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A “gutted” Scott McKenna has said the quality and experience of Croatia proved the difference as Scotland’s Euro 2020 dreams ended in Glasgow.
But the Scotland defender feels Steve Clarke’s side can use their exposure to the big stage as a platform to play there more regularly.
Callum McGregor fired Scotland level at Hampden and John McGinn could not convert a chance at 1-1, before Croatia veterans Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic produced masterful finishes to earn a 3-1 Hampden win for the World Cup runners-up.
Both sides needed a win to progress and the visitors’ class in possession told despite Scotland creating a number of chances before finishing bottom of Group D.
McKenna, who replaced the injured Grant Hanley in the first half, said: “I’m mostly just gutted, to be honest. After coming on after about half an hour, then getting ourselves back in the game just before half-time, we went out hoping for a big second half – but it just didn’t work out that way.
“We had some chances. But ultimately their quality got the better of us, in the end.
“I think we probably lacked a bit of experience. Croatia are a team who have been on this stage many times before.
“They probably showed that better than us, knowing how to manage the game, getting the goals at the right time. That got the better of us.
“But it’s a learning experience for everyone and hopefully, going forward, we put all these things together and it puts us in a better place.”
Scotland are now determined to ensure their first major tournament in 23 years is not a one-off.
McKenna believes their Euros experience, coupled with the emergence of young players Billy Gilmour, David Turnbull and Nathan Patterson, offers hope.
Turnbull did not get on the pitch but Gilmour earned UEFA’s star man award in the goalless draw with England before being struck down by Covid-19, while Patterson showed enough in his late cameo against Croatia to suggest he is ready for international football.
McKenna said: “Going out of the tournament is always going to be disappointing.
“But hopefully this is just the start of Scotland being back at major tournaments. Hopefully we qualify for the World Cup going forward.
“We have seen how good the levels were against England the other night.
“Nathan has been tremendous every day in training and we saw the quality of David Turnbull against Holland as well. He has probably not played as much since then as he would have liked, but it’s exciting going forward.
“We have also got to remember we have no players in their 30s, really, that are going out.
“Andy (Robertson) is still young, as is John McGinn. Our big players are still at a great age and they will still be with us for many tournaments going forward.
“As much as the young ones are exciting as well, it’s good we’ve still got the more senior ones about as well.
“It was one of the things the manager said after the game, that we will be disappointed, but we have got to make sure this is just the start of Scotland qualifying for major tournaments – it’s not the end.
“I think when we look back at it, it will be a positive experience and we will want to do it all over again. Hopefully we can do that.”