AS he sat stony-faced in the press conference auditorium deep in the bowels of the MHPArena in Stuttgart late on Sunday night and was grilled by reporters about the defeat Scotland had just suffered at the hands of Hungary, Steve Clarke admitted he would take time to reflect on what had just happened.

“Maybe when we go away, maybe when we sit down over a cup of coffee in three or four weeks’ time or whenever it is, maybe then we can discuss it,” he said in the aftermath of an agonising loss which had knocked the national team out of the Euro 2024 finals before the knockout rounds.

It will be interesting to hear why Clarke feels his charges failed to make history and progress. Members of the Tartan Army travelled to Germany from across the globe in large numbers with high hopes of their heroes making it through to the last 16 for the first time ever after watching them qualify with two games to spare. They were to be left bitterly disappointed.

READ MOREPride comes before a ball: How passionate fans won at Euro 2024

So what went wrong this time? Why did Scotland fail to perform at the level they had in their wins over Cyprus, Spain, Norway and Georgia last year? Why has this country yet again failed so spectacularly on a grand stage when the world was watching? Here are five reasons for another finals to forget.

It’s a penalty!

If referee Facundo Tello had awarded Scotland a penalty when Stuart Armstrong was fouled in the Hungary box by Willi Orban in the closing stages of the match on Sunday night then the narrative surrounding their involvement in Euro 2024 just now would be entirely different.

If a player in a dark blue jersey had stepped forward and converted a spot kick to put the national side ahead at that stage in the match and they had sat back and protected their lead until the final whistle, then Andy Robertson and his team mates would be getting hailed as heroes in their homeland today. 

It is, of course, all ifs, buts and maybes. Still, it was a stonewaller. Why did the VARs not look back at the incident and urge the match official to watch a replay on his pitchside monitor? It was as baffling as it was infuriating.

It is, however, just the sort of rotten bad luck which has bedevilled Scotland at major tournaments over the decades. The break of the ball, the rub of the green, whatever you want to call it, never seems to go their way.

(Image: PA) A smarting Clarke expressed his unhappiness that Tello, who hails from Argentina, was put in charge of such an important fixture at his post-match press conference following the game. He was firmly of the view that only European referees should be used in UEFA competitions.

But Tello has to have a decent command of English – it is referees’ lingua franca – to officiate at the highest level so his nationality and native tongue should not have been  an issue. Anyway, his assistants were from his country and the VARs were from Spain. It was just a bad, and costly, call. 


Clarke declined to comment when he was asked if Scotland’s involvement at Euro 2024 had been hopelessly compromised before a ball had been kicked due to the players who had been ruled out by injury following the Hungary loss. 

READ MOREIs Clarke still the man to lead Scotland after Euros flop?

 It is, however, undeniable that the absence of certain key players proved costly. The national team manager has long favoured a 3-4-2-1 formation. It helps him to field both Kieran Tierney or Arsenal and Andy Robertson of Liverpool in the same starting line-up and has proved devastatingly effective for him on many occasions in the past.

But for it to work well he needs to have two exceptional wing-backs. Liverpool defender Robertson is certainly that. So are Aaron Hickey of Brentford and Nathan Patterson of Everton. When they are all available this country is a force to be reckoned with on the international stage. Just ask Spain.

But Hickey and Patterson were both unavailable for Germany due to long-term injuries and Clarke had to put his faith in Ralston in the specialist position. The Celtic player is a fine footballer who has performed well at international level on numerous occasions in the past. He has, however, not featured regularly for his club in the past 10 months and it showed.

Ralston was, like so many of his compatriots, poor against Germany in the tournament opener in Munich. He then gifted Switzerland their goal with a slack pass in the second outing in Cologne. He was fine against Hungary. But he offered little if anything going forward.

(Image: PA) It is hard not to have some sympathy for a decent professional who gave his absolute all in difficult circumstances. But Scotland were neither as watertight at the back or dangerous going forward as they had been in qualifying with him in the key role. 

Up front, too, they badly missed Lyndon Dykes. The Queens Park Rangers man would have given them an outball in their encounter with the tournament hosts at the Allianz Arena. They shelled the ball upfield on numerous occasions as they defended for their lives. Their rivals reclaimed possession with ease every time and launched attack after attack against them. They could have scored more than five goals.  

Maybe if Dykes had been deployed as the lone front man that would not have been the case. Maybe the Australian-born striker would have been able to hold it up and bring those behind him in the play. If he had been on the pitch they might have had greater joy at corners an free-kicks as well. Their corner kicks and free kicks were consistently poor at Euro 2024.

READ MOREKenny McLean defends Scotland's 'desperation' tactics in Hungary loss

Ben Doaks being ruled out was also a blow. The Liverpool teenager has never been capped at full international level and it was a bit of a surprise when he was named in the provisional 28 man squad for the warm-up friendlies against Gibraltar and Finland. But he has pace and guile in abundance. Perhaps he would have made a difference.

Lewis Ferguson, who has skippered Bologna to fourth place in Serie A, was a loss too. He would perhaps not have started, but he would certainly have been a useful man to have in the squad. Scotland need all of their top players fit and on form to perform at their best and they just did not have that. 


With his first choice right wing-back and striker missing, Clarke really required his senior personnel, the likes of Grant Hanley, Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson, Callum McGregor, Billy Gilmour, John McGinn, Ryan Christie, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, to perform at their maximum.

Hanley, who was left out of the opener because he was not fit enough, was probably the best of them. The others showed glimpses of what they were capable of. McGregor, McTominay and Adams were decent against Switzerland and McGinn started well in the meeting with Hungary. But they were pale imitations of the players they can be.

Was that the result of them coming off the back of long, hard seasons? Or were they nursing knocks? Whatever the reason, it cost Scotland dear.

Team selection

Clarke had a definite game plan in Stuttgart on Sunday night – sit back, prevent Marco Rossi’s counter-attacking team from edging in front and then throw caution to the wind in the closing stages and go for the winner.

It very nearly worked. If Scotland had been awarded a penalty then it could all have been quit different at the end of the 90 minutes. But could they not have been just a little bit more attack-minded?

Players instantly become 10 times better than they actually are when a team loses and they are not involved. Still, Lawrence Shankland made more of an impact against Hungary during his short time on the park than Adams did. Would James Forrest and Tommy Conway not have provided more of a cutting edge in the final third?


Lesser nations than Scotland have gone to European Championship and World Cup finals and stood up and been counted. Other countries’ players have travelled to Germany after punishing campaigns domestically and on the continent and given far better accounts of themselves. Teams comprised of individuals who ply their trade at a far lower level have been greater than the sum of their parts.

(Image: PA) So why do Scotland always fail to rise to the occasion. Perhaps there is something about our psyche. Maybe we just have an inferiority complex as a result of years of failure at international level. The players looked frightened, out of their depth, like they wanted to be somewhere else, against Germany. 

They certainly stood up and were counted against Switzerland and then, for 99 minutes at least, Hungary. But it was not enough. The line between success and failure in international football, against the very top teams anyway, is infinitesimal. They have to develop a winners’ mentality both collectively and individually going forward to give their wonderful supporters the sort of side they deserve.