Scotland are out of Euro 2020 after a 3-1 defeat by Croatia at Hampden saw Steve Clarke’s side end their return to a major tournament bottom of Group D with a single point.
A masterclass from Luka Modric saw the Croatians secure their place in the last 16 and deny Scotland a historic place in the next round and build on the positivity surrounding the national team.
There was one change for Scotland from the heroic draw with England at Wembley, Stuart Armstrong coming into the side to replace Billy Gilmour after the Chelsea wonderkid’s positive Covid test.
For Croatia, there were four changes from their clash with the Czech Republic, Juranović replacing Vrsaljko on the left of defence, with Vlašić in for Brekalo on the wing and Rebić making way for Petković as the lone striker.
A sunny Glasgow night saw Hampden roaring as Clarke’s side looked to make history and qualify from the group stages from the first time, with the small task of beating the 2018 World Cup finalists all that stood between the Tartan Army and a place in the last 16.
Unsurprisingly, Scotland were on the front foot right away, winning a corner within the opening 15 seconds, and putting pressure on the Croatians early on and forcing the keeper to clear the danger with a punch.
Croatia were not just at Hampden to make up the numbers though and Zlatko Dalic’s side found themselves in the same position as the Scots, knowing only a win would be enough to keep them in the tournament.
With five minutes gone, Che Adams almost grabbed an opener when a delightful ball in from John McGinn on the left was just beyond the Southampton star’s reach as Livaković scrambled to avoid it sneaking in at his back post.
The chances for Scotland kept coming as Adams and Lyndon Dykes linked well, the QPR striker winning the ball for Adams to have an effort from distance as the Croatians struggled to get control of the game and offer any real threat.
As the game slowed a little from the frenetic early pace, Scotland looked the more comfortable of the two sides – in and out of possession – before the Croatians’ quality shone through to make it 1-0 and momentarily silence Hampden.
A deep cross was won by Ivan Perisic ahead of the blissfully unaware Stephen O’Donnell, and the knock-down was rifled low into the net by Nikola Vlasic as several Scotland defenders desperately scrambled to get in front of it.
It was the first real spell in the game where Dalic’s side were allowed to dictate the tempo of the game, Scotland seeming happy to let them have control of the ball, and they took advantage of some poor positioning by the Scottish defence.
The goal played right into Croatia’s hands – beyond the obvious – with Scotland now having to really go at it in search of goals and Clarke’s side looked up for the challenge, sparking life back into the Hampden crowd.
Scotland’s high press forced the first booking of the game, Dejan Lovren going into the book and leaving the defender vulnerable, giving away a dangerous free-kick for a wild swipe that left Adams sprawled on the pitch, however, Armstrong’s set-piece came to nothing and the danger passed.
While there were definitely some positives for Scotland in the opening 30 minutes, several players in Dark Blue fell well below the performance levels of Friday night against England at Wembley – the absence of Billy Gilmour also being sorely felt.
12 minutes before the break, there was a big blow for Scotland as Grant Hanley limped off with what appeared to be a knee injury with Scott McKenna taking his place in defence – his first involvement of Euro 2020 earning him a booking.
The drop intensity from earlier in the game only benefited Croatia heading towards the break, Luka Modric taking control and pulling the strings in midfield; looking to extend what is likely to be his final major tournament just a little bit longer.
Just as the 12,000 fans started to look towards the Argentinian referee, Callum McGregor finally knocked Craig Burley off his perch as the last Scotland player to score at a major tournament, firing home from the edge of the area and blowing the roof off the national stadium.
🏴 Yes, Callum!#EURO2020 | #SCOpic.twitter.com/vDfCcI6XBr
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) June 22, 2021
With neither side making any changes at the break, both sides knew they needed to score as Hampden boogied and Scotland simply couldn’t afford to be as wasteful in front of goal as they had in the opening 45.
The quarter-full Hampden roared every challenge made by Clarke’s side, but the Croatians almost found a breakthrough when Gvardiol found himself one-on-one with David Marshall and coming off second-best.
Marshall again came up trumps for Scotland, pulling off a great reaction save before Perisic was flagged for offside as Croatia ramped up the pressure in search of a second.
Just two minutes later, Scotland should have been in front, McGinn getting on the end of a cross at the back post but failing to get the ball under control – opting to go with his left foot when it looked easier to take it on the other.
As the game headed into the final 30 minutes, Clarke could only have been praying that misses like McGinn’s and Adams’ in the first half wouldn’t come back and haunt his side at the end.
It didn’t take long for him to get his answer as Luka Modric scored a stunning effort with the outside of his boot to make it 2-1 and leave Scotland needing to score twice in just over 25 minutes.
The moment it left the Real Madrid star’s foot, there was only one place it was going with David Marshall doing his best to keep it out but even the Derby County keeper will have known his attempt at saving it was going to be futile.
Leaving him with so much room on the edge of the area was madness on Scotland’s behalf and Modric didn’t need to break stride to unleash his stunning effort into the top corner.
WHAT. A. GOAL.
A wonderful strike from the 𝗺𝗮𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗼 Luka Modrić 👏#ITVFootball #Euro2020 #CROSCO pic.twitter.com/OY5PLYCwAN
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) June 22, 2021
As the energy from the Tartan Army in the stands lagged, Scotland started to get a bit more control of the game again, moving the ball around but doing little with it in midfield.
Clarke turned to his subs for the final 20 minutes, Stuart Armstrong coming off after a disappointing performance to be replaced by Ryan Fraser while Croatia made a change that saw Andrej Kramaric come on for Petkovic – with Gvadiol limping off to be replaced by Rangers defender Borna Barisic seconds later.
Another change by Croatia five minutes later saw more fresh legs added but they wouldn’t be needed in truth as it was 3-1 just minutes later, Perisic’s flicked header leaving Marshall rooted to the spot as it sailed in at the back post.
There would be one final, late throw of the dice for Scotland, Kevin Nisbet and Nathan Patterson coming on for the last six minutes but the only positive to be taken was the fact Patterson becomes the only teen to wear the dark blue at a major finals.
With that, the air was sucked out of the nation’s collective lungs as Scotland’s return to a major tournament ended the same way as the last one.
Hopefully, we’re not waiting 23 years until we get to do this again though.
Scotland: Marshall, McTominay, Hanley (McKenna 33′), Tierney, O’Donnell (Patterson 84′), McGregor, Armstrong (Fraser 70), McGinn, Robertson, Adams (84′), Dykes.
Subs: Gordon, McLaughlin, Christie, Fleck, Gallagher, Cooper, Turnbull, Forrest.
Croatia: Livakovic, Perisic (Rebic 81′), Lovren, Kovacic, Modric, Brozovic, Vlasic (Ivanusec 76′), Petkovic (Kramaric 70′), Vida, Juranovic, Gvardiol (Barisic 70).
Subs: Kalinic, Sluga, Vrsaljko, Caleta-Car, Pasalic, Badelj, Brekalo, Budimir.
Referee: Fernando Andres Rapallini (ARG)
Assistant referees: Juan Pablo Belatti (ARG), Diego Yamil Bonfa (ARG)
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