SCOTLAND 1 SWITZERLAND 1 Pride restored as brave Scotland keep alive hopes of reaching knockout stage

TEDDY ROOSEVELT, the late American president, once said that nothing in the world was worth having or worth doing unless it meant effort, pain and difficulty. Scotland’s national football team have never known any else. It’s an ingrained way of life.

Shuffling from the RheinEnergieStadion, the well-oiled, hoarse rank of the Tartan Army nursed a mixture of emotions. Pride, relief, anticipation and that old familiar feeling of anguish.

When Grant Hanley attacked an Andrew Robertson free-kick after 66 minutes, the game was finely poised, the tension choking the city of Cologne. Two inches to the right and Scotland would have secured only their seventh win in a major international tournament in 34 attempts. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

A point keeps the pitch for history alive. Beat Hungary in Stuttgart on Sunday and four points should seal a place in the last 16 of Euro 2024 as one of the best third-place finishers. After the excruciating horror of *that* 5-1 defeat to Germany, every Scot would have taken that before a ball was kicked.

The Scots were aggressive, resolute and ambitious, and Scott McTominay’s deflected strike might even have won the three points but for Anthony Ralston’s catastrophic pass and a quite sublime finish from Xherdan Shaqiri.

Despite riding their luck at times, the Scots deserved a point at the very least. Even if the start of the game promised so much more.

McTominay celebrates in front of the Swiss fans after giving Scotland a crucial opener

McTominay lets fly with the effort that brought Scotland's opener, via a deflection off Schar

McTominay lets fly with the effort that brought Scotland’s opener, via a deflection off Schar

Clarke was pleased with the point, meaning Scotland have their destiny in their own hands

Clarke was pleased with the point, meaning Scotland have their destiny in their own hands

A first corner inside two minutes was an improvement on Germany, when they won none at all. A goal after 13 minutes almost seemed too good to be true.

There was a slice of luck about the way it finished, for sure.

Take nothing away from the quality of the build-up. Billy Gilmour’s deft lay off sent Robertson surging forward. Laying the ball to the left to Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain’s cut-back picked out McTominay in the position where Scotland like him best; on the edge of the area with a shot on.

It wasn’t his best effort on goal. Would it have beaten Yann Sommer but for the outstretched boot of Fabian Schar directing it into the roof of the net? Possibly not.

No one especially cared how the goal came about, only that Scotland had the best possibly foothold in the game. Aggressive in the press, more menacing in attack, they’d made an excellent start. UEFA officially awarded the goal to McTominay and any debate was settled.

At this level, all it takes is one slip, one catastrophic error to turn disbelief to despair.

Angus Gunn can only look back in despair as Shaqiri's effort finds the top corner of his net

Angus Gunn can only look back in despair as Shaqiri’s effort finds the top corner of his net

Shaqiri wheels away after scoring in his SIXTH major tournament finals, a Swiss record

Shaqiri wheels away after scoring in his SIXTH major tournament finals, a Swiss record

The return of Shaqiri made this Switzerland’s oldest ever starting XI at the Euros. Brimming with experience, Shaqiri – left out of the opening game win over Hungary – was making his seventh major tournament appearance. He knows how this game goes.

Ralston’s retention for game two was always contentious. The second choice right-back at Celtic, he was targeted ruthlessly by the Germans and Switzerland were never likely to miss him either.

Even so, there was no real pressure when he played a slack pass to no one in particular along his own 18-yard line. Let’s be clear on this much, Switzerland’s Chicago Fire veteran still had so much to do and the quality of the curling finish was quite magnificent. It might already be the goal of Euro 2024.

None of that came as much consolation to Steve Clarke’s side. All that good work, all that hope and optimism, had been torn asunder with one loose, careless pass. Mix with the big boys and that’s all it takes.

Scotland survived a ropey old spell after that. Switzerland had their tails up.

Despite an unconvincing run in qualifying, the Swiss had lost just two of their last 14 group games at major tournaments, winning seven and drawing five. They’d only lost one of their last eight Euro group-stage games. Their last 15 games in all competitions had brought just one defeat and, suddenly, it was natural to fear the worst.

A sweeping counter-attacking move from the team in white deserved a goal. A much-criticised figure after Munich, Angus Gunn went some way towards redemption when Bologna’s Dan Ndoye cut inside from the left and forced a brilliant fingertip save.

Ricardo Rodriguez takes Gilmour out on the touchline, earning him a booking in the process

Ricardo Rodriguez takes Gilmour out on the touchline, earning him a booking in the process

When Switzerland’s physical, dangerous No 19 had the ball in the net moments later, it took an offside intervention to save Scotland’s bacon. They looked to be a team gasping for breath, seeking a second wind from somewhere.

It came from the composure and guile of Billy Gilmour and Callum McGregor. In the minutes before half-time, the deep-lying duo demanded the ball, kept it and passed it. There was nothing fancy, nothing complex about what they did, but it did the trick. When Gilmour had the ball, Granit Xhaka didn’t; it really was that simple.

Slowly, the ship stopped rocking and Scotland made it to half-time without sustaining further damage. Che Adams even crept up at the back post to force Sommer into a save from a corner kick as if to remind everyone the score was level. The three points were still there to be won.

Possession stats showed Scotland enjoying 59-per-cent possession at the start of the second half, offering grounds for hope.

With Scotland it never stays dry for long, unfortunately. And when Kieran Tierney was stretchered off after twisting his studs in the turf trying to deal with a great missed chance for N’Doye, the injury curse which blighted the build-up to the tournament struck yet again.

Signalling to the bench the minute he went down, there was no question of the Arsenal defender playing on. Tierney looked devastated, covering his face with his hands as he left the pitch horizontal, earning an embrace from Clarke.

Tierney's injury spells the end of the tournament for the Real Sociedad defender

Tierney’s injury spells the end of the tournament for the Real Sociedad defender

Akanji gets his boot to the ball before substitute Shankland in a nervy finale for the Swiss

Akanji gets his boot to the ball before substitute Shankland in a nervy finale for the Swiss

Scott McKenna slotted into his left-sided berth for a finely-poised and tense final half hour and how close Scotland came to taking the lead with a little over 20 minutes to play.

Winning a free-kick in a dangerous position on the corner of the 18-yard area, Robertson floated the ball towards the back post. Hanley won his dual brilliantly, a downward header from eight yards clattering off the post before spinning past the lurking McTominay. Despite the best efforts of the Tartan Army to suck the ball into the net, Switzerland survived. God only knows how.

The final minutes were played on a knife edge, the fear of defeat palpable. Substitute Breel Embolo raced through on goal and chipped into the net over Angus Gunn. Rightly, he was flagged offside. Zeki Amdouni nodded a free-kick inches wide and the hearts of the Tartan Army ticked once more.

It took a brilliant piece of defending from Manuel Akanji to deny Lawrence Shankland, Clarke’s last throw of the dice, a tap in. At time up, the Tartan Army applauded a superb effort from their team.

Robertson and McGregor embrace at the end of a draining 90 minutes in Cologne

Robertson and McGregor embrace at the end of a draining 90 minutes in Cologne

Most had gathered in the sun-baked bars and cafes of Cologne to watch Hungary give Germany a significantly harder game than their own team managed in an excruciating opening match of the tournament when they mustered just one shot on goal over 90 minutes. This was so much better.

Both the hosts and Switzerland will progress safely into the knock-out stages while Scotland and Hungary clash in a true test of nerve in Stuttgart on Sunday.

It’s not over yet. Not by a long chalk.

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