Shaqiri joins the Euros party in trademark style but much-improved Scotland stay alive in Group A

Dave Tickner
Scott McTominay celebrates his goal for Scotland against Switzerland at Euro 2024
Scott McTominay celebrates his goal for Scotland

Scotland and major-tournament group-stage exits are a none-more-iconic duo, but they’ve given themselves a chance at least of avoiding that familiar fate.

Given the nature of that harrowing thrashing against Germany on the opening night and their own infamously storied history, Scotland have to take that.

This hard-won and well-deserved point against Switzerland leaves Scotland with almost no chance of a top-two finish, but does leave a strong third very much in their hands.

To finish second, Scotland would now need to beat Hungary and hope already-qualified Germany beat Switzerland. And on top of that Scotland would require a six-goal swing.

But if they do beat a Hungary side who have lost both games so far in Germany, Scotland would finish on four points. In the two previous European Championships played under the current format, in 2016 and 2021, no team finishing third with four points has been eliminated and at least one team at each event has made it through with three.

Scotland would also finish third in the group with a draw against Hungary, but no team got through to the last 16 from third place with two points in 2016 or 2021. Primarily because no team actually managed to pull off the particular trick of finishing third with two points.

So while it’s not quite as cut and dried as this, it pretty much is: beat Hungary, and this Scotland squad – one thoroughly humiliated and written off less than a week ago – will be the first Scotland squad to reach the knockout stage of a men’s major tournament. It’s a very real chance.

But a draw or a defeat, and out Scotland go home early once again. Of course, that equation also highlights precisely why a draw tonight was a pretty acceptable result for Switzerland. It doesn’t quite guarantee them a top-two finish, but it would now take a pair of startling results to close out the group for them to miss out, and even then they would be almost certain to qualify via the third-place safety net.

That’s the maths out of the way. And while it was Scotland making the more concerted efforts to win this game in the second half, it was certainly a half that had less about it than the frantic and thrilling first 45 minutes. Either side would have accepted a winner had it fallen their way, of course, but both were understandably reasonably happy with what they had.

In a less brilliant tournament, that might have led to something rather dull. This kind of ‘draw suits both sides’ scenario is one of the flaws of a format that takes two-thirds of the third-placed teams through to the knockouts.

Luckily for us all, this particular tournament is right now utterly impervious to dullness. This remained entertaining to the last, with a near constant sense that someone on either side might do something absurdly brilliant or catastrophically bad at any moment.

Scotland were infinitely better than the team that froze so horribly on the opening night. Switzerland aren’t Germany, but nor are they Dark Horses for no reason. This was a fine result and performance from a Scotland side that thoroughly deserved it.

The big players stood up. John McGinn looked far more like the midfield powerhouse we’ve been accustomed to seeing at Aston Villa over the last year or so, while Billy Gilmour, Andy Robertson and eventually Scott McTominay all played fine hands in a really well-crafted breakaway goal that gave Scotland the lead.

There was fortune for sure in the way Fabian Schar diverted the ball from Yann Sommer’s path into the roof of the net, but the initial decision to award an own goal was clearly daft and soon amended.

We’re huge fans of the funniest decision always being the best decision, and awarding another own goal to allow it to stretch its already impressive lead in the race for the Golden Boot was certainly that. The apparent unwritten rule in operation during this tournament that all goals must be own goals or thunderbastards is a fine one.

But alas it wasn’t to be. Someone had a word, and the goal was officially in the end awarded to McTominay.

We weren’t to be denied a thunderbastard, though, coming from the still absurdly cultured left boot of Xherdan Shaqiri. It is required by law to note that Shaqiri is Somehow Still Only 32 but he must also now be considered pound-for-pound one of the modern major tournament greats. He’s now scored at six of the things, and this outrageously good goal probably isn’t even his best one.

Switzerland always qualify, and Shaqiri always scores. And you can be thoroughly sure he’ll rock up and do the same in the USA two years from now to the utter astonishment of all who’ve watched him play walking football in MLS.

He is, in short, a hero. We hadn’t even fully realised that the one thing missing from this tournament had been a Shaqiri madness until we saw his name on the teamsheet. And fair play to whichever wag in the UEFA graphics department joined in with the fun by listing him at wing-back.

Shaqiri lasted almost an hour and the match not much more in truth, but on a mutually beneficial night Switzerland wind up all but through and Scotland still in there with a fighting chance.