Scotland’s dream dies as Luka Modric magic sees Croatia through

Steve Clarke’s side bow out of Euro 2020 as World Cup finalists advance to the last-16

Croatia 3 Scotland 1

The nature of Scottish football is such that recriminations as relating to this exit from Euro 2020 would have started long before full-time in a match preceded by great excitement. Sometimes, the answers are blissfully simple.

Croatia remain a superior team to Scotland, as they were only too happy to prove in sealing a last 16 berth. Not even the expansion of this championship to 24 teams could end Scotland’s horror run of having never progressed beyond a finals group stage. Victory here would have changed that statistic. Instead, comprehensive – and deserved – defeat.

As inspired by Luka Modric – who else? – Croatia ended Steve Clarke's dream. Scotland missed and abundance of chances when falling to the Czech Republic last Monday and did likewise when meeting England on Friday.

This time, the class of opposition shone through. Croatia will hope to build on this morale boosting evening when the competition enters knockout form.

Tales of Croatia’s supposed demise were only enhanced by a record of just four wins from 15 as they entered this fixture. Scottish confidence was also boosted by the fact they had never lost to this opposition. Still, it must be remembered that

Zlatko Dalic’s team were World Cup finalists three years ago; if there has been a slide, it started from a rather high point. Croatia have considerably more experience than Scotland of tournament play.

The claiming of two corners in the opening 40 seconds intensified another raucous Hampden atmosphere. When Che Adams narrowly failed to connect with a wonderful, sixth minute John McGinn cross, Scottish hope belief rose once more. If there was quiet, underlying concern it would have been fair; Scotland did not score a goal in their opening two Group D outings.

Clarke's satisfaction with his team's performance during Friday's draw at Wembley was borne out by his selection. The sole change saw Stuart Armstrong replace Billy Gilmour, who sat isolated in a hotel room after testing positive for Covid-19. The standard of Gilmour's display against England was such that his absence felt far more significant than would ordinarily be the case for a 20-year-old who had started just a single game for his country.

At 23, Nikola Vlasic is already a Croatia regular. The CSKA Moscow man demonstrated why with a level of composure as flattened the mood on Glasgow’s south side. Ivan Perisic was the creator, after rising above Stephen O’Donnell to meet a cross from the right.

With Scotland players circling, Vlasic slammed the ball underneath David Marshall having collected Perisic’s knockdown. Croatia’s new-found swagger saw Modric blast just narrowly over Marshall’s crossbar from long range.

Just when the game looked entirely to Croatia’s suiting – those in red and white carried menace each time they attacked – Scotland blasted back. Andy Robertson’s cross was cleared by Domagoj Vida to the feet of Callum McGregor, with the Celtic midfielder delivering a powerful finish from 18 yards.

Incredibly, this marked Scotland’s first finals goal since 16 June 1998. It was McGregor’s first for his country; what a time to register it. Scotland headed to the dressing room at half-time with spring in step.

If Croatia were baffled by a failure to build on their advantage by the interval, they would have had justification.

Within five minutes of the restart, they wasted a terrific opportunity to regain the lead. This time Vlasic turned provider, with a cute through pass to the marauding Josko Gvardiol. A poor first touch by Gvardiol allowed Marshall to rescue an ominous situation for the Scots. The tone for a second half whereby a point was no use to either side had apparently been set.

Marshall’s next stop, with his chest, was even more impressive after Perisic breached Scotland’s central defence. Scotland attempted to land a crucial blow of their own, McGinn instead flicking Armstrong’s cross from the left just wide. A winner-takes-all clash was being played in precisely the correct tone.

Modric, now in his 36th year, stepped forward to have the pivotal moment. Croatia appeared to know precisely what they were doing when working the ball from inside to outside of the penalty area, with the Real Madrid midfielder using the outside of his boot to bend a shot into Marshall’s top right hand corner. It was a goal of stunning quality, as is hardly a shock given Modric’s career to date. Croatia’s grip on the last 16 place had been re-established, via an entirely familiar source. Scotland, though, will rue the space Modric had when lurking 25 yards out.

Modric was not finished, even if Scotland soon were. His corner from the left found Perisic, who beat Kieran Tierney to the ball before flicking his header into the Scotland net. Clarke's introduction of the Rangers youngster Nathan Patterson, six minutes from time, was inevitably with one eye on the future.

Scotland’s immediate quest is to ensure it isn’t another 23 years before they re-appear at international football’s top table; however bruising this domain has ultimately proven to be. - Guardian