Scotland keep knockout hopes alive after battling draw with Switzerland

Scotland keep knockout hopes alive after battling draw with Switzerland

Scotland came into this game with the sole aspiration of not being sent homeward to think again. Defeat in Cologne would have left them needing unlikely favours from other groups, even if they were to beat Hungary in Stuttgart on Sunday. On that front, it was job done. Scotland now know a win against Hungary would take them to the four‑point tally that should be sufficient for the holy grail of a tournament knockout place for the first time.

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The Scots responded admirably from the 5-1 thumping by Germany. It is just that when the dust settles on this invigorating bout, Scotland may feel they should have taken more.

The pre-match scene meant the 90‑odd minutes to follow had a lot to live up to. Murat Yakin, the Switzerland head coach, whipped his supporters into a frenzy three quarters of an hour before kick-off. In a stadium which lends itself to a rousing atmosphere, a vociferous rendition of the Swiss Psalm was topped by a staging of Flower of Scotland which only epitomised how much this fixture meant to the Tartan Army. This felt a seminal moment in Steve Clarke’s tenure. Scotland had one win in their previous 10 outings, that coming against Gibraltar.

With John McGinn winning Scotland a corner after 102 seconds, the team had provided more attacking menace than during the wounding episode in Munich on Friday. Scott McTominay duly slammed the set play low and against a defender.

From another corner, this time a Switzerland one, Scotland earned the breakthrough. The Swiss dithered having taken it short, which allowed Clarke’s men to break. Billy Gilmour, restored to the starting XI, calmly fed Andy Robertson. The Liverpool full-back rampaged to the edge of the Switzerland penalty area, at which point he overhit a pass to Callum McGregor.

The Celtic captain salvaged the situation by laying the ball back to Scott McTominay; his shot flew off Fabian Schär and beyond the stranded Yann Sommer. McTominay’s attempt was on target but would have presented no problem to Sommer had the Newcastle defender not intervened. Scotland had liftoff; just not for long.

Anthony Ralston will have nightmares about his role in the equaliser. The right-back panicked and blindly flicked the ball inside, to nobody in particular, as Scotland tried to tidy up a Swiss attack. Xherdan Shaqiri latched on to Ralston’s error and curled beyond Angus Gunn with his first touch from 18 yards. Ralston’s slackness will rightly command attention but this was a touch of class from the veteran Shaqiri, who did not start Switzerland’s weekend win over Hungary. He has now scored in the last three European Championships and last three World Cups.

As Gunn saved smartly from Dan Ndoye, Switzerland were of a mind to make their first-half domination of possession count. Ndoye had the ball in the net seconds later, only to be denied by an offside flag. To describe the pace of play as frenetic would represent gross understatement. It was wonderful, chaotic stuff which only occasionally slowed down to a blur. The entertainment level was helped by the fact neither team looked at all convincing in defence.

Scotland had made it through the latter stages of the half in no small part because of the composure of Gilmour and McGregor. They provided a delicate touch as the game raged around them. It was further to Scotland’s credit that Granit Xhaka had little to say during those opening 45 minutes. Shaqiri, whose influence was more profound, was withdrawn on the hour mark.

The second period had been something of a slow burner until Ndoye burst free of the Scotland defence before watching his shot turned wide by the advancing Gunn. As he battled with the Switzerland forward, Kieran Tierney pulled up holding his left hamstring. The defender was removed from the field on a stretcher; it will be a shock if he plays any further part in this tournament. Given his importance to Scotland, this felt a meaningful blow.

Still, the Scots came within the width of a post of taking a 67th-minute lead. Robertson swung in a teasing free-kick, which was met by the head of Grant Hanley. As the ball rebounded from the woodwork, the Swiss were able to scramble it clear.

Clarke’s call now was whether to stick or twist. The Swiss appeared content to take a point with more than 15 minutes to go. Yet Yakin’s men also carried clear and obvious danger on the counterattack. They were pinpointing Ralston, who endured his second torrid evening of the Euros.

McTominay saw an acrobatic effort blocked. The Swiss substitute Breel Embolo found Gunn’s net but was offside. Zeki Amdouni headed a glorious opportunity wide. The sharing of two goals felt incredible given the start to proceedings. It was also perfectly fair.