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Euro 2024: Scotland need John McGinn to turn up if they are to make history at the mega event

Scotland's Euro 2024 campaign hinges on a crucial clash against Hungary, with the potential to make history by reaching the knockout stages for the first time. Key to their success is John McGinn, whose performance has been underwhelming so far. 

Euro 2024: Scotland need John McGinn to turn up if they are to make history at the mega event osf
First Published Jun 22, 2024, 3:39 PM IST

Euro 2024 began with Graeme Souness lambasting the lack of quality in a Scotland side found to be out of its depth. Scotland may end Euro 2024 having achieved what Souness and the golden generation led by himself and Kenny Dalglish could not: reaching the knockout stages of an international tournament for the first time. Before a ball was kicked, Scotland and manager Steve Clarke would have gladly accepted the position they find themselves in now: beat Hungary in Stuttgart on Sunday night and they will reach the magic four-point mark that should be enough to go through to the last-16.

If the group stages of the 24-team Euros come to showcase a class divide between the haves and the have-nots — as pre-tournament favourites France and England go through the motions while a range of nations more unaccustomed to the big stage, from Slovakia and Romania to Turkey and Albania, provide the color by seizing their opportunity — Scotland’s players have an opportunity to write themselves into legend with a single win. That has been the goal since arriving in Germany almost two weeks ago.

Clarke had been clear in his ambition, which helped Scotland recover from such a disastrous start in Munich. Four points was always the aim and Scotland knew a win and draw against Switzerland and Hungary, no matter the order, would likely be enough to progress into the last-16. Within that, anything gained from the opening night against hosts Germany would have been a bonus. Scotland failed to even remotely threaten the possibility of an upset and emerged with a sorry thrashing, but under huge pressure responded against Switzerland to remain alive in the group.

Now for the hard part. Scotland still require a victory — when the only win they have managed in 11 attempts was against Gibraltar — but the battling nature of their performance against Switzerland restored hope and unlocked the “real Scotland” following a difficult run of form since qualifying. Clarke’s side looked themselves again, with John McGinn leading Scotland’s press from the front, putting himself about. Within the first couple of minutes against Switzerland, McGinn crashed into a challenge and then chased Andy Robertson’s quick throw-in down the line to win a corner: the Tartan Army went berserk.

And yet Scotland need more if they are to beat Hungary. “Super John McGinn”, the player the Tartan Army looks up to like no other, has been a disappointment at Euro 2024 after such an impressive season with Aston Villa in the Premier League.

The chants in honour of Scotland’s No 7 have filled town squares, train stations, and beer halls across Germany since the start of the Euros, but McGinn’s impact has so far been missing on the pitch. There is more to the attacking midfielder than graft and bustle, but two quiet displays on the ball have not allowed him to showcase his other qualities in possession, such as his ability to turn and drive under pressure. It has been too easy to close off Scotland’s key man. McGinn was kept to 20 touches in each of Scotland’s opening two games against Germany and Switzerland, with the 29-year-old completing just six passes against the Swiss.

The top scorer in Scotland’s squad would be the first to admit he has yet to turn up. Scott McTominay, Scotland’s hero in qualifying, had his moment with the opener against Switzerland, but Clarke has been unable to get enough from McGinn and his strike partner Che Adams — who faces less expectation but has been just as anonymous. If McGinn’s lack of involvement is due to Scotland tilting towards their left, the task facing Clarke and his players was made tougher by the confirmation that Kieran Tierney would play no part in the Group A decider against Hungary. It deprives Scotland of some of the balance on their stronger flank, with Scott McKenna set to act as the final piece of the triangle that also includes Robertson and Callum McGregor.

On the other side, Billy Gilmour’s return to the Scotland side helped solve a number of issues from the Germany defeat, but the midfielder’s class on the ball also served to highlight the deficiencies on Scotland’s right. Hungary, assuming they have studied the Germany and Switzerland matches, will be the latest to target Anthony Ralston and Jack Hendry. Scotland have to be perfect if they are to advance, as evidenced by Xherdan Shaqiri’s stunning equaliser in Cologne. Clarke rued that no other player on the pitch could have managed to put away the chance that Shaqiri took so ruthlessly from outside of the box, following Ralston’s costly backpass.

Hungary have world-class talent of their own in the shape of captain Dominik Szoboszlai. The Liverpool midfielder has had a poor Euro 2024 so far and Hungary need him to step up: Hungary also have to win to reach the last-16, only they may be in need of a goal-difference swing in order to finish as one of the four best third-placed sides. Scotland, with a point already in hand, know that finishing the group on two points would not be good enough given the battering their goal difference took against Germany. Only a win will do, but the rewards are enormous. A Scotland squad can go where no other has gone before and become legends at Euro 2024.

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