Glasgow: Scotland’s bid to reach the knockout stages of a major international tournament for the first time was rocked by the announcement yesterday that Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour had tested positive for coronavirus.
Rarely will the loss of a player with just one senior start for his country be so lamented.
The 20-year-old walked away from Wembley on Friday with the man-of-the-match award after getting the better of a host of fellow Premier League stars as Scotland kept their Euro 2020 campaign alive with a 0-0 draw against England.
Steve Clarke’s side need to beat Croatia at Glasgow’s Hampden Park today to stand any hope of reaching the last 16.
“We always do it the hard way, or the Scottish way,” said midfielder John McGinn after a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in Scotland’s first major tournament game for 23 years a week ago left them with a mountain to climb.
The one crumb of comfort for Clarke is that he has not lost any more players to self-isolation despite their contact with Gilmour.
All 25 remaining members of his squad trained on Monday after news of the midfielder’s positive case broke.
Gilmour’s calm and composure on the ball at Wembley despite the noise and tension around the match between the old enemies led to a deluge of plaudits.
“Billy Gilmour is my idol,” tweeted three-time tennis Grand Slam winner Andy Murray, while former Scotland captain Graeme Souness claimed he was the playmaker his country could build around for 10 years.
Scotland will now have to find a way to cope without him – he is forced to self-isolate for 10 days – but Clarke is at least blessed with options in midfield, which is why he had resisted the clamour to start Gilmour until the trip to London.
Southampton’s Stuart Armstrong, who replaced Gilmour for the final quarter of an hour at Wembley, is expected to come into the side and should offer more of a goal threat to a team that has failed to find the net in their opening two matches.
Three years on from shocking Argentina and England to reach the World Cup final, Croatia find themselves in the same situation as Scotland, with just one point from their opening two games.
Without the energy of Ivan Rakitic in midfield and the cutting edge provided by the bulldozing presence of Mario Mandzukic up front, both of whom have retired from international football, Croatia have appeared one-dimensional.
A moment of magic from Ivan Perisic salvaged a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic to keep their hopes of qualification alive.
But the 32-year-old Inter Milan winger and captain Luka Modric, 35, remain their nation’s key players.
“Right now we’re not the Croatia we all want,” said Modric, who has already played 61 games for club and country this season.
“We all have to improve, from the first player to the last.”
Victory for either side should be enough to seal a place in the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed sides, even if they do not sneak into the top two in Group D.