The scars from the past European Championship still lingered in the hearts of Scottish football fans. The long wait since 1998 for their national team to grace a major tournament had finally ended, only to be marred by the pandemic’s 12-month delay. The initial euphoria of a hard-fought draw with England quickly faded as a 3-1 loss to Croatia left them searching for answers.
On June 23, 2021, Steve Clarke bade farewell to his squad as their Euro 2020 adventure came to an end, with just a single point from three games. Scotland’s place in the football hierarchy was once again questioned. Meanwhile, England sailed through, ultimately reaching the final. Clarke, the determined leader, retreated into solitude, nursing his disappointment.
A World Cup playoff defeat against Ukraine compounded the misery, but it also fueled Scotland’s hunger for redemption. Fast forward to today, and Scotland stands as European Championship qualifiers once more. The simplicity of this achievement is indeed remarkable.
Scotland’s qualification this time had a touch of serendipity, as a match between Norway and Spain confirmed their spot in Germany next summer. Still, it would be unjust to label this campaign as reliant on fate. With five victories in five games, including impressive wins against Spain and Norway, Scotland’s path to qualification seemed inevitable.
Steve Clarke’s ambition extends beyond mere qualification. He aims to win Group A and, more importantly, prove that this squad can deliver better results in the tournament itself. The scars of past underperformance still linger, and there is an opportunity to create history. No Scottish team has ever advanced from the group stage in the Euros or the World Cup, but the expanded European Championship format offers a chance to break new ground.
Clarke has created more than results; his impact extends far beyond results and into inspiring a nation through football. Scotland now has a team to be proud of and players feel like part of something bigger – core members like Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Callum McGregor, John McGinn and Scott McTominay have become experienced international footballers with caps milestones being reached alongside belonging to a successful Scotland squad.
Under Clarke’s guidance, there’s a shift from hope to expectation among Scotland’s players. They no longer see themselves as perennial underdogs but as contenders. The Scotland of today has a swagger when facing strong opponents, as seen in their impressive victory over Spain. Despite a narrow defeat in Seville, they weren’t outclassed. An unjustly disallowed goal could have sealed their qualification earlier.
One of the most impressive displays came against Cyprus, where Scotland dismantled their opponents with composure and ease. No longer do they crumble under the weight of expectation as teams of the past often did.
Looking ahead, Clarke’s focus is firmly on preparations for a friendly against France in Lille. Scotland’s matches against France and England were chosen with the Nations League in mind. These performances have elevated Scotland to the top tier, where they’ll compete with the continent’s finest. Despite England’s dominance in Glasgow, it was overshadowed by their vital win in Cyprus.
Steve Clarke deserves time to savor this latest achievement, but the ghosts of 2021 continue to drive the Scottish team. As they prepare to face Europe’s best once again, they do so with renewed hope, ambition, and a determination to make their mark on the international stage.