England-Scotland is large at Euro 2020 and the oldest worldwide rivalry in soccer
The oldest international game in the world has never felt so alive. On Friday evening in Euro 2020 Group D, England will face Scotland, 115th at Wembley Stadium.
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Gareth Southgate’s side have the luxury of home advantage and the comfort that comes from beating Croatia in their first game. They have plans to win Euro 2020, while Scotland is more interested in extending its stint at a first grand final in 23 years. After the 2-0 defeat against the Czech Republic on Monday, the Scots are on the verge of losing it if they lose in a place where it would probably hurt more than any other.
It is a contest for both the ages and the here and now, with a longstanding passion fueled by England’s desire to maintain the status quo and Scotland for renewal, with the sporting context reflecting the political tensions within the UK reflects.
The clash on Friday will have a decisive impact on the football fate of these two teams this summer: neighbors on a collision course, which was originally the catalyst for international football as we know it.
The English Football Association brought a team to Partick in the first official international match on November 30, 1872. It ended 0-0, but the game was set to become an annual event, with Scotland winning nine of the first 13 fixtures, including some heavy scores of 7-2, 6-1 and 5-1.
In 1937, 149,415 people flocked to Hampden Park – the biggest ever football stadium at the time – to see Scotland win 3-1. A year after England won their only World Cup in 1966, England defeated Scotland 3-2 at Wembley and crowned themselves “World Champions”.
There have been more recent matches in an overall record that is England 48 wins, Scotland 41 wins and 25 draws. England defeated a two-legged play-off 2-1 overall to qualify for Euro 2000 and their last duel was in June 2017 when Harry Kane equalized in added time to a 2-2 To get a draw in a World Cup qualifier.
But it is Euro ’96 that draws the strongest parallels with this summer, exactly 25 years after Scotland’s last tournament, when they played England in their second game at Wembley.
The backdrop to Euro ’96 and now
Scotland’s manager at Euro ’96, Craig Brown, once described how he suspected that BBC commentator John Motson was acting as a “spy” for his English counterpart Terry Venables by watching their training sessions. Brown revealed that he consistently switched the team’s set pieces and worked out different plans with alternative buyers so that any information returned was “total nonsense.” It may have been the original Spygate, but arguably not even the most ridiculous aspect of the build.
Scotland fans traveled to London ahead of Friday’s England game, with around 3,500 expected to attend the Group D game at Wembley. Craig Williamson / SNS Group via Getty Images
Singer and soccer fan Rod Stewart even trained with Scotland before the tournament. Stewart was also pictured having a drink with English midfielder Paul Ince in an Eppinger beer garden just days before the tournament started, and shortly after the infamous dentist’s chair drinking game in Hong Kong that got the hosts controversial before the ball hit kicked.
There were no such distractions outside of the field in the lead-up to Friday’s encounter; In fact, both countries have agreed to get on their knees before kick-off on Friday as a sign of solidarity in the fight against racial inequality. However, there are no political similarities, which is putting a strain on relations between the two countries.
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The Scottish National Party continues to push for a second referendum to leave the UK after losing in 2014, mainly on the grounds that circumstances changed after a majority of Scots voted to remain in the European in 2016 Union had voted to leave because of different results.
Many Scots feel that their voice is not being heard, but around 3,500 members of the Tartan Army will do their best to change that on Friday evening.
How do the teams fit together?
The difference in quality between the Premier League and the Scottish Premiership is reflected to some extent in the two squads, certainly in terms of strength in depth. However, Scotland has two superb left-backs in Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney – ironically, a position where England played a right-back, Kieran Trippier, at the start of Group D – while Scott McTominay has a proven pedigree stemming from his promotion at Manchester United.
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Steve Clarke’s preferred 5-3-2 form will make them difficult to beat and it could be a problem for an English team that has long been lacking a midfielder to set the pace in their passing game, much like Holland’s Frenkie De Jong or Croatia’s Luka Modric. Yet England has the firepower Scotland can only dream of and Southgate will expect its superior quality, especially given that they can play without the same pressure on results after winning their opening game at a European Championship for the first time in their history.
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Who could provide another “Paul Gascoigne” moment?
The summer of 1996, which is still fondly remembered in England, turned in 60 seconds. Terry Venables’ English led Scotland 1-0 when Gary McAllister parried his 78th-minute penalty. England started the ball up field and history was made when Darren Anderton slid a pass forward to Paul Gascoigne. Gascoigne lifted the ball with his left foot over defender Colin Hendry and with a right volley past goalkeeper Andy Goram.
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It’s an iconic moment that resonates with the € 96 because of the neat symmetry that Euro 2020 has, and there was a natural desperation to anoint a “new gazza” this summer.
Manchester City’s Phil Foden had to endure high comparisons with many of the game’s greats early in his career and did little himself in that regard by coloring his hair to resemble the peroxide blonde Gascoigne that was worn during that tournament. He almost delivered within six minutes of England’s opening game against Croatia by hitting the inside post with a curvy left foot but ultimately denied a goal that would have taken the exaggeration around him to another level.
England have the second youngest squad at the finals – their average age of 25.2 is only beaten by Turkey at 24.9 per player – and the offensive options are clearly their greatest strength. But Raheem Sterling’s winning goal against Croatia was the first goal that any of these squads had ever scored at a European Championship. Harry Kane won the Golden Shoe at the last World Cup, but a real creative star in Gascoigne form has yet to emerge from several promising candidates.
Foden remains the obvious candidate given his breakthrough season at Manchester City but Jack Grealish brought his case during England’s two warm-up games and was unfortunate enough not to play against Croatia. With the power of personality and a boast on the ball similar to Gascoigne, Grealish offers a different invention than the more direct approach of Sterling or Jadon Sancho, the latter of whom was also not on the 23-man squad against Croatia.
Mason Mount’s inclusion in a three-man midfield with Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips may seem conservative given the yelling to include Grealish, Foden and others, but the Chelsea star offers a discipline without the ball that Southgate values as well as skill to transition quickly to pose a real threat in the last third. If the balance allows brilliance it will be difficult to leave out the Chelsea midfielder.
This plethora of options is in stark contrast to Euro 96 when England relied on a 29-year-old who faced question marks after 15 months with a broken leg.
“Gazza is no longer a fat, drunk idiot,” wrote the Daily Mirror the day after England beat Scotland. “He’s a football genius indeed.” That’s the impact that England versus Scotland can have.