nearly nine years later and the left-back is set to lead Scotland as captain at Euro 2020.

After being released by Celtic at Under-15 level for being too small, Robertson's meteoric rise since then has been remarkable and he has established himself as one of Europe's best left-backs. The 27-year-old has managed to claw his way to the very top, playing for Dundee United, Hull City and now Liverpool, where he has taken his game to a new level.

In the space of five months last year, Robertson was a key cog in Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool side that ended a 30-year wait for a top-flight title, and he also helped Scotland end a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament.

The Glasgow-born defender is a tireless, attacking left-back who will bomb up and down the left-flank and is sure to be one of Scotland's main creative outlets during the tournament, whipping in crosses for the likes of Dykes and Adams up front.

Robertson is the most capped outfield player (45) in Clarke's squad and his presence for the Tartan Army will be invaluable this summer.


MANAGER - Steve Clarke

Steve Clarke becomes the first man since Craig Brown to lead the Scottish national team at a major tournament, and the Saltcoats native will take his place in the dugout with immense pride.

Before stepping into management, Clarke began his playing career with St Mirren, prior to spending 11 years and making over 400 appearances in defence for Chelsea. He won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup Winner's Cup with the Blues and also received six caps for the Tartan Army.

After three managerial roles with West Bromwich Albion, Reading and Kilmarnock, Clarke succeeded Alex McLeish as Scotland head coach in May 2019. The 57-year-old may not be recognised as a big-name manager in the game, but he has achieved wherever he has been.

Clarke led the Baggies to their highest Premier League finish in 2012-13, before he helped Reading reach their first FA Cup semi-final in 88 years in 2014. In addition, Clarke guided Kilmarnock to a club-record points tally in the Scottish Premiership in 2017-18 – a campaign in which he was also named SFWA Manager of the Year – before ending 23 years of hurt for Scotland by qualifying for Euro 2020.

Belief and confidence has been instilled into this Scotland squad by Clarke, and he feels they can surprise many at this summer's tournament.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Group stage (1992, 1996)

Scotland made their European Championship debut in 1992, and also qualified for Euro 1996. However, in both major tournaments, they were eliminated in the group stage, finishing third on each occasion.

The Tartan Army finished behind eventual runners-up Germany and group winners the Netherlands in 1992, winning their only match against the Soviet Union. Four years later, they were victorious against Switzerland but finished behind the Netherlands again as well as bitter rivals England, who beat them 2-0 at Wembley Stadium, with goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne.

Since then, Scotland have tried and failed to progress to the finals, but were able to finally qualify for this summer's tournament, where they will make their third appearance.

The Scots have never advanced beyond the group stage of any major tournament, failing to do so in all 10 previous attempts.


PREDICTION

Steve Clarke and his players are confident that they can cause one or two upsets at Euro 2020 and become the first Scotland side to progress to the knockout stages of a major tournament.

However, with both England and Croatia to face in Group D, their chances of securing a top-two spot are slim, and even though they recently beat the Czech Republic, they could prove to be tougher opponents this time around.

Claiming one of the four best third-placed positions is seemingly their most realistic target this summer, though achieving this may prove too big a challenge to overcome.

VERDICT: Fourth in Group D
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