After that nail-biting finish against Israel last month, Alex McLeish’s Scotland side can look forward with confidence to their upcoming Euro 2020 campaign. That said, they will be up against Belgium and Russia in Group I, both of whom outperformed during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, so the Scots will face a fight to occupy either of the top two places which guarantee qualification for the finals.
However, a top-two finish might not be necessary for Scotland to qualify for its first major finals since France ’98. That’s because the heroics of hat-trick hero James Forrest against the Israelis at Hampden guarantee Scotland a semi-final play-off match against Finland in March 2020, with the winner then taking on Norway or Serbia in the final. How might Scotland fare against these three teams? Let’s take a look at each of the opponents now to see how they compare…
With a population of 5 million, Finland is the largest European country never to have qualified for a major tournament. This ice hockey-mad nation has produced some quality players in the past though, with Jari Litmanen a Champion’s League winner at Ajax, and Dundee United fans still fondly remember Mixu Paatelainen. Finnish football fans are getting excited about the current crop, and former Celtic striker Teemu Pukki scored 3 times in 3 narrow victories for the Finns, as they saw off Hungary, Estonia and Greece in Group 2. Finland are a defensively tight, cagey side, and Scotland will have to show patience if they are to see them off in the semi-final.
If they do, then they may face Finland’s Nordic rivals Norway in the final. Interestingly enough, the Norwegians faced Scotland in that last tournament in 1998, when Craig Burley’s volley was enough to sneak a draw. After that tournament, Norway fell into a similar downturn as the Scots did, as the rest of the world worked out how to counter the Route One football of Egil Olsen. But the Norwegians never gave up their style, and are finally back, with a squad based around a solid defensive unit of Rosenborg’s Hovland and Reginiussen, as well as the quick feet of LA Galaxy’s Ole Kamara up front. It ain’t pretty, but it works, and Scotland will need to keep their concentration if they are to beat this tough Norway team.
The Norwegians will take on Serbia in the other semi-final, and this Balkan powerhouse is surely the strongest of the teams on paper. The Serbs can still count on big names like Kolarov, Matic and Mitrovic and ooze quality in every department. When they are on form, Serbia can beat anyone, but as the recent World Cup showed, they are prone to lapses of concentration, especially when a team gets under their skin (as the Swiss did in Russia). However, Serbia were pleasingly solid in the Nation’s League group stages, seeing off Balkan neighbours Romania and Montenegro, as well as Lithuania. Fulham’s Mitrovic put his mixed Premier League form behind him by scoring 5 goals in the 6 matches and would be the danger man to watch for Scotland.
The big international tournaments have missed Scotland and the Tartan Army these last 20 years. With Euro 2020 taking in Wembley, Cardiff, Dublin and Hampden, this might be a rare chance for the Scots to play a major finals game on home soil. Assuming the Belgians and Russians will be too strong in regular qualifying, the chance to play Finland and then one of either Norway or Serbia looks like one the Scots should grab with both hands.