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EURO 2020: England’s clash with Scotland presents opportunity for Southgate’s side to make statement

Mid afternoon on Thursday and it appeared as though much of Scotland had decamped to London and decided to go no further than Kings Cross. On a slightly cooler June day, the north of the capital was looking splendidly Tartan.

For the Scots, Friday, June 18 was always likely to be the highlight of their Euro 2020 and after an opening defeat to the Czech Republic, it still feels that way.

An appearance in a major finals for the first time in over 20 years, it represents a return to relevance but with the greatest of respect to Steve Clarke and his players, Friday’s game at Wembley may be as glamorous as it gets this summer.

England’s clash with Scotland presents the perfect chance for them to make a statement 

In terms of Gareth Southgate’s England, it should feel different.

Despite the opposition and the emotions connected with such a game, it should look and feel like another step on a much longer road. Teams that have designs on winning Euros and World Cups tend to grow slowly into them. Those that fly from the blocks rarely reach the final hurdle.

With that in mind, England’s opening win over Croatia was just fine. It was a good victory, no more than that. It was constructed on the back of two shots on target.

Tonight against what remains a very modest team by international standards, Southgate’s players have an opportunity to be better, to find not only a victory that would put them in charge of the group but also a performance that can give some credence to their billing among the tournament favourites.

For the Scottish fans, Friday, June 18 was always likely to be the highlight of their Euro 2020

For the Scottish fans, Friday, June 18 was always likely to be the highlight of their Euro 2020

An appearance in a major finals for the first time in 20 years represents a return to relevance

An appearance in a major finals for the first time in 20 years represents a return to relevance 

‘We have talked about it this week,’ said Southgate last night. ‘How do we get better? That has to be the aim. We have the players for longer during a tournament. So we can look at the areas to improve. To be able to go the distance in a tournament like this, we have to do that.

‘We are seeing excellent performances by teams in other games. Teams like Italy and Belgium have been outstanding for a couple of years. So we have to keep improving. We should not settle.

‘The other night against Croatia was a good performance under the spotlight but we have got to get better and can.’

The hullabaloo in London will only grow as more Scots arrive today on trains from Glasgow and Edinburgh that have been booked out for weeks.

Only 2,700 of them have been allocated legitimate tickets but even so, it is all rather reminiscent of different days. There was a time, strange as it sounds now, when this fixture was played every year as part of what we called the Home Internationals.

However, Friday's clash at Wembley might be as glamorous as their tournament will get

However, Friday’s clash at Wembley might be as glamorous as their tournament will get 

Scotland lost their fist game to Czech Republic, adding pressure to their clash at Wembley

Scotland lost their fist game to Czech Republic, adding pressure to their clash at Wembley 

The modern truth is that England’s current players know very little of this rivalry. The fixture has only taken place on seven occasions in some of their lifetimes, and none of them are old enough to remember the famous game their manager played in at Wembley 25 years ago.

Nevertheless, that 2-0 win over Scotland in Euro 96 was as important for Terry Venables’ team as a convincing victory would be on Friday. That result — after a dull opening draw with Switzerland — served to kick-start England’s tournament, just like a win over Argentina briefly got England motoring in the 2002 World Cup and the 6-1 hammering of Panama in Nizhny Novgorod lit a fire under their journey through Russia 2018.

There is no reason why that should not happen on Friday. How would France, Belgium or Portugal approach a game against a side ranked 44th — just above Jamaica and Egypt — in the world? On the front foot, we would imagine.

The modern truth is that England’s current players know very little of this rivalry. The fixture has only taken place on seven occasions in some of their lifetimes

The modern truth is that England’s current players know very little of this rivalry. The fixture has only taken place on seven occasions in some of their lifetimes

Kane knows that Friday's game will in likelihood be a bit more difficult than it should be

Kane knows that Friday’s game will in likelihood be a bit more difficult than it should be

‘We are still very early in the tournament,’ said England captain Harry Kane. ‘The balance we need now is between expressing ourselves and not getting too carried away.’

Kane has a point and knows that Friday’s game will in likelihood be a bit more difficult than it should be, particularly given that Scotland’s opening defeat will have altered the way Clarke’s team approach it.

As Manchester United’s Scott McTominay said yesterday: ‘Of course the aim is to win but first and foremost we can’t lose —that’s the sole focus.’

With that in mind, England can probably expect a Scotland formation featuring just the one centre forward and three centre halves. A congested midfield will suit Scotland on Friday and the challenge for England will be to find more pockets of space than they did against Croatia.

In terms of the build-up, there has been talk in Scotland of English arrogance. It was ever thus.

Scott McTominay says Scotland want to win the game but they are focused on not losing

Scott McTominay says Scotland want to win the game but they are focused on not losing

‘I have never been in an England team that did not respect Scotland,’ said Southgate.

‘This team now, that’s not how they are. We have to have confidence. We can’t be shrinking violets. We can’t undersell this evening to them, but also we don’t want to overplay it.

‘We want them ready. We want them to go and play.’

Scotland have given Southgate’s England a fright before. Trailing 2-1 at Hampden in added time in 2017 was not a good look. Kane rescued a point that afternoon but his manager still sees the Scottish goals in his nightmares, or so he says.

The gap between the teams feels wider now and as such, England have an opportunity to make a statement that will resonate far further than north of Hadrian’s Wall.

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