Scotland’s main men fail to lead in a ragged capitulation to Germany

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Ryan Christie;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Ryan Christie</a> shows his dismay after Germany’s fourth goal.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>

You wait decades for such an occasion and this happens. Scotland had cause to wonder whether the fevered level of anticipation that surrounded their involvement in Euro 2024 was remotely worth the bother. Fans from Munich to Mossblown watched through cracks in their fingers. From outside the ground, the Aberdeen chairman was bemoaning “the worst organisation I have ever seen”. This required a rethink after what took place in the first half.

The situation is now so stark that there must be serious questions over whether Steve Clarke can rally a demoralised squad to the point where they can do what is surely necessary and defeat Switzerland.

Related: Germany kickstart Euro 2024 in style and pile on the pain for 10-man Scotland

Scotland had not played in a tournament outside the UK since 1998. They had not featured in a European Championship abroad since 1992. What transpired in Munich served as a painful reminder of what happens when you are well short of your best against a world-class team. The Swiss and Hungarians will be rubbing their hands.

The highlight of the evening for anyone of Scottish persuasion came 20 minutes before kick-off. Gala’s Freed From Desire sent the Tartan Army into a wonderful frenzy. Men, women and children – of all shapes, sizes and ages – leapt about in celebration. Scotland were back. The problem was, as soon as the game started it felt as if they didn’t belong. Clarke’s team wobbled from the outset. Germany pulled them apart in a fashion akin to a grandmaster taking on an orangutan at chess. This was a mauling.

There are available soft targets in the Scotland team. Angus Gunn should have done considerably better with Florian Wirtz’s opener. Ryan Porteous did not look particularly clever for the second. He was rash to the point of idiocy in conceding a penalty for the third and reducing Scotland to 10 men. Luckily for Porteous, Ilkay Gündogan got up. Anthony Ralston endured a fraught evening at right wing-back. Germany seemed to clock Ralston’s unease and tortured the poor lad mercilessly.

Pointing in these directions, though, would somewhat miss the point. For the second tournament in succession, Scotland needed so much more from, ahem, star turns. It took 35 minutes for the first semi-coherent move from back to front. Until that point? An almighty mess. Goodness only knows what Sir Alex Ferguson, sitting alongside José Mourinho in the posh seats, made of it all. Fergie perhaps fancied issuing a half-time rollicking himself. Scotland were dilatory in everything they did.

In defence, Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson chased shadows. Such a panicked and damaging opening to proceedings came about largely because the midfield could not get on – let alone keep – the ball. There is little excuse available there, given this is the area of the team where Scotland have their most strength. Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay and John McGinn provided nothing by way of assurance to less experienced players.

This proved a rude awakening for McGinn, on the basis he wants to make a mark on Champions League football at Aston Villa next season. McGinn categorically failed to impose his personality on this game.

Clarke will be criticised. He would not expecting anything less. The pursuit and elevation of Gunn is yet to be justified by performances. Porteous’s wild streak is no shock and rendered him a questionable pick for this fixture, even if he has served Clarke well. The manager’s key selection call involved leaving Billy Gilmour on the bench, with Ryan Christie preferred in midfield. Christie, who was winning his 50th cap, offers more of a scoring threat. This, however, only applies when the Scots are within sight of the opposition’s goal. Christie was edged forward for the second half as Ché Adams, Scotland’s sole striker, was replaced.


The true nature of this Scottish display may only become apparent in time. Should Germany proceed to win Euro 2024, Clarke can shrug off what happened in Bavaria. It seems faintly ridiculous that Toni Kroos can call time on his professional career when one watches him dictate play like this. Kroos takes up position almost as a second left-back, from where he directs all in front of him so adeptly. Kroos even had the temerity to slip when playing the pass that opened up play for Wirtz’s goal. Scotland simply had no clue how to handcuff the 34-year-old midfielder.

So much for pre-game optimism. Supposedly this German team could be got at. Apparently Manuel Neuer is a weak link (in fairness, this theory was not properly tested). Senegal’s defeat of France in the 2002 World Cup was only one example widely cited to raise Scottish hopes. Instead, Clarke found himself fortunate that Germany used the second half as little more than a training exercise.

Switzerland will present different, and softer, challenges in Cologne. Between now and Wednesday, Clarke has to repair some battered reputations. Scotland were so ragged and haphazard here that it looks a significant task.