Scotland would flog Edinburgh Castle for a tournament record like Switzerland’s: Steve Clarke’s side can’t afford another slip up in their second group game

Switzerland are the international team Scotland aspire to be. A nation whose reliability at major tournaments is almost as consistent as the precision of their timekeeping.

Before Euro 2024, a misapprehension took root among the Tartan Army. Germany would win Group A easily, leaving Scotland to fight for second and third place with a rejuvenated Hungary. The second game against Switzerland would be a repeat of the Scots’ win at Euro 96.

When the Swiss swept Hungary aside in their opening fixture, that began to look like a dangerous miscalculation. Given Scotland’s display against Germany, it was an act of gross delusion.

The golden generation are a little older these days. Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Ricardo Rodriguez and goalkeeper Yann Sommer announced their arrival by winning the Under 17 World Cup in 2009. Two years later, they were runners-up in the European Under 21 Championship.

Now in their 30s, the quartet form the spine of a team who have made a habit of punching above their weight.

Scotland know that they cannot afford any more slip ups when they take on Switzerland

Switzerland, with Granit Xhaka a key player in their side, are the team Scotland aspire to be

Switzerland, with Granit Xhaka a key player in their side, are the team Scotland aspire to be

A nation of just 8.8million people, the Swiss have qualified for the last 16 of the past five major tournaments. Scotland would flog Edinburgh Castle for a record like that.

They knocked France out of the last Euros and lost their quarter-final to Spain on penalties. The World Cup in Qatar brought anguish of a different kind when Cristiano Ronaldo’s exclusion from the Portugal starting XI allowed Goncalo Ramos to come in and smash a hat-trick in a harrowing 6-1 defeat in the last 16. At least the Swiss were there.

By leading Scotland to back-to-back Euros, Steve Clarke has credit in the bank. That drains fast if they lose to Switzerland. The consequences of another defeat on Wednesday night would be far-reaching. A point, allied to a thumping German win over a demoralised Hungary, would preserve hopes of qualifying for the last 16 as one of the best third-place finishers.

The Swiss, though, have lost just two of their past 14 group matches at major tournaments, winning seven and drawing five. They have only lost one of their past eight Euros group games. They’re not just a nation Scotland want to beat. They’re the nation Scotland wants to be.

Midfielder Xhaka remains the polished gem in Murat Yakin’s team. At the age of 31, he has just completed an unbeaten season with Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen and was voted player of the match against Hungary.

Clarke and his players never got to grips with Germany’s Toni Kroos dropping into the left back area to dictate the play and, if Xhaka is given similar freedom, hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the first time at a major tournament will wither and die.

London-born Kwadwo Duah scored his first Switzerland goal against Hungary in just his second international appearance. Manager Yakin compares football to tactical chess and, by selecting Ludogorets striker Duah ahead of Shaqiri, he pulled a masterstroke.

Breel Embolo replaced Ruben Vargas and scored at his third straight tournament. Wherever you look, Switzerland have goals in them.

After their disappointing defeat to Germany, Scotland know that they now have to respond

After their disappointing defeat to Germany, Scotland know that they now have to respond

Steve Clarke will be aware that his side cannot afford to give Xhaka too much space

Steve Clarke will be aware that his side cannot afford to give Xhaka too much space

The decision to start Kwadwo Duah ahead of Xherdan Shaqiri proved to be inspired

The decision to start Kwadwo Duah ahead of Xherdan Shaqiri proved to be inspired

It’s not just a competent Swiss team Scotland have to overcome. The weight of history is also against them. Scotland have won six of their 33 matches at major tournaments, just 18 per cent. Among European nations with more than 25 matches at this level, only Bulgaria have a worse win ratio.

Defeat on Wednesday night would be the fourth time the Scots have lost the opening two matches of a major tournament after the 1954 World Cup, Mexico 86 and the 1992 Euros.

A repeat of Italia 90 would be welcome. After a humiliating opening-day defeat by Costa Rica, Andy Roxburgh’s team came out all guns blazing in Genoa and beat Sweden 2-1. A win over the Swiss at Euro 96 was too little, too late, but set the template for what they need to do to get a result in Cologne.

The worry is that these players don’t have it in them. After a rousing qualifying campaign, Clarke’s men have won just one game in their past 10. Momentum drained, they’re haemorrhaging goals at an alarming rate.

All of that has to change on Wednesday night to keep the last-16 dream alive.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk