Expect Scotland’s underdogs to bare their teeth in Group D clash
Ever since Robert the Bruce gave King Edward II a good seeing to at Bannockburn more than 700 years ago this month, relationships been England and Scotland have been a bit spicey. Not that they were over-cordial beforehand, but by defying the odds on the field of battle, the Scots have since revelled in the role of underdogs, particularly in sport and especially against the English.
Think 1967 and Denis Law and Jim Baxter inspiring ‘God’s frozen people’ to a jaw-dropping success at Wembley against Sir Alf Ramsey’s newly-crowned world champions. Think 1990 and David Sole’s slow march to glory in rugby’s Five Nations Grand Slam decider against Will Carling’s all-conquering men in white.
Or in 2019 when unfancied Scotland, down and out at 31-0 just before half time, clawed their way back to lead in the greatest Six Nations comeback in history, only for George Ford to score an 83rd minute try to square the thriller, 38-38.
Tonight, there is another confrontation between the Auld Enemy, a small matter of a pivotal Group D match in the European Championships at Wembley (8pm) which provides the latest instalment of world football’s longest-running rivalry. Having beaten Croatia in their opening game, England know victory should be enough to put them into the next phase, whereas Scotland – beaten by the Czech Republic on Monday – need the three points to avoid the ignominy of an early exit.
On paper, it should be straightforward for Gareth Southgate’s cultured, tournament-hardened team. But this is a fiercely-proud Scotland side who will play with enough aggression to test England’s stomach for a scrap.
We have, of course, been here before. England need only to go back to 2013 when a side featuring Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney trailed twice to what was thought a lamentable Scottish team before debut-making Ricky Lambert was summoned from the bench to score the late winner with his first touch.
And in 2017, Harry Kane equalised in the 93rd minute to deny Scotland a famous win in a World Cup qualifier. Again, England turned up with all the big names but were less than convincing.
Obviously, the most famous encounter came at Euro 96 when, a few minutes after Gary McAllister missed a penalty, Paul Gascoigne’s storybook goal sparked delirium and a thousand choruses of “It’s Coming Home”.
However, it will take more than Phil Foden’s take on Gazza’s haircut to channel the spirit of ’96 tonight. If England turn timid in the face of rampant patriotism, it will, in the words of “O Flower of Scotland”, be Southgate who is “sent homeward tae think again”.