I don’t take coffee, I take whisky, my dear. As an Englishman living in Scotland, I just want to say congratulations and slainte to the Scottish national team on qualifying for the European Championships next year.
Not only is it great to see our dearest rivals back on the big stage after an absence of 22 years, but the fact they will be in England’s group makes it even more special. International football needs these fixtures and if it’s anything like the meeting in Euro ’96, we are in for a treat.
There will be the usual cross-border banter flying around for sure, with England being expected to triumph, especially at our Wembley home – but write off the Scots at your peril. You only need to cast your mind back to the two sides’ last meeting in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, when Harry Kane spared England’s blushes very late on after Leigh Griffiths turned all Lionel Messi with the free-kicks.
You also have to factor in that, while England has an embarrassment of riches going forward, the days of Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, John Terry and David Seaman at the back are long gone. It’s a vulnerable position and one Gareth Southgate has still to satisfactorily address in my humble opinion.
Anyway, this isn’t about England, it’s about Scotland.
Manager Steve Clarke deserves credit, yes. He lofted West Brom to the peak of the Premier League for a time, he took Kilmarnock from relegation fodder to European football, and he has now taken Scotland to a first major tournament for 22 years.
However, he could have also cost them the latter. I was as amazed as my (Scottish) wife and children at the comfort with which Scotland handled Serbia for 80 minutes of the match last night. This was jeopardised when Clarke elected to take off Lyndon Dykes, Ryan Christie and John McGinn – all of who were instrumental in the ball sticking around in Serbia’s half – to replace them with Callum Paterson, Oli McBurnie and Kenny McLean. The likes of Paterson are fit and can run around, but the ball started coming back at Scotland more and more after their introduction and led to that inevitable last-minute equaliser from Real Madrid’s Luka Jovic.
It’s not just a Scottish thing to concede so late – I would be worried for any team having to face 30 minutes of extra time after that kind of gut punch. The worry was warranted. Serbia raised their game and David Marshall pulled off a magnificent save to ensure the match at least went to penalties.
As an Englishman, my aversion to penalties needs no introduction, and perhaps that’s something the Scots can teach us when it comes to football! Marshall’s save from Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović was magnificent. And here’s a lesson for you – don’t watch a shootout with the volume on mute. Why was it on mute? Too long and boring to explain, but it was on mute and, consequently, it initially appeared to me that David Marshall was amusingly unaware of the feat he had just pulled off in saving that final penalty. As it transpired, he was merely waiting for that bloody VAR thing to confirm he hadn’t committed any tomfoolery away from his goal line. Once again, technology delaying a reaction that should be immediate and natural. Not that anyone in Scotland will care about that now. I can still hear the good people of Cambuslang cheering.