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History within reach for Scotland at Euro 2024 despite tough draw

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Scotland’s aim in this summer’s European Championship in Germany has been well-publicised and some may say is less than onerous.

Steve Clarke’s side will look to become the first men’s team in dark blue to qualify out of their group to reach the knockout stages of a major tournament.

It will be Scotland’s fourth attempt to do so at a Euros following unsuccessful sojourns in 1992, 1996 and 2020 and to achieve their goal they will probably have to get at least one win in a group that includes hosts Germany, Switzerland and Hungary.

Of the 24 teams who make up the six pools, only eight depart at the end of the group games. Group winners, runners-up and the best four third-placed teams will advance to the last 16.

The statistics ahead of the friendly double-header against Gibraltar in Portugal and Finland at Hampden Park showed a seven-game winless run for the first time since between 2004-05.

Steve Clarke will guide Scotland in Germany
Steve Clarke will guide Scotland in Germany (Getty Images)

Although this recent run of poor results included games against France, England, Spain and the Netherlands, which Clarke can rightly use as mitigation, the 1-0 defeat by a young Northern Ireland side at Hampden Park on March 26 was perhaps cause for some reassessment of ambitions.

Clarke named a provisional 28-man squad as he looks at players who are on their way back from injury or who have not had a lot of game time with their clubs.

The big hitters such as Scott McTominay, John McGinn, Andy Robertson, Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney are all there but there was a late blow with the devastating injury sustained at training by striker Lyndon Dykes which rules him out of the competition.

The injury leaves Clarke with only Che Adams and Lawrence Shankland as recognised centre-forwards in a squad which will be cut to 26 after Scotland’s final warm-up game against Finland on Friday night.

Concerns are over the right full-back position where Everton’s Nathan Patterson and Brentford’s Aaron Hickey have been ruled out through injury along with Bologna midfielder Lewis Ferguson.

Scotland enjoyed a good qualifying campaign
Scotland enjoyed a good qualifying campaign (Action Images via Reuters)

Anthony Ralston has regularly featured in Scotland squads, but is not first-choice right-back for Celtic.

Bristol City’s uncapped right-back Ross McCrorie has been drafted in along with Celtic winger James Forrest, who has had a terrific end to the season, and he returns after winning his last cap three years ago in the previous Euros.

Norwich goalkeeper Angus Gunn has made the number one spot his own. Veteran Craig Gordon is fit again and he and Hearts team-mate Zander Clark, who had largely kept him out of the team at Tynecastle, joins Liam Kelly in the fight to get on the plane, unless the former West Brom and Kilmarnock boss takes all four.

Clarke is famously loyal to his players, which is one reason why midfielder Ryan Jack, who is leaving Rangers and who has not played since March 7, will be assessed along with others who have recently returned from injury such as Southampton playmaker Stuart Armstrong, who was taken off on a stretcher late on in a 2-1 defeat to Cardiff in April.

Norwich centre-back Grant Hanley was included despite an injury-disrupted campaign and John Souttar missed Rangers’ last three games of the season.

While there is a familiarity about Clarke’s squad there is one wild card.

Scotland Under-21 winger Ben Doak, 18, has been handed his first full national team call-up despite the Liverpool youngster having spent most of 2024 recovering from a knee injury picked up in December.

Liverpool youngster Ben Doak has been included in Scotland’s 28-man provisional Euros squad
Liverpool youngster Ben Doak has been included in Scotland’s 28-man provisional Euros squad (Getty Images)

Clarke is excited about the pace of the confident former Celtic player and that will probably see him make the trip to Germany, where Scotland play the hosts in the opening game on June 14.

While there may yet still be additions and tinkering, this time, surely, the group stages do not again represent the start and end of the tournament for Scotland.

PA

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