Charlie Christie – Sit back and enjoy the ride with Scotland
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Tonight’s match in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico between Italy and Turkey will see the start of the Covid delayed UEFA European Championships which will culminate on July 11 at Wembley and what a month of football it promises to be.
We would all agree 23 years is far too long a stretch for Scotland to miss out on a top international football tournament.
But, as our opening match beckons, you can feel the excitement build in the nation and what a fantastic feeling it is.
Our opening match on Monday against the Czech Republic gives us the opportunity to get off to a good start in Group D. But the Czechs have undoubted ability in their squad with West Ham’s Tomas Soucek the pick of the bunch. The 6’4’’ midfielder has had a terrific season at West Ham and is a real threat at attacking set plays.
Scotland boss Steve Clarke will be acutely aware of this and giving away silly free kicks and corners will be something we can’t afford to do as, along with Soucek, the Czechs have a real aerial threat alongside quality set play delivery.
However, we are more than capable of causing them problems and Clarke will be desperate to see a repeat of that fantastic performance we produced away in Serbia which got us here.
As he openly admits he has one or two selection decisions to make but I would be surprised if he doesn’t go along similar lines to that night in Serbia giving us that extra man in midfield when we don’t have the ball.
A positive result would be a great way to kick off our campaign as the squad look to be the first to progress to the knockout stages.
England line up against Croatia at Wembley and with ‘home’ advantage I would expect Gareth Southgate’s men to come out on top of a tight affair.
Croatia will have other ideas though and will look to their 2-1 win in the 2018 World Cup semi-final as inspiration and, with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric orchestrating a very experienced side, they will pose a serious challenge especially with their counter attacking ability and never say die attitude.
As I studied the other groups it was immediately apparent the challenges facing the ‘smaller’ footballing nations as they try to progress. Hungary who, like us, qualified via the Nations League play-off route have been ‘rewarded’ with a berth in Group F alongside Germany, France and Portugal.
The Hungarians are facing three potential tournament winners although they do play the French and Portuguese on home soil in Budapest which will give them some comfort.
Interestingly, the winners of our group, Group D will play the runners-up in that group in the first knock-out phase whereas the Group D runners-up have a potentially easier fixture against the runners up in Group E although the permutations are endless.
From a Scottish perspective the fact that the four best third placed teams also qualify for the knockout stages presents a real opportunity.
But we may well require four points or more to get there and that is a significant challenge.
After the ‘head in your hands’ memories of playing Iran and Peru at the World Cup in Argentina in 1978, against the Soviet Union in Spain in 1982 and against Morocco in France in 1998, it is important not to get carried away.
But the main thing is we are there and we have a chance so let’s all enjoy the ride!