As Steve Clarke’s men tumbled back to the centre circle with less than 20 minutes played, the Scotland manager pointed two fingers to the temple. His side had been caught in a frightening and ferocious German start that had torn away all of the Tartan Army’s optimistic glaze, built so buoyantly this week in the Munich sun and before. “Respect everyone but fear no one” was the manager’s most impassioned line on the eve of the game but in that moment those in blue on and off the pitch were stunned. From quiet confidence, Scotland fans were suddenly thinking about keeping the score down. After a few days spent in celebration, this was a sobering up and then some.

There was always the risk this Germany team would click but the cohesion on show in moments at the Allianz was at a different level. This was the marking of a ‘new era’ performance Julian Nagelsmann was craving - it just so happened that Scotland became the unfortunate opponent on the end of it. On one hand, it was hard to cast too critical an eye witnessing the speed of combinations and skill on show and still, Scotland were bad, weren’t they.

Nagelsmann prowled the touchline conducting those in white who moved as if controlled by his ideas and imagination. The 36-year-old spoke recently about the “freedom” afforded to three No.10s who move unpredictably and operate in combination. Ilkay Gundogan referenced his role as designed to get the best out of the individuals on either side of him, Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz, constantly adjusting to open spaces and complimenting their invention. In spells, they were totally untrackable, absolutely untouchable. Playing their own game, with Scottish counterparts continuously checking shoulders only to see the latest white shirt disappear from their zone of responsibility and pop up elsewhere. 

The first goal was a perfect demonstration of how Germany wanted to play. A quick zing to the right from Toni Kroos was only designed to pull Scotland's defence out of position as Wirtz stole in from nowhere and suddenly, found himself free 18 yards out with a whole goal to aim at. Angus Gunn got a hand that could only divert onto the post and into the net. It was that type of night for Scotland when they needed every single slim margin to drop on their side of the net, but the ball never bounced in their favour.


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Minutes later the other prodigious young German talent who made it two. Kai Havertz’s run over the top opened space for Gundogan to get on the ball before returning to the feet of the Arsenal forward. And then Musiala, again from nowhere, was exactly where he ought to be. Shifting his body to receive on the right and firing into the top of the net.

There would be no let-up or easing of tensions before the break. Normally, even when Scotland lack in attack you can count on them to limit at the other end. Here, against the whizzing, whirling German machine in attack the compact shape we’re used to witnessing was toyed with. Scotland tried to snatch the ball in periods but how on earth do you trap Toni Kroos on the ball?

Before the break, it would get worse. Ryan Porteous lunged in instinct to clatter Gundogan’s left ankle after a cross that spelt the end of his game and allowed Havertz the chance to make it three from the spot. Scotland moved firmly into damage limitation mode if they hadn’t been there already. The blowing of the half-time whistle was a show of mercy.

Clarke’s decision to not start Billy Gilmour perhaps showed how Scotland would approach this game. In hindsight, it’s hard to say whether the tactics, or that isolated decision, were correct. Rather than trying to play through the congested, narrow German attack Scotland planned to go long given the risks of surrendering the ball in such areas. In a sense, it felt as though regardless of the pre-match oratory or configuration on the tactics board the hosts' level made this result totally inevitable from the start. With that said, Germany’s half-time xG of 1.31 wasn’t astronomically high. It is naïve to think the visitors could limit the hosts to no chances, they are at the very elite of international football as shown by the clinical taking of moments.

Ultimately this was a bad cocktail for Scotland. They met an opponent at the very top of their game while they were not. Small moments, such as Gunn pushing the ball onto the inside of the post and not the out, worked against them. The early Wirtz goal provoked confidence and relaxed the crowd. An inability to get up the pitch offered no rest or recovery from chasing German shadows.

(Image: PA)

This was a game Scotland and its tartan army had waited and waited for. Yes, they’d played a home major championship to break an era of failure in 2021 but that was not this. Full crowds, a prolonged trip away in the German summer sun, people reaching all corners of Europe before arriving and transforming the epicentre of this tournament, Munich, into a sea of blue, tartan and John McGinn songs. For a generation, this is a totally new experience, reflected in the tens and tens of thousands who’ve journeyed only to watch this match and others through a screen.

Spending time in Munich over the last few days has been an experience of home. Meeting more Scots than Germans and countless more kilts than Lederhosen. By three o’clock on matchday, the city centre square had already been cordoned off by police due to the sheer volume of attendance.

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Scotland were first team to arrive on the Allianz surface just after 7pm local time. Like the city had for portions of this week, the stadium seemed like their own in terms of noise and number in moments. The majority of Clarke’s men hung around for 20 minutes or more as long gazes from the pitch and back took place, all parties trying to live the moment. The Germans strolled out slightly later with many on home turf. Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller, the first out, strutted with all the experience and ease you’d expect. Scotland were outnumbered in the stands but their national anthem was special and rang lounge while it was those in blue who dominated the pre-match atmosphere.

This was never going to be the game that defined and decided their fate in Group A and as such keeping the score down in the second half when down to 10 men was imperative. As the game went 3-0 a far harsher scoreline was possible. They played for pride and largely kept it, with a late Scott McKenna goal lifting the mood and offering the tartan army a much-needed, and much-merited, chance to lift their voices again. But then Emre Can stroked one home from the edge of the box to dampen the mood once again.

From here, Scotland have to show they belong at these major tournaments and matches with Switzerland and Hungary offer that opportunity. They met potential Euro 2024 winners at the Allianz and suffered for the privilege. It is how they respond that will define this summer's venture.