Germany make the perfect start to Euro 2024 as Scotland suffer mauling

Nobody was more electrified by the atmosphere than the 11 men representing Germany on opening night

Germany's midfielder Jamal Musiala kicks the ball and scores the second goal. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty
Euro 2024 Group A: Germany 5 Scotland 1

Should Scotland be invited to play in every opening match of the European Championships? On Friday night in Munich, the magnificent Scottish fans reminded us how big and how exciting international football can really feel.

Unfortunately for Scotland, nobody was more electrified by the atmosphere they created than the 11 men representing Germany.

The riotous build-up was studded with emotional moments. Alex Ferguson, who was sitting here alongside José Mourinho, appeared on the big screen, delivering a video message which the Scots greeted with roars of adulation for the legend. This once-divisive figure, at 82, has become a sort of Queen all Scots can get behind. And nobody who was there will forget how Flower of Scotland sounded belted out by 20,000 Scottish voices audibly raw from two days of singing in the squares of Munich.

Those were the moments when everything was still possible. Then Clement Turpin blew the whistle, and Germany went to work.

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Every Scotland Euros preview had mentioned Billy Gilmour’s technical quality in central midfield, so Steve Clarke surprised everybody by dropping Gilmour to accommodate the more physical Ryan Christie.

You could guess at Clarke’s logic. Germany were always going to dominate possession and Scotland were going to do more chasing than passing. They were never going to outplay a German midfield led by Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan, but they could perhaps outrun them.

As it turned out, they never got near them. Kroos established control in the first minutes. Conventional wisdom would say you’ve got to get close to him – but how? If you press him, he just pops a short pass to another ballplayer like Gundogan or Florian Wirtz and now Germany are storming into the spaces you’ve left behind. Germany wanted Scotland to do this.

Instead Scotland dropped off and tried to stay compact. In which case Kroos simply finds the free men on the outside with 50-yard diagonals. The crowd cheered his first long pass out to Joshua Kimmich, acclaiming the hero’s signature move. On 11 minutes he did it again, and this time Kimmich played a quick ball across the face of the Scottish box, where Wirtz was arriving right on time.

Toni Kroos of Germany passes the ball against Scotland. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty

The mystery about the goal was how, with Scotland playing a defensive 5-4-1, Wirtz had managed to turn up completely unmarked in the D. The reason was that Scotland had been ballwatching, focused on Kimmich on the German right, as Wirtz started his run from deep in midfield. The right wing-back Tony Ralston eventually spotted Wirtz sneaking into the space the retreating Scottish midfielders had left behind them – but raced across too late to block the shot.

Nine minutes later Kroos threaded a pass through midfield to Gundogan, who spun and slid a diagonal through-ball for Havertz charging into the left of the penalty area. The Arsenal forward cut it back to Jamal Musiala, who beat Callum McGregor with an elegant pivot and smashed a shot into the roof of the net.

Not even 20 minutes on the clock and both the young German stars were on the scoresheet. Clarke’s Gilmour gambit had blown up horribly. Scotland couldn’t break down Germany’s possession and couldn’t keep the ball on the rare occasions they did get it.

Was it too soon to change? Coaches tend to avoid first-half substitutions as they can be humiliating both for the players who are replaced and the coach who is effectively admitting his plans have failed – but that didn’t stop Didier Deschamps replacing Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele in the first half after France went 2-0 down to Argentina in the last World Cup final.

Clarke decided not to risk an early sub and settled for a switch to 5-3-2. There was another scare for his team on 27 minutes, when Germany were awarded a penalty after Musiala went down in a Christie-Tierney sandwich, but the decision went to VAR review. Both Scots indeed looked to have fouled Musiala but the first foul was outside the box, so Turpin decided to award a free-kick.

The reprieve didn’t last long. Just before half-time another sweeping German attack culminated in Gunn saving Gundogan’s header, then Ryan Porteous leaping into a two-footed ankle-breaker on the German captain as he tried to pounce on the rebound. Penalty, red card, Havertz scores, 3-0.

This was turning into a debacle to rival anything Ireland served up in Euro 2012. Clarke was faced with the choice of whether to act at 2-0 down but did not do anything. Now he was 3-0 and a man down and could not do anything. All that was left for Scotland here was protecting the goal difference, which could be important when it comes to separating third-placed teams.

On 62 minutes Nagelsmann started to make energy-conserving substitutions. Füllkrug replaced Havertz and four minutes later made it 4-0 with a typically full-blooded shot. Thomas Müller replaced Musiala on 75 and the Munich crowd acclaimed their hero. The Scots had just struck up an elegiac “Flower of Scotland” when Füllkrug interrupted it by scoring again – but VAR ruled it offside.

Scotland got one back when Rüdiger headed past his own keeper at a set-piece, but Emre Can restored the four-goal advantage in the last minute of injury time, curling into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

Scotland will not have banked on any points from this game but neither will they have expected such a mauling. For Germany, and for the tournament, starts don’t get any better than this.