IT was important that Scotland’s players did not allow themselves to become despondent about their chances of reaching the Euro 2024 knockout rounds following their 5-1 mauling by Germany last week with two games still remaining and six points available.

Now it is vital that Andy Robertson and his team mates do not get too carried away with their gutsy 1-1 draw with Switzerland ahead of their all important encounter with Hungary on Sunday.

They are more than entitled to wallow in the afterglow of their rousing display in the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne on Wednesday night for a little while.

Steve Clarke’s men went toe-to-toe with formidable opponents from kick-off to the final whistle in their second Group A outing, emphatically silenced their many critics, deservedly drew 1-1 at the end of 90 compelling minutes and gave their jubilant supporters a night they will savour for the rest of their lives.

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Yet, it was by no means a perfect performance. There is still significant room for improvement when they take to the field in the MHPArena in Stuttgart this weekend. Much work remains to be done on the training pitch at the Stadion am Groben here in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the coming days. 

That may seem to be, as Clarke is wont to say, a little Negative Norman. Can we not just enjoy a display and result which made the entire nation proud once again for a bit? Why not wax lyrical about how good Angus Gunn, Grant Hanley, Jack Hendry, Robertson, Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay, John McGinn and Che Adams were?

(Image: PA) Alas, international football at the highest level is, as Anthony Ralston will certainly testify, a cut throat business. Particularly at a tournament. A few rough edges must be smoothed off in all areas if Marco Rossi’s men are to be overcome and progress to the last 16 accomplished. 

Hungary have, like Luxembourg in the Eurovision Song Contest, nil points after losing to Switzerland 3-1 last Saturday and Germany 2-0 on Wednesday. In that latter outing, however, they had their chances.

If the break of the ball had gone their way in the final third and Manuel Neuer had not rolled back the years and pulled off a couple of outstanding saves it might, just might, have been a different outcome.

Remember, this is a team which thrashed England, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker et al, 4-0 away at Molineux in the Nations League back in 2022 and then promptly followed that up with a 1-0 triumph over a Germany side which comprised Ilkay Gundogan, Thomas Muller, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner in Leipzig a few months later.

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These are the third consecutive European Championships they have been at. Three years ago they got landed in a “Group of Death” and managed to draw with France and Germany. They are, then, nobody’s mugs.

What is more, they are smarting and determined to claim a victory which not only repays their fans, millions of whom have travelled to Germany, for their backing but also keep their slim prospects of remaining in the competition intact. Remember, Ukraine went through at Euro 2020 with three points and a goal difference of minus one. 

(Image: PA) Scotland will have to be more organised at the back, more dominant in midfield, more composed in possession, more creative going forward and more clinical up front to record their first win at a finals since they edged out Switzerland 1-0 at Euro ’96 some 26 years ago.

Gunn produced three, maybe more, vital saves and did not put a foot wrong in midweek to more than justify his selection ahead of Zander Clark. But the number of times he was called into action was slightly unsettling. Dominik Szoboszlai and his countrymen, too, may not be as profligate in attack on Sunday.

Clarke’s side cut Murat Yakin’s team open on numerous occasions themselves on Wednesday night. Hanley hit the post with a header at a Robertson free-kick, McTominay had a volley blocked by Ricardo Rodriquez and Yann Sommer had to deal with several other shots. In total, they mustered 12 attempts on goal and got four of them on target.

However, they have to show far greater ruthlessness up top when they square up to rivals who are likely to have Peter Gulacsi, Willi Orban and Milos Kerkez at the back. They enjoyed sustained periods of pressure and frequently got themselves into dangerous positions in their last outing. But they only netted once.

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The goal was rightly given to McTominay. The Manchester United man deserves credit for bursting forward and unleashing a powerful strike. But if Fabian Schar had not swung out his leg in an attempt to clear then Sommer would have claimed it easily.

The consolation goal which Scotland got against Germany in the Allianz Arena last Friday night also went in off of Antonio Rudiger.

Ralston, the Celtic right-back who is only involved here because Aaron Hickey of Brentford and Nathan Patterson of Everton are sidelined, was slightly unfortunate that his underhit pass to Hanley was punished when Xherdan Shaqiri pounced and curled a “worldie” into the top corner.

However, he overlapped effectively time and time again and his final delivery let him down time and time again. It is hard not to feel sympathy for a decent footballer who has not featured regularly at club level in recent months and is doing his very best in challenging circumstances.

That said, it is to be hoped the two games he has had here help him get back to something approaching his best against Hungary because the right flank has been a weakness, both offensively and defensively, up until this point.

Kieran Tierney, who was stretchered off, will also be badly missed. But let’s accentuate the positive. Robertson was much more like his old self on Wednesday night. Gilmour and McGregor, as they have done so often in the past, combined effectively in the centre of the park against Switzerland. Ahead of them, McTominay and McGinn were direct, physical and relentless.

But the key quintet must step it up once again if Hungary are to be beaten and history is to be made.

(Image: PA)