A Generational Chance at History – Scotland vs Serbia Preview

Scotland are one game away from their first major tournament this millennium, with a playoff final against Serbia being all that separates them from 2021’s European Championships. But, we’ve been here before. Jack Donnelly examines how Scotland have played under Steve Clarke and speaks on behalf of his generation to highlight just what this match means.

Scotland took one step towards qualification back in October after defeating Israel in a penalty shootout, with the game ending 0-0 after extra time.

Hope. Time and time again, the Scotland National Team have given us hope, before snatching it back, dropping it to the ground and having Charlie Mulgrew slide tackle it. As a nation, we’ve been beaten down and discarded for the best part of 25 years – so much so, that an entire generation have missed out on seeing the Scotland Men’s National Team compete at a major international tournament. However, this could all change on Thursday night – and yes, I’m hopeful.

By 9:30pm on Thursday night, we’ll know whether or not Scotland will be competing at the 2020 (postponed to 2021) European Championships after competing in a playoff final against fellow hopefuls Serbia. Years of going without the chance to support our country at a major tournament have been tough to get through. Now, we’re just one game away.

Something about this just feels different. I’m typically quite pessimistic about Scotland – not very patriotic, I know – but something about this game has me more excited than I’ve been about a Scotland game in a very long time and I’m not entirely sure as to what the differentiating factor is.

It could be the fact that this is one of the most talented Scotland squads that we’ve had in a very long time. While it’s become a running joke that our best players all seem to play left back, it’s genuinely refreshing to know that Steve Clarke has two top-level players in Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson to pick from, while also having the likes of Greg Taylor at his disposal as an understudy to both.

Our midfield is a deep well of talent, with players like John McGinn, Callum McGregor, Ryan Jack, Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Christie all giving the manager a headache as to who starts. Lyndon Dykes has come into the national team set-up and has been nothing short of brilliant – he’s willing to battle and run himself into the ground for his team, his physical presence up front has been something we’ve been sorely lacking and it also helps that he knows how to find the back of the net.

John McGinn has fast become a fan favourite amongst the Tartan Army, and has become a mainstay in Steve Clarke’s midfield, with the Aston Villa man possessing the attacking capability to drive the team forward from the middle of the park.
(Photo Credit – Robbie Jay Barratt, Getty Images)

David Marshall’s performances over the last 12 months as Steve Clarke’s first choice goalkeeper have eradicated any worries of our goalkeeping security following Allan McGregor’s international retirement. Long story short, there’s not an area of this Scotland team that fills me with genuine dread – that’s a glowing achievement in itself.

It could also be down to the way that Scotland are playing under Steve Clarke, coupled with the fact that we’ve not lost a game since October 2019. Clarke was praised for the job he did at Kilmarnock, turning them into one of the hardest teams in the country to beat and leading them to a third place finish in the Scottish Premiership in the 2018/19 season, defeating Rangers at home on the final day to secure European football for the first time in over a decade. Under Clarke, Scotland have become a very tough team to break down, exemplified in their last three performances, keeping three consecutive clean sheets.

With Clarke playing a more reserved formation, utilising wing backs alongside three central defenders, the side is built to soak up pressure and nullify any potential attacking threats, before regaining possession and breaking quickly up the flanks. If not, Lyndon Dykes’ impressive hold-up play allow him to be an option from a long ball out from defence, with John McGinn, Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong all being excellent midfield options to pick up a Dykes lay-off and drive the team forward.

While Scotland haven’t scored any more than they’ve needed to in their last few games, winning most by one goal margins, there are plenty of players in the camp to be able to test opposition goalkeepers. Ryan Fraser is set to be a huge loss for this game, as he had seemed to slot in very nicely, playing off of Dykes in a classic “little and large” strike partnership, but players like Christie have played in a “shadow striker” role before, so Clarke has competent options to replace the Newcastle man already in the squad.

Look, I’m not going to go on record and say that we’ll absolutely be seeing Scotland competing at the Euros next summer. I can’t get my hopes up, because it’ll be all the more painful if we fail to qualify. But there’s just something about this game… something I really can’t explain. Of course, I’m nervous, but I’m also quietly confident – when I usually wouldn’t be. Part of me thinks that after 21 years on this planet without having the chance to cheer on my country at a major tournament, something somehow has to give eventually.

You’ve got an entire generation behind you, Scotland. Please – don’t let us down.

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