A WRETCHED run of failure and disappointment at the finals of major tournaments that has lasted for 67 long years continued for Scotland last night as the national side lost 3-1 to Croatia at Hampden to miss out on a place in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

Andy Robertson and his team mates, who knew that a victory would guarantee their progress to the knockout rounds for the first time in their history, produced a typically spirited performance and drew level through Callum McGregor after Nikola Vlasic had put the Russia 2018 finalists ahead.

There may have been a different outcome if Steve Clarke’s men had been more clinical up front. Once again, they created their share of scoring opportunities during the course of the 90 minutes. Once again they failed to capitalise fully on them.

The superior quality that their celebrated adversaries possess in midfield and attack ultimately proved to be the difference. Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic both produced outstanding finishes in the second-half to send Croatia through as Group D runners-up. Scotland finished bottom of the section with just a point to show for their efforts.

Losing Billy Gilmour, the Chelsea midfielder who was ruled out of the game on Monday when he returned a positive Covid-19 test, was an undoubted blow.

Gilmour had been named Man of the Match following the inspired 0-0 draw with joint tournament favourites England at Wembley on Friday night and would have been a shoo-in to start last night had he been available.

Stuart Armstrong took his place in the centre of the park. But Clarke’s men failed to perform anywhere near the same high level as they had four days before. At the back in particular, they struggled. They were punished ruthlessly by rivals who showed they are far from the spent force many observers have claimed.

Scotland have come agonisingly close to reaching the knockout rounds in the World Cups in West Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978 and Spain in 1982 and at the European Championships in England in 1996. Expectation and excitement around the country were tangible yesterday. Alas, it was to be the same old story.   

Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic made no fewer than four alterations to the team that had drawn 1-1 with the Czech Republic on Friday afternoon in a bid to freshen up his underperforming side.

Josip Juranović replaced Sime Vrsaljko on the right side of defence, Marcelo Brozović returned from injury as Andrej Kramaric dropped to the bench, Nikola Vlašić came in for Josip Brekalo on the wing and Bruno Petković took over from Ante Rebić as the lone striker. His changes worked wonders.

The game got underway to an almighty roar from the socially-distance supporters inside the stadium and the home heroes were clearly lifted by their vocal backing. Che Adams went agonisingly close to netting twice in the opening 10 minutes.

First, he almost got on the end of a John McGinn chip into the six yard box. If he had,  Dominic Livakovic, who had to palm the delivery out for a corner, would have been beaten. Then the striker fired wide from 25 yards out after being teed up by a Lyndon Dykes flick-on. It was a confident and encouraging start. The passing was sharp and the movement constant.

Croatia, though, withstood that early pressure well and soon gave an indication of what a threat they posed when Vlasic raced onto a defence-splitting through ball from Brozovic. David Marshall was quickly off his line and cleared just before his opponent got to it.

But Croatia took the lead just a minute later. Modric supplied Juranovic on the right and his team mate floated a high ball into to the far post. Perisic had little difficult outjumping Stephen O’Donnell and nodding it down to Vlasic. The forward held off McGregor and slotted into the bottom left corner. 

Scotland were soon on the back foot. The patient build-up play under pressure that had been so impressive against England was nowhere to be seen. They were far too eager to get rid of the ball and gifted possession to their rivals inside their own half repeatedly. Modric fired just over and Perisic tried his luck from an acute angle after cutting in from the left. Croatia looked poised to forge further ahead. 

When Grant Hanley, the centre half who had nullified the threat posed by Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford in London so effectively in London, limped off injured in the 33rd minute it was the last thing Clarke needed. Scott McKenna came on and picked up a booking for a clumsy foul almost immediately.

But Scotland rallied. They pushed back upfield and came close to levelling . McGinn squared across goal and nobody was there to turn it in. McGinn and Scott McTominay both tested Livakovic. When the equaliser finally came three minutes before half-time it was deserved.

Adams was unable to trap a Tierney cross and Domagoj Vida hooked it away. But McGregor intercepted, controlled the ball with his left foot and stroked a controlled right foot shot through a cluster of defenders and into the bottom left corner. It was his first goal for his country. He picked the perfect moment to score it.

Josko Gvardiol almost silenced the buoyant home support just  five minutes into the second-half when Vlasic played hm through on goal. Again Marshall came to the rescue of his side by coming off his line and blocking the left back.

McGinn should have put his side in front after being supplied by Armstrong a few yards in front of goal. His shot went into the opposite direction from which he intended. He would rue that spurned opportunity soon after.

Modric gave Croatia the lead with a sublime strike in the 62nd minute. Mateo Kovacic laid the ball off to him just outside the Scotland penalty box. He struck it first-time with the outside of his right foot and it curled beyond the fully outstretched Marshall and into the top left corner.

Clarke put on Ryan Fraser for Armstrong with 20 minutes remaining to inject some much-needed energy and invention into Scotland’s play going forward and the diminutive midfielder made a definite difference. But when Perisic got on the end of a Modric corner and glanced a header in off the inside of the right post with 13 minutes remaining it was all over.