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Football: Honours Even - England 0, Scotland 0

Friday June 18, 2021

By Kevan James

The very first match in this fixture, the oldest International in the world, ended 0-0, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, 115 games ago. Undoubtedly it had more fire, despite the result, than this one.

A scramble in the Scotland area towards the end of the game

Matt Dunham/Pool/Getty Images

Scotland recovered well from the disappointment of their defeat by the Czech Republic and were a little better than England but the game was not a classic and at times it was plain boring.

England looked slow and extraordinarily unimaginative going forward, Scotland not much better yet there were chances to be had for both sides. That was not due to defensive deficiencies from either team but there were times when one could be forgiven for thinking that a quiet agreement had been made between the two that a draw would be enough for both.

England need a point from their game against the Czechs next Tuesday (June 22) at Wembley to qualify as the most points either Scotland or Croatia can now accrue is four - England would then have five and their next opponents already have four after the 1-1 draw between them and Croatia, so would also have five. An England win however, will see them top the group and make things interesting for the other three nations.

But Scotland must win. To do that they must score and that seems to be a problem for them, not to mention England. Scotland weren't bad in this latest encounter between the globe's oldest football rivals but had England looked remotely like a favourite to win this tournament, and they didn't, it has to be said that they really ought to have won comfortably - if they are among the favourites. On balance, the Czech Republic and England are probably the best of the four so will go through. Scotland however are capable of beating Croatia but will need a helping hand from their old rivals south of the border.

An out of sorts Harry Kane finds an uncompromising Scottish defence

Getty Images via the BBC

A 1-0 win for the Scottish won't be enough, they will have to score more and equally, the more goals England can find next week will help. England's players however must think only of their own needs. Gareth Southgate said afterwards that this is a young England team, which is of course very true. Southgate is also right when saying that many of his players have not experienced this kind of game; the equivalent (in international terms) of a local derby, a requirement not to lose and an opponent needing a result.

"The expectation is that we win." added the England manager. "We haven't won. We've got to perform better. I have to accept that. I'm totally understanding of that and I will make sure the players are absolutely fine. There are a lot of young players in tonight's team and they will have learned a lot from that experience. They just about came through. We know we have to be better, that starts with me but we're a point closer to qualification and that's the first objective."

John Stones hits the Scottish upright with a towering header

Getty Images

That said, it must also be noted that, if indeed England are one of the favourites and are to at least reach the final, both Euros and World Cups are littered with ultimate winners who start unconvincingly. Be that as it may however, it will help if Harry Kane can find some energy and form. As it stands, Kane doesn't look anything like the player he can be and it may be that England's cause - and Kane's - will be helped by his not starting on Tuesday. What happens after that, should England's captain not start, depends very much on who takes his place. Against Scotland it was Marcus Rashford who replaced Kane in the second half but he was also largely anonymous, somewhat swamped by the Scottish defence.

Scotland's players applaud their fans and celebrate

Getty Images via the BBC

It has always been said that a win hides any problems and anything else highlights them. Had John Stones' mighty leap from a corner and firm header not hit the post early in the game and a 1-0 win been the result, the more over-enthusiastic would be talking England up until the cows come home. Until Tuesday at least. And therein lies a key - Stones' header did not go in, it hit the post. Despite some chances for both teams and one outstanding save each from both goalkeepers, Jordan Pickford was not really in trouble at any time during this encounter so are England pacing themselves? Does Gareth Southgate have a master plan? The game against the Czechs might tell us more because, whether England win the group or go through in second place, there are far, far sterner tests to come. And that's before we can get anywhere close to thinking about winning the tournament.

© Kevan James 2021


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