Scotland have become a much better team under Steve Clarke. They head to Euro 2024 hoping to make the knockout stage of a major international tournament for the first time in their history. Few would go against them achieving it.

It would appear qualification for the European Championship comes in pairs for Scotland.

After failing to make it out of qualifying for any of the tournaments between 1968 and 1988 – despite those qualification campaigns featuring the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Gordon McQueen, Billy Bremner and Alan Hansen – the Scots finally made it to the 1992 edition in Sweden. They then followed that up with an appearance at Euro 96 in England. But both appearances ended in group stage exits.

They then failed to make any of the five European Championship tournaments between 2000 and 2016. They came close in both 2000 and 2004 but suffered play-off defeats to England and the Netherlands respectively.

Their Euro 2020 appearance ended in another group stage exit, but they have returned for Euro 2024 on the back of an excellent qualification campaign that saw them finish ahead of Norway, Georgia and Cyprus, and included their first win over Spain since 1984.

The question is now whether they can build upon their success in qualifying and make the knockout stages of a major international tournament for the first time ever, after failing in their previous 11 attempts across the World Cup and European Championship.

Scotland Squad Euro 2024

Improvement Under Clarke

Before the expected friendly 2-0 win over minnows Gibraltar on 3 June, Scotland had been on a run of seven games without a win – their worst run since 1998. Despite this, the Scots have been steadily improving under head coach Steve Clarke, who won six caps as a player in a six-year period between 1988-1994.

Clarke led Scotland to eight wins in 2021, which was the most ever recorded in a single calendar year by the men’s national team. This summer will see him become just the third Scotland manager to lead the nation to consecutive international tournaments, along with Andy Roxburgh (1990 World Cup, Euro 92) and Craig Brown (Euro 96, 1998 World Cup), the managers who incidentally gave Clarke his first and final caps.

As well as Clarke’s longevity in charge – only three managers have taken charge of more Scotland games than he has – there’s been a core group of players he’s been able to call upon, with 13 playing 25 or more games under him. One of those is Brighton midfielder Billy Gilmour, who became the second-youngest player in Scotland’s history to hit 25 caps, behind only Darren Fletcher.

Overall, at least one player has reached the 50-cap mark for Scotland in each year since 2021. In a late 2022 friendly against Lithuania, the Scotland starting XI had 422 caps combined, their most ever for a single international. For comparison, a friendly with Mexico the year before Clarke took over in 2018 saw the XI have just 25 caps combined.

This core group of players have been the foundation of Clarke’s success, and he’s been undoubtedly helped by having the opportunity to call up several quality players in recent times. Premier League and UEFA Champions League winning full-back Andy Robertson recently became the first outfielder to hit 70 caps since Fletcher in 2015 and holds the record for the most Premier League assists by a defender with 59 for Liverpool, while Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay hit double figures for his club in 2023-24, as well as notching seven during Euro 2024 qualifying, a total bettered by only four world-class players.

But across Clarke’s entire tenure, one man has stood out more than most.

Although he didn’t score Scotland’s first goal under Clarke back in June 2019 – that honour fell to Robertson – John McGinn did assist it, and then scored four of their next five goals in the early stages of the new manager’s reign. This included what is their most recent hat-trick in October 2019 against San Marino.

McGinn has been the heartbeat of the Scotland team, playing more games (52), more minutes (4,194), scoring more goals (18) and assisting more teammates (9) than any other Scottish player during Clarke’s reign. When he recently hit 50 appearances under Clarke, he became just the third Scotland player to feature 50 times or more under a single manager, alongside Tom Boyd (54 under Brown) and Paul McStay (53 under Roxburgh), a record total he should go on to break at Euro 2024.

McGinn’s 10 goals across 18 European Championship qualification appearances are the most by any Scottish player in qualifying history. He’s close to breaking another Scotland record, too; with 18 goals in 52 caps under Clarke, he’s just three away from the most scored by one player under a single manager, currently held by Denis Law, who netted 21 goals in 21 caps under Ian McColl.

John McGinn Scotland Goals

Super Scott

McGinn’s efforts in qualifying for Euro 2024 helped them reach Germany, but McTominay’s performances arguably gave them the biggest boost.

It’s fair to say McTominay didn’t enjoy a prolific start to his international career. In his first 37 caps, he scored one goal from 37 efforts at goal – giving him a shot conversion of just 3% – and only four of those were on target.

Then, in his next five games, the 27-year-old netted six goals from seven shots on target and scored braces in back-to-back games against Cyprus and Spain, becoming the first Scotland player to score two goals in a game against La Roja since Mo Johnston in 1984.

He ended the campaign with seven European Championship qualifying goals overall, a joint record by a Scottish player in qualifying, along with Steven Fletcher across the Euro 2016 qualifiers and McGinn in the Euro 2020 qualification campaign. Overall, his total of seven competitive goals during 2023 has never been exceeded by a Scotland player in a single calendar year.

When only Romelu Lukaku, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappé and Harry Kane have scored more goals in qualifying, you know you’re among great company.

Euro 2024 Qualifying Top Scorers

Competitive Edge

Scotland began the Euro 2024 qualifiers with a five-match winning streak, their best winning run in a single European Championship qualifying campaign since 1995. This run featured an impressive 2-0 defeat of Spain at Hampden Park, their first win over them since 1984 under legendary manager Jock Stein.

Although they did lose the return game in Spain 2-0, they held them until 17 minutes from time before late goals secured the home side the points. That was Scotland’s only defeat of the qualifiers, their fewest since Euro 96 qualifying when they lost one of 10 games. It was indicative of their improvement in competitive internationals.

Scotland’s first UEFA Nations League campaign in 2018-19 saw them placed in League C alongside the likes of Lithuania and Cyprus, but they will begin the 2024-25 Nations League in League A (the tier above England, no less) in a group with Portugal, Croatia and Poland. They’ve only lost four out of 16 Nations League matches, enjoying a near perfect home record (seven wins in eight games), which has helped moved them into the top league.

Although the Scots began with a sketchy-at-best competitive record under Clarke – eight wins in his first 23 competitive internationals – they will feel buoyed by a run of 15 victories in their last 21 since losing 2-0 to Denmark on the first day of September in 2021. Indeed, across all European nations since the first game in this run (a 1-0 win against Moldova on 4 September 2021), only Portugal have a higher win ratio in competitive games than Scotland (71%).

Scotland Form Euro 2024

It won’t help the Scots in Germany, but their competitive home record has been exceptional under Clarke. After losing two of their first three under him at Hampden Park – including a 4-0 reverse against Belgium, their worst competitive defeat at Hampden since 1958 – Scotland have lost just one of their last 19 on home turf, a 3-1 defeat to Ukraine in the 2022 World Cup qualifying play-off in June 2022. That was their only failure to win across 11 home competitive internationals between March 2021 and June 2023, with Hampden becoming Scotland’s fortress and playing a big role in their resurgence.

Goals have also been scored in abundance, with 17 in eight games in the Euro 2024 qualifying group stage (2.1 per game on average) their second-best ratio in a European Championship qualifying group, behind their 2.2 goals per game in Euro 2016 qualifiers (22 goals in 10 games). All this despite not being able to find a reliable, high-scoring striker, too.

Lawrence Shankland scored as many goals in qualifying in six minutes of football as Lyndon Dykes did across his 498 minutes of action (one apiece). If they could find a striker to supplement the goals of McTominay and McGinn – the one only two players who scored more than once in qualifying – it could be a bright future for the Scots. Indeed, Steven Fletcher remains the only Scottish striker to score a men’s international hat-trick since the first man walked on the moon in 1969.

How Will Scotland Do at Euro 2024?

Scotland themselves will shoot for the moon this summer and look to land among the stars, as the saying goes. They only have to look to another British nation for inspiration, with Wales reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in their first-ever European Championship tournament.

Across 10,000 pre-tournament simulations of Euro 2024, Scotland won the tournament just 1% of the time. While victory seems unlikely, making it to the quarter-finals feels more realistic. Our predictions see Scotland do this 23.5% of the time, while they advanced from their group – which also contains Germany, Hungary and Switzerland – in 58.9% of projections. This is lower than every other team in Group A, but only by the smallest of margins. Germany are the favourites to progress at 88.5%, then it’s close between Switzerland (61.0%), Hungary (59.4%) and the Scots (58.9%).

Scotland feature in the opening game against hosts Germany on 14 June – the last solo host nation to lose their opener was Portugal against Greece in 2004, with the Greeks then going on to produce one of the greatest footballing shocks of all-time by lifting the trophy. Twenty years on, will history repeat itself?

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