McTominay cannot channel Keane against Juventus, Moyes gaslights West Ham and Scotland fail again

Matt Stead
Scotland midfielders Scott McTominay and John McGinn with a fan
Scotland are out of Euro 2024

It started with John McGinn being fouled, had some David Moyes gaslighting halfway through and ended with Scotland exiting Euro 2024 in spectacular fashion.


Scotland have a proud, glittering history of setting up a grandstand tournament finish they have either no intention or no chance of delivering.

They just had to beat Croatia at Euro 2020, but lost 3-1. They just had to beat Morocco at the 1998 World Cup, but lost 3-0. They just had to beat Switzerland by enough goals at Euro ’96, but only won 1-0. They just had to beat Uruguay at the 1986 World Cup, but drew 0-0 despite their opponents having a man sent off after 56 seconds. They just had to beat the Soviet Union at the 1982 World Cup but drew 2-2. They just had to beat Yugoslavia at the 1974 World Cup, but drew 1-1.

It is why, for all the reserved satisfaction generated by a draw with Switzerland which had millions searching qualification permutations heading into the final group games, many knew what was probably coming. The only mystery was just how much of a mess Scotland would make of trying to sneak through the back door and into the knockouts.

This was a worthy entrant into the pantheon of complete failure. Scotland had four shots in a game they realistically needed to win; their second came in the 93rd minute. The first was from Che Adams, which is arguably even more damning. They lingered for ages on a penalty decision which was probably offside anyway. They had a corner in the 99th minute, decided not to send their keeper up for no apparent reason, and then still conceded on the counter anyway with no player bothering to make a preventative tactical foul, all of which combines to create a sackable offence by Steve Clarke before even mentioning anything else that has taken place in Germany this summer.

Worst of all, the actual David Moyes spent most of half-time saying both sides needed to stop sitting back and go for the win, with Ofcom surely crashing because of an influx of calls from West Ham supporters complaining about being gaslit on live television.

And it did take two to commit this reverse Disgrace of Gijon to history. Hungary will insist their approach was entirely justified by the eventual victory supplied by Kevin Csoboth’s late breakaway goal, which considerably strengthens their hopes of reaching the knockouts without actually guaranteeing a place. But they sat bizarrely deep against a Scotland side with a laughable lack of cutting edge.

They played for precisely the result they got but made unnecessarily hard work of it.

Their initial tactic was simply to keep running into John McGinn. The Aston Villa midfielder was fouled five times and coaxed two Hungary bookings with some typically expert use of his body.

Perhaps that rather physical treatment contributed to McGinn being taken off in the 76th minute. Not long before, his delivery almost found Scott McTominay but was put behind for a corner. It was one of those runs, from around the centre circle to the byline on the right, during which the attacking player at no stage seems to be in actual control of the ball, yet no defender could take it from him. McGinn was as determined as anyone for Scotland not to waste yet another opportunity.

The same could be said for McTominay, who tried to force his Roy Keane against Juventus moment with a 50th-minute booking which meant he was suspended for a theoretical last-16 tie. The closest the Manchester United midfielder came to manifesting that destiny was from a low Stuart Armstrong ball into the area but the close-range finish was high, wide and offside.

Those two players combined earlier for the moment on which this tournament exit might be pinned for many. Played in by a clever Billy Gilmour pass, McTominay burst forward and eventually found Armstrong behind the defence. The failure to get a shot away was entirely in keeping with this overall Scotland performance but the contact with Willi Orban was clear. Slightly less so was who actually initiated it and which player it obstructed more, as the mess of limbs made it difficult to decipher. And in any event, the possible offside call which every replay decided not to focus on might well have made the point moot.

As it was, the biggest Scottish cheer was for Adams blocking a clearance and conceding a throw-in midway into Hungary’s half, which felt fitting. The Southampton forward spent the rest of the game conceding free-kicks in dangerous areas and inexplicably still being linked with Premier League teams.

It would be a toss-up for some between Adams and Grant Hanley for who that one big chance had to fall to; the Norwich centre-half forced a save from Peter Gulacsi but there was never enough accuracy on his rushed shot after some panicked penalty-box defending from Hungary.

The victors deserve immense credit after the harrowing scenes involving Barnabas Varga. The striker collided with Angus Gunn when attacking a Dominik Szoboszlai free-kick and was immediately rendered prone. The cameras mercifully and eventually cut away after the seriousness of the situation had long since become apparent, with lessons learned from that awful evening three years ago involving Christian Eriksen.

Varga was finally stretchered off after a curious lack of urgency. The Hungarian Football Federation have since described his condition as ‘stable’, adding that he will soon undergo surgery on a fractured cheekbone. But his tournament is over, even if Hungary’s might yet continue.

His teammates, presumably still in a state of shock and concern for their friend, secured the result they needed in dramatic and almost heroic fashion, a harsh contrast to most of what came before. Scotland simply never seemed capable of the same, nor particularly rushed to test that theory.

They are the first team eliminated from the tournament, with more cards (five) than shots on target (three) and a talented group reduced to precious little. At least next time they head into the last game of a European Championship or World Cup group stage with anything still mathematically possible, they have another historic ‘what if?’ scenario to add to the collection.

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