Scotland’s Euro 2024 party isn’t over after Switzerland draw

COLOGNE, Germany — Scotland‘s party isn’t over. They were challenged to be fearless against Switzerland and their bruised, exhausted bodies were proof of that as they clapped their brilliant support having stretched every sinew to draw 1-1 on Wednesday. That point keeps alive Scottish hopes of making the knockouts of a major men’s tournament for the first time.

Steve Clarke’s side still need to get a result against Hungary in the final round of group stage games, but this was some metamorphosis from the rabbit-in-headlamps performance against Germany on Friday, to this courageous showing in Cologne.

“Tonight was about getting back to what we’re good at: working hard,” Clarke said after the match.

Clarke is a man of few words. His pre-match news conference lasted eight minutes. You didn’t need a comma for most of his answers. But the message was abruptly clear: talk is cheap, it’s time for the players to deliver. Scotland knew that if they lost on Wednesday in Cologne then their Euro 2024 hopes would be over. But for their remarkable support — with some estimating as many as 200,000 travelled to be in Germany for their opener last Friday — their much-sung refrain stands true: “No Scotland, No Party.” Well, they still have a say in this European gathering, and the fans aren’t going home anytime soon.

Ever since the final full stop was hammered home by Germany in their 5-1 defeat last Friday, Scotland supporters on trains and trams and in the city squares were debating what changes they’d make. They sang their songs of John McGinn on loop, but brief throat-clearing intervals were either anchored on self-deprecating predictions or imagined tactical tweaks. They did this knowing full well that Clarke isn’t one to tinker, though. For all the talk of Lawrence Shankland potentially coming in for Ché Adams, a shift away from a back three to a back four, or a change at right-back with James Forrest or Ross McCrorie starting, in the end Clarke made one unenforced change. With Ryan Porteous sidelined due to suspension, Grant Hanley started while the only tactical shift saw Billy Gilmour get the nod in midfield instead of Ryan Christie.

Clarke’s tactics paid off. They still look uncertain at the back at times, with panicked play prevalent, but this was a performance in which their best players stood up to be counted. Gilmourrobe’s inclusion brought poise to the midfield, and his diminutive stature meant he clattered into elbows left, right and centre, but still he controlled things. Andrew Robertson was relentless on the left, while Kieran Tierney pushed his limits to the extent his hamstring gave up. He will miss his side’s group stage finale against Hungary.

What this draw gives Scotland is life, until Sunday at least, when they meet Hungary. Since that 5-1 defeat against Germany, the players have talked about the importance of putting in a performance to match their incredible support, and the consensus on Wednesday evening was they did just that.

“We knew we had to bounce back after the last performance and it puts us in a good place,” Gilmour said post-match. “We’re a good team. We know our strengths. Tonight was more like a Scotland performance. Getting after the ball [and] passionate, everything was there.”

Scotland’s fans flocked to Cologne before the tournament started. Even without tickets for their opener, they were here to be a thread in the vast tartan tapestry draped over Germany, grasping any opportunity to watch their team in a major competition. Through tears and beers in the Corkonian pub last Thursday, they exchanged stories of loved ones no longer alive who always told their children and grandchildren of the magic of watching Scotland on the biggest stage. It helped explain their takeover of Munich, and how in any city you visit in Germany since the start of this competition, there are hordes of Scotland fans. Opposition fans greet those in kilts by singing their “No Scotland, No Party” song.

By Tuesday in Cologne, the main square — Alter Markt — was packed with Scotland fans. The rain was biblical, but still they sung to the drenched heavens about how, “When you hear the noise of the Tartan Army boys, we’ll be coming down the road.” Bemused locals trudged past in the pouring rain, huddled under umbrellas, filming these thousands of Scots, dancing in the downpour.

Groups of supporters visited Cologne’s vast cathedral earlier in the week, offering up their own prayers. It was a rare place of quiet, but outside the huge building, fans were congregating on the steps and concourses, the Scotland flag draped over that square of Germany. The songs and sound of bagpipes was inescapable, and by Wednesday, the morning of the match, you couldn’t move for Scotland supporters. Alter Markt was shut off by police, the place packed with Scotland and Switzerland fans. Some Swiss supporters waiting for the tram even had their own red and white kilts made especially for this match. And all the while, the local shops were being emptied of beers in their thousands, bars run out of spirits and stories were exchanged, old friendships rekindled and chance encounters treasured.

But still they talked about the Germany game — what went wrong, what they’d have to put right. One man staying in my hotel called time on the pre-match festivities at about 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

“These young chaps don’t know how to pace themselves,” he said. “We’ll probably get hammered anyway.”

They came in hope and precarious expectation, but you’ll rarely hear a sound like the noise that greeted Scotland’s opener after 13 minutes. It was well created with Gilmour, Callum McGregor and McGinn all involved in the build-up to Scott McTominay‘s shot, which caught Fabian Schär and looped over Yann Sommer‘s head. Own goal or McTominay’s? For those in blue, it was definitely their own. In the end, it was confirmed as McTominay’s.

Switzerland, who were so impressive in their 3-1 win over Hungary, answered back 13 minutes later. Scottish indecision at the back led to Anthony Ralston misplacing a pass into the path of Xherdan Shaqiri, who didn’t break stride before planting a beautiful first-time shot past Angus Gunn. The Scotland we saw against Germany could’ve wilted at this point, but they regrouped.

What followed was a see-saw match. Switzerland had a great chance to go ahead before the break through Dan Ndoye, but Gunn managed to parry away. They also had a goal ruled out for a slim offside just two minutes later, with Ndoye the perpetrator and scorer. He had another chance in the 58th minute but clear through — in the same move in which Tierney’s hamstring gave way — he fired wide. Scotland came close to taking the lead themselves soon after when Hanley’s header found Switzerland’s post from five yards out. Switzerland thought they’d grabbed a late winner, only for Breel Embolo‘s neat finish to be ruled out for another offside. The Swiss celebrations were halted mid-beer-chuck, leaving Gunn to clear his own penalty box of plastic cups.

At full-time, Switzerland’s players were the happier, celebrating with that wall of red at one end of the stadium, one foot in the knockouts. At the other end, those in blue all applauded their team and exhaled. You can see why they sing that song about McGinn again and again. He simply never stops.

For tonight at least, Scotland are still in the equation. They need another fearless performance against Hungary if they are to keep this party going, but Switzerland manager Murat Yakin was impressed.

“If we compare the two teams, Scotland caused more problems for us, particularly in the first half,” he said. “We struggled to create play. It was a tough match and it’s a very hard-fought game between Scotland and Hungary.”

As the supporters traipsed away from this stadium and back into the middle of town, those songs were being sung again into the night sky. Their army of fans aren’t giving up hope quite yet.

“This is the way we’ve been playing as a team over the past three or four years,” Clarke said. “We knew what we had to do, it was a good team performance against a good opponent and we’re still alive in the tournament.”