NO Sir, they can’t boogie. Scotland failed to dance the dance as Croatia waltzed into the second round thanks to the genius of Luka Modric. He has all the moves.
The captain’s goal to give his side a 2-1 lead was a show-stopper, a first-time whip with the outside of his right boot from 20 yards. Only he, you suspect, would be capable of such among those on the pitch.
For Scotland, it means another group-stage exit. They were valiant in defeat, but aren’t they always?
Croatia booked their place in the last 16 of the Euros with a 3-1 win over Scotland in their final group game at Hampden Park
The Tartan Army failed to make the knockout stage for the first time as they finished bottom of Group D with one point
Goals from Nikola Vlasic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic was enough to give the visitors all three points on Tuesday night
Modric scored a stunning goal to put Croatia 2-1 ahead in the 62nd minute as the captain led by example once again
It was a valiant effort from Steve Clarke’s side but they were unable to find a way back into the game after going behind again
The players were given a fantastic reception from the fans inside Hampden Park despite not progressing to the last 16
Callum McGregor’s splendid goal shortly before half-time cancelled out Nikola Vlasic’s opener and, for a short while, you sensed a historic night in the making. That was until Modric intervened just after the hour before his corner was headed in by Ivan Perisic for a third on 77 minutes.
Yes, the immediate reason for Scotland’s elimination lies in their failure to beat Croatia. But, perhaps more so, it was the missed opportunity against Czech Republic during last week’s Group D opener.
Steve Clarke got his team wrong and Scotland lost. He thought the criticism of that performance was unfair. He had a point, they did not play terribly.
But major tournaments do not allow for unfortunate defeats. As we now know, it has cost them dear.
Major finals are about evolution, and just when we thought Scotland were maturing from boys to men after their draw with England, the naivety of that Czech defeat returned, at a time when a street-wise exterior was needed.
Scotland have long since bemoaned their luck at major tournaments, a narrative of glorious failure pre-dating the birth of the current squad.
It was a nightmare start for Scotland as Nikola Vlasic put Croatia ahead in the 17th minute with a strike from inside the box
Callum McGregor equalised for Scotland in the first half with a fantastic right-footed strike from the edge of the box
It was the Celtic midfielder’s first international goal and the first time the Scot had managed to find the net in the tournament
To that end, the loss of their Wembley hero Billy Gilmour, to Covid-19 on the eve of this game, felt entirely in keeping with those age-old tales of woe. They call it the ‘Scotland Way’ in these parts, an uncanny knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Clarke, though, was right when he said that Scotland could not be weighed down by history, nor wallow in the loss of Gilmour. They had, after all, qualified for Euro 2020 before their young midfielder had even won his first cap.
And Clarke’s team knew what they had to do. While the world, quite understandably, celebrated Denmark’s goal glut with relish on Monday evening, it was met with relief in Scotland. Relief that their task had been simplified – beat Croatia and they’re into the next round. Save the third-placed permutations for folk in Finland and Ukraine.
To achieve that, they would have to score a goal. Before last night, they were the only team at this tournament yet to do so.
As if offended by the isolation of that statistic, Scotland started as if they had a minute to win it. They won a corner inside 10 seconds – goals are often celebrated with less fervour – and had another thirty seconds later, sending the mercury rising inside Hampden.
But just as Scotland were coming to the boil, Croatia scored on 17 minutes. Josip Juranovic crossed from the right, Ivan Perisic climbed higher than Stephen O’Donnell and returned a header for Nikola Vlasic, unforgivably unmarked 10 yards out. He duly swiped into the bottom corner.
A chill air of inevitability descended as Scottish hope began to evaporate, only to be sucked back inside when McGregor strode onto a scruffy Croatia clearance and hit the back of the net from 18 yards. Those in the stands hit the roof. Some of them even cried. They had waited 23 years for that goal.
John McGinn came agonisingly close to putting Scotland ahead at 1-1 but was unable to guide the ball past Dominik Livakovic
Che Adams almost put Scotland ahead in the first half but he was unable to get on the end of Andy Robertson’s cross
Croatia finish second in Group D, behind England, and will play the runners-up of Group E in the last-16 next Monday
Not since the days of dial-up internet had they scored at a major tournament. Thankfully for them, McGregor’s connection was far more reliable.
Three minutes later and the half-time whistle was met with the strength of roar usually reserved for victory. Scotland believed.
But such belief is fragile when up against a midfield of Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic. Croatia had 69 per cent of the ball in the first half and, while they did little with it bar their goal, that was a different story in the second half.
Modric played a lofted pass of such ingenuity that Scotland’s defenders were contorting their bodies in an attempt to track its flight. They failed and were left in a tangled mess as Perisic raced clear, only to be denied a goal when David Marshall dashed from his line to smother the shot.
But that resistance would not last. This, as ever, was the Scotland Way.
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