The Herald on Sunday
Work to be done to get out of the group stage...
SCOTLAND ground out a goall e s s d r a w at Wembley on Friday night as Steve Clarke’s men picked up their first point in Group D.
With just one game left to play, Scotland sit bottom of the table with one point and a goal difference of minus-two. Qualification is still a distinct possibility, though, and they could finish as high as second – if other results go their way.
One thing is for certain: nothing less than a win over Croatia at Hampden on Tuesday night will do. Zlatko Dalic’s side have underperformed so far and have one point to their name but will have just as much to play for as Scotland – a victory for the visitors would almost certainly see them into the knockout stages.
In order to finish second, Scotland would require one of England or the Czechs to win in their fixture on Tuesday night. But we would need to overcome a three-goal swing if the Czechs come out on top, or a four-goal swing if the English win as Scotland will likely finish as the group’s lowest scorers. That means we need a clear advantage on goal difference.
So a 2-0 win for Scotland over Croatia, say, coupled with a 2-0 victory for Gareth Southgate’s side at Wembley, would be enough for Clarke’s men to finish in second place and guarantee their passage into the last 16. With four of the best-placed third finishers also making it through to the knockout phase, Scotland don’t need to rely on securing second to get out of the group. A win over Croatia is still a must, and four points will likely be enough to be in contention – but a negative goal difference could prove costly.
By Tuesday night when some of the final group stage games have been played, we will have a far clearer idea of what will be required. It might be that a 1-0 will be enough to take us into the next round, or Scotland may face a scenario where they will need to defeat Croatia by two clear goals. It all depends on what happens elsewhere, and what the benchmark will be for a third-placed side to qualify.
In Group A, Italy are already through and only a catastrophe would deny Wales their place in the last 16. Turkey would be doing Scotland a huge favour if they can take something off Switzerland – boasting zero and one point respectively, anything other than a win for the Swiss would mean that the thirdplaced side would be highly unlikely to qualify with only three points accrued. And with a goal difference of minus three, even that might not be enough for Vladimir Petkovic’s team.
Things aren’t quite as straightforward in Group B. Belgium have two wins from two and have already booked their place in the next round. Russia and Finland are both tied on three points but the Finns have still to face Roberto Martinez’s star-studded squad. If they lose and Russia avoid defeat to Denmark, then this will be another group where the third-placed team only has three points – severely limiting their chances of progression.
It’s a little more clear-cut in Group C. The Netherlands are through after picking up backto-back wins and are still to face North Macedonia. If the Dutch win then tomorrow’s other clash in the group, Austria v Ukraine, will essentially be a shoot-out. Both have three points and a goal difference of zero – a draw would likely allow both to progress (one in second, one as a best-placed third team). A win for one nation would leave the other with just three points and a negative goal difference – surely not enough to be a best-placed third team.
Meanwhile in Group E, Sweden all but booked their place in the knockout stages after Spain were held to a draw by Poland last night. Victories for Spain and Poland, the two nations currently in third and fourth, would see the Swedes drop to third but, with four points, they would surely be a best-placed third team. If Slovakia and Sweden win their final games, though, then the Spanish would finish in third with only two points and their tournament would be over.
Group F remains wide open and four points might not even be enough to secure a top-two finish. But if Germany were to beat Hungary and world champions France defeated Portugal, then the current holders would finish the group on just three points – probably not enough to make it through.