Scotland route to the Euro 2024 final: Potential knock-out stage opponents

Scotland route to the Euro 2024 final: Potential knock-out stage opponents
Scotland route to the Euro 2024 final: Potential knock-out stage opponents

With Euro 2024 underway, we take a look at who Scotland might face on their route to the European Championships final.

Scotland return to the European Championships for the second edition in a row following a 24-year absence from the tournament. Following Friday night’s 5-1 defeat to Germany, they have one game left to avoid making it four straight group-stage exits in the competition.

Scotland’s potential route to Euro 2024 final

Scotland’s Group A fixtures

1-5 Germany (14 June, 8pm BST) – Scotland were two goals down before losing Ryan Porteous to a red card. Kai Havertz scored the resulting penalty before substitutes Niclas Fullkrug and Emre Can added two more. Centre-back Porteous will miss the match against Switzerland and, if the red card is upgraded to a two-match suspension, potentially the final group game against Hungary, which may well be a battle for third.

1-1 Switzerland (19 June, 8pm BST) –  The Tartan Army recovered well in their second game and earned a hard-fought point against Switzerland. Scott McTominay’s deflected effort put them ahead in Cologne, only for a wonderful strike from Xherdan Shaqiri to cancel that out before half-time.

vs Hungary (23 June, 8pm BST) – Hungary had been in far better form than Switzerland over the past couple of years. Prior to a pre-Euros friendly defeat vs Republic of Ireland, they were unbeaten in their last 14 matches, dating back to September 2022. Then they conceded three goals for the first time in three years. If Germany vs Hungary follows the odds, Scotland may see this match as their best chance to seal third place and a potential route to the knockout stage.

If Scotland finish runner-up in Group A

As Germany have six points it is impossible for Scotland to finish top of their group. The best they can do is finish second, in which case the scenario would likely play out as described below.

Last 16: Scotland would meet the Group B runner-up in the last 16. That, of course, is the group of death, meaning it could be any one of Spain, Italy or Croatia, or the less likely prospect of Albania.

Quarter-final: This particular route would most likely result in a quarter-final meeting with England.

Final: The likes of Spain, Portugal or Germany, who are third favourites to win Euro 2024 with Opta’s probability rating.

If Scotland finish third in Group A

After losing the first match, this is perhaps Scotland’s most likely route to the knockouts. They would need to be one of the four best third-place teams.

Too much is up in the air to map out a route. The only guarantee here is that the Tartan Army would then meet a group winner in the round of 16. Their most likely opponents would either be the Group B (Spain, Italy, Croatia, Albania) winner, the Group F winner (probably Portugal), or the Group E winner (likely Belgium).

Scotland’s reasons for optimism

Scotland have only ever won two of their nine matches at the European Champions, but at the 2020 edition, they showed they can at least frustrate elite opposition when they drew 0-0 with eventual runners-up England. What’s more, their qualifying win against Spain and the campaign to get here overall showed signs of genuine attacking menace, coupled with an ability to close out games when required.

Scotland’s potential roadblocks

Arguably the most obvious roadblock for Scotland is if Scott McTominay doesn’t bring his scoring boots. The Manchester United midfielder has been in strong goalscoring form at club level this season, with 12 goals in all competitions, including seven very important strikes in the Premier League.

McTominay carried that over into qualifying with a very impressive seven goals. Only Harry Kane (8), Kylian Mbappe (9), Cristiano Ronaldo (10) and Romelu Lukaku (14) scored more. Very fine company indeed.

But what if McTominay can’t replicate those sorts of numbers in Germany this summer? John McGinn, another midfielder, was the only other Scottish player to score more than once with three. Among the forwards called up to the most recent national team camp, QPR’s Lyndon Dykes was the highest scorer with just nine goals in 36 caps. Then he got injured in training and had to be replaced.

Scotland have shown they can make games tight and find defining moments when they need them. But if things go against them early, as with Germany, their ability to pull a result back may be found wanting.

Steve Clarke tactical insights

Clarke has experimented with a few formations, but 3-4-2-1 seems to be his preferred set-up. Scotland are blessed with some rare depth in the midfield and full-back areas, so this is a system that maximises the quality there, but also allows them to morph into a 5-4-1 when coming under pressure against higher-quality opposition.

Expect to see much of Scotland’s play coming down the left, with Kieran Tierney overlapping Andy Robertson, while McGinn and McTominay will share the responsibility of making late runs into the box. Bologna midfielder Lewis Ferguson will be a massive miss in midfield, so the task of keeping the back door shut and trying to add a little composure in possession will likely fall to Brighton’s Billy Gilmour.

Fan and media perspectives

Scotland’s qualifying campaign was right up there among their best in decades and that early win over Spain has fans dreaming of what damage they could do in Germany this summer. Even a 4-0 friendly defeat to the Netherlands hasn’t dampened their spirits too much, with Scotland matching their illustrious opponents for about 70 minutes before being harshly punished for some missed chances.

The Scottish media won’t pile anywhere near as much pressure on their players as those south of the border, but another group stage exit is likely to, at the very least, cause some reflection and exasperation.

How did Scotland qualify for Euro 2024?

Steve Clarke’s men turned plenty of heads in Qualifying Group A, losing just one of eight matches to finish second, six points ahead of Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard’s Norway and four points behind Spain, who they beat 2-0 at Hampden early in the campaign.