Billy Gilmour brings the calm to keep Scotland’s Euro 2024 dreams alive | OneFootball

Billy Gilmour brings the calm to keep Scotland’s Euro 2024 dreams alive | OneFootball

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The Independent

·20 June 2024

Billy Gilmour brings the calm to keep Scotland’s Euro 2024 dreams alive

Article image:Billy Gilmour brings the calm to keep Scotland’s Euro 2024 dreams alive

The party goes on, just, as Scotland restore some pride and give themselves a real chance of reaching the knockout stages of Euro 2024 thanks to this battling draw against Switzerland. After the no-show of Munich, Scotland turned up in Cologne when their campaign was on the line. A defeat would have seen Steve Clarke’s side all but eliminated but now, with a precious point in hand and heads lifted that bit higher, Scotland know a victory over Hungary on Sunday is all they need to reach a historic last-16 tie.

It may have been more had Grant Hanley’s towering header creeped inside the post, but in the closing stages of a tense night in a frenzied atmosphere in Cologne, Scotland and Switzerland may have informally settled on a draw. The result surely confirms Switzerland’s place in the knockout stages for the sixth major international tournament in a row, with Xherdan Shaqiri himself matching that feat following another sublime wonder-goal on the big stage. It cancelled out Scott McTominay’s opener, deflected in off Fabian Schar.

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Scotland certainly didn’t let anyone down this time, or show the same “fear” that contributed to the woeful 5-1 defeat to Germany. Scotland rectified some issues, pushing higher, taking more chances and showing more composure in possession. Much of that came from the recalled Billy Gilmour, whose return brought an instant improvement, allowing McTominay and John McGinn to get closer to Che Adams and join attacks, giving Andy Robertson the platform to bomb forward down the left.

But it could only do so much. Despite an improved start, Switzerland gradually showed and imposed their quality, while Scotland displayed their shortcomings. Shaqiri’s goal was the latest in a long line for Switzerland and the 32-year-old has now scored in every international tournament since the 2014 World Cup. Yet it was an avoidable gift from Scotland as Anthony Raltson’s disastrously short back pass allowed Shaqiri the sight of goal head coach Murat Yakin dreamed of when he brought the former Liverpool forward back into the team that beat Hungary so impressively on Saturday.

Article image:Billy Gilmour brings the calm to keep Scotland’s Euro 2024 dreams alive

Xherdan Shaqiri curls in a sublime equaliser (Getty Images)

Clarke’s big change was also vindicated, as his reformulated attack and midfield chased Switzerland and brought the intensity that defined the early wins of their qualifying campaign. He was satisfied. “This is the way we’ve been playing over the last three or four years and it is why we’re here,” Clarke said. “The players knew what they had to do.”

“It was much more like us,” Robertson agreed. “Aggressive on the front foot. We’ll take the draw and we’ve taken it into the last game, that’s all we can ask.”

Under huge pressure having barely offered anything against Germany, Scotland's renewed intent was clear from the off, with the Tartan Army roaring in approval at the sight of two corners in the first three minutes. It set the tone of the opening exchanges. Scotland, who could hardly have performed worse on the opening night, had at least arrived and gave the travelling number the least they deserved, a showing of fight and desire.

In the 13th minute, it became more than that. Gilmour was the change Scotland were crying out for, a player who could bring composure and quality of touch into midfield. The 23-year-old showed exactly why he was so desperately missed against Germany, as he brought down a clearance on his chest and carefully played in the advancing Robertson in one swift movement.

With the wall of noise behind him, Robertson carried until the edge of the box. Both of the next two passes were imperfect – Robertson’s slightly away from McGregor, McGregor’s pull-back a little behind McTominay. But for Scotland, this was a beautifully imperfect goal: McTominay’s shot was heading straight at Yann Sommer before Fabian Schar lifted his leg and deflected the ball into the top corner. Scotland, finally, had lift off.

Article image:Billy Gilmour brings the calm to keep Scotland’s Euro 2024 dreams alive

Billy Gilmour had a calming effect in midfield (Getty Images)

McTominay continued to display an immaculate sense of timing for Scotland, reprising his role as the goalscoring midfielder who was the hero of qualifying. It was McTominay who headed Switzerland’s corner away, and it was he who arrived at the other end to meet the pull-back. For Scotland, it was the perfect counterattack from a corner they themselves had needlessly conceded following Jack Hendry’s wayward back pass.

That would prove to be a moment of unfortunate foreshadowing. For all of Scotland’s improvements, there remained an inaccuracy to their play. Kieran Tierney, who would go off on a stretcher in the second half due to a hamstring injury, was another who conceded a corner attempting to find a route back to goalkeeper Angus Gunn. Switzerland are too experienced and ruthless at this level to be granted such generosity so, in the 26th minute and as the ball bobbled towards him, Ralston’s back pass was woefully short and let Switzerland back into the game.

Although Shaqiri certainly made the most of it. His finish was exquisite, waiting a moment to open up his body and lift a stunning curler, first time, into the top corner. It was a strike that bent and dipped magnificently, giving Gunn no chance. Shaqiri may no longer have the explosive physique to generate such an opportunity for himself, but Ralston’s error provided the veteran the moment he had been selected for.

Article image:Billy Gilmour brings the calm to keep Scotland’s Euro 2024 dreams alive

Scott McTominay shoots to score Scotland’s goal (Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

It gave Switzerland momentum as Scotland briefly retreated. After seeing two goals slip through his gloves on Friday night, Scotland became grateful for their goalkeeper. Gunn first produced a brilliant stop to deny Dan Ndoye following a counterattack, before Scotland switched off following a corner and were indebted to the offside flag as Ndoye reached Manuel Akanji’s flick before he squeezed a finish into the net. In the second half, Ndoye skewed wide when suddenly through on goal, with Gunn getting the slightest of touches as the Tartan Army stood open-mouthed before erupting in sheer relief.

Scotland survived but at a cost as Tierney was stretchered off, as a depleted defence became stretched even further. But Scotland regathered. After Ndoye’s miss and a belting rendition of Flower of Scotland, Clarke’s side looked a threat. Hanley crashed a header against the post following a superb delivery from Robertson’s free-kick. McTominay connected with a volley sweetly but it struck Akanji full on in the face. Akanji, the player of the match, was also there to clear Robertson’s ball across goal, as McTominay stood ready for the tap-in.

A winner would have been priceless for Scotland, yet a Switzerland goal would have been devastating. Breel Embolo, who came on for Shaqiri to bring an entirely different danger, was slipped through and chipped Gunn but had strayed offside. Scotland breathed a sigh of relief but it would not be their last. Another Swiss chance flashed by, as Zeki Amdouini’s header slipped narrowly wide, although he too may have been offside. The Tartan Army will need a lie down after this, but Scotland are still alive and know what they have to do next.

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