Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Euro 2020 Day 12: Maestro Modric Sinks the Scots

Scotland 1:3 Croatia

Scotland scored at last, but the Hampden roar was muted when Croatia finally found their form and sent their hosts out of the Euros.

The home fans could have no complaints as they were knocked out by a world class strike from Luka Modric, the best player at the last World Cup finals.

Luka Modric

In the 62nd minute with the score at 1-1, the Real Madrid general made the decisive move. Following some ominous Croatian passing around the Scottish box, the ball fell to him unmarked twenty yards from goal. His strike with the outside of the boot curled unerringly into the net, leaving David Marshall with no chance. 

Their first rapier thrust came when Nikola Vlasic opened the scoring with a 17th minute shot, but the CSKA Moscow man had been left unmarked in the box. Scotland reacted well, drawing level when the ball fell to Callum McGregor in the same space Modric would occupy later, and the Celtic midfielder rifled home.

Scotland joy
Scotland joy

The Scottish nation lit up and it was a good time to score, three minutes before half time.

Their what-if moment arrived just short of the hour mark when Stuart Armstrong's diagonal lance split the Croatian defence and John McGinn, under pressure from Josko Gvardiol, failed to make a solid connection with only the keeper to beat.

The World Cup finalists had stuttered into Euro 2020, losing by a goal to England and then drawing with the Czech Republic but they had too much in the locker to go home in the first round. 

In the 78th minute, any waning Scottish dreams were snuffed out by another one of Croatia's giants. Modric whipped in a corner and Ivan Perisic soared to flick the ball in at the far post. Game over. Croatia will play the second from group E in Copenhagen on Monday.

Scotland v Croatia
Scotland v Croatia

Scotland's return to a finals was a half-baked one rather than a grand homecoming. Losing to Croatia was no disgrace but they also lost 0-2 to the Czechs in a game they really needed to win. 

At least they enjoyed the better of the tussle with the auld enemy at Wembley, but a point from three games was never enough. Scotland arguably had little luck at Euro 2020, not least in Billy Gilmour's unexpected succumbing to Covid-19, but the best teams make their own.

Steve Clarke has still done a good job, forging a well-drilled and well-organised unit who defended stoutly and attacked with eagerness. Scotland were a positive team who had not come to defend or sneak wins and their fans should be proud of that attitude.

Their second tier goalkeeper was out of the top drawer in the Euros; Andy Robertson and Stephen O'Donnell were excellent and young Gilmour was the star against England at Wembley.

The Tartan Army had a fun day out in London, but were denied the overseas match trips they relish. There is always Qatar 2022 to aim for, but good luck getting the beers in there.

Croatia fans at Hampden with the red crosses!
Croatia fans at Hampden with the red crosses!

England 1:0 Czech Republic

The Three Lions extended their Wembley summer residency with a narrow but comfortable win over the Czech Republic. A refreshingly attacking approach in the first half and a Raheem Sterling header did the business for England.

Like at Russia 2018, England knew a victory would mean they would not have to move overseas, but on the flipside a big rival would fly to London.

Grealish and Sterling

The advantage of staying at the team base of St George's Park was at the front of English minds as they took the game to the Czechs with a really positive first 45.

Covid exile for Mason Mount meant Jack Grealish finally got his start at a finals, as did Bukayo Saka in a very fluid looking three behind Harry Kane, whom wags said was self-isolating on the field anyway.

Gareth Southgate has been pretty free of criticism as England manager, which is surely unprecedented, but knew well that another 0-0 would turn the flak guns towards him. If he was afraid of fire, his reaction was excellent.

Raheem Sterling lobbed the goalkeeper but hit the post as early as the second minute. Ten minutes later Sterling found the net with a header, his second goal of Euro 2020. Saka's surging run and Grealish's tease and cross were validations of Southgate's selections.

Saka was particularly impressive, charging upfield at every opportunity but with the ball under his close control. Harry Kane then drew a save, his first on-target of the tournament. It felt surreal to see England so positive.

The Czechs responded. Tomas Holes drew a diving one from Pickford just short of the half hour and Tomas Soucek had two shots towards the end of the half.

It was a great half for England, although they showed some hesitancy in passing out from the back and their passing could have been sharper.  

As for the second half, there was little to nothing of note, an exceedingly flat and uneventful 45 minutes where England defaulted to a solid yet unimaginative display, a performance strangely mirrored by their opponents, who seemed to have settled for four points and a probable advancement. 

The Czechs had led group D on goal difference going into this and created some danger before the break, but after a poor second half, now await news of a second round fixture.

England have a big date in London on Tuesday night.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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