THURSDAY 12 November 2020 is a significant night for the Scotland National Team as they face Serbia for a place at the delayed Euro 2020 Finals, and with it the chance to end a 22 year wait for a major finals appearance.
Before Steve Clarke’s men take to the field in Belgrade, the Scotland Under 21 side take on their Croatian counterparts at Tynecastle in their qualification campaign for the Euro 2021 Finals being held in Hungary and San Marino. They too are looking to end a long barren run since they last appeared at the Euro’s, which stretches back to 1996.
Victory over Croatia will guarantee a top two position in Group 4, but more importantly will take Scott Gemmill’s side above the Czech Republic with one game to play, next Tuesday’s trip to Greece. Two victories in five days will ensure that Scotland will end, what will be, a wait of a quarter of a century since their last Finals appearance.
If Scotland finish second in the group, there is still the possibility that they can go to Hungary and Slovenia next year as the five best second placed sides will qualify with the nine group winners, and the other four missing out. Currently, Scotland sit two points outside the top five second placed sides but have a game in hand, so victory on Thursday would, at the very least, enhance those prospects.
However, it’s top spot that the Scots have in their sights and they have come a long way under Gemmill’s stewardship. The former Scotland International has progressed well within the SFA set up through his tenure with the Under 17 squad before his elevation to the Under 21’s. Gradually, he’s formed together a decent side that have come through together to put the Scots in this position. The likes of the McCrorie brothers Robbie and Ross, Alan Campbell, Ryan Porteous, Lewis Ferguson and Fraser Hornby have been influential in the results they have produced in this campaign.
Qualifying for the Euro Under 21 Finals should not be underestimated by the media. It’s no coincidence that the men’s A squad has had their 22 year tournament exile during the same period that their Under 21 counterparts have endured their barren spell. Most Under 21 players go onto win International caps and having the exposure to tournament football at youth level can help when they make the step up to the main National Team. The fact Scotland have missed out at Under 21 level has been a hindrance and is something that Gemmill is keen to correct.
Of course, the look of the European Under 21 Championship has changed significantly since Scotland’s last appearance. Back in 1996, the Quarter Finals were two legged affairs against Hungary before the Semi Finals and Final were held in Spain, with Scotland losing at the penultimate stage to the host nation. Next year, the Finals will be a 16 team event being held in March for the Group Stages and May for the knockout rounds, so there’s a bigger opportunity for Scotland to end their tournament drought.
The Scots can take confidence from the fact they won the corresponding fixture in Croatia back in September last year. However, this is not a forgone conclusion that they will do the job at home and out only defeat came in a home game against the Greeks, who they travel to next week and still have an outside chance of qualification themselves. Confidence should be high after beating the Czechs last month, along with a thumping win in San Marino, where Hornby became the all time leading goal scorer for the Under 21’s, so the hope is Gemmill’s side take that confidence into Thursday’s game.
A win for the Scotland Under 21 side against Croatia on Thursday would see them take a significant step in their bid to reach a first major championship since 1996. It could also act as an inspiration to the main squad counterparts when they take on Serbia to end a barren run stretching back to 1998. The prospect of the McCrorie brothers, Campbell, Ferguson, Porteous and Hornby playing at the European Under 21 Championships in Hungary and Slovenia next year will hold the, in good stead for when they’re lucky enough to earn full international honours, and hopefully help Scotland qualify for more tournaments in the future.