Scotland find a new way to suffer the same old heartbreak as Euro 2024 defeat leaves questions

Scotland 0-1 Hungary: Kevin Csoboth scored a 100th-minute winner to send the Tartan Army crashing out, after Stuart Armstrong saw appeals for a penalty waved away

Jamie Braidwood
in Stuttgart
Monday 24 June 2024 07:05
Scotland suffered yet more major tournament heartbreak
Scotland suffered yet more major tournament heartbreak (REUTERS)

Why always Scotland? Why always like this? The same, crushing feeling – a hundred times over – brings the Tartan Army’s party at Euro 2024 crashing to a halt. With the last kick of the game and in the 100th minute, Kevin Csoboth may have sent Hungary through to the last 16. In the far corner, Hungary certainly celebrated like they are in the next round. At the other end, as defeated heroes fell to the turf, Scotland didn’t need to be told they were going home.

And so, a 12th appearance at a major tournament ended with a 12th elimination at the group stage for Scotland. But that does not tell the story of this campaign, of this night. Has a Scotland side ever got so close to making history on this stage? And how did Scotland not get a penalty, for the chance to send themselves through?

As Steve Clarke finally rolled the dice and a tense, tetchy night became one of storm and thunder, the Scotland manager’s attacking changes almost made the impact he needed. Stuart Armstrong, with fresh legs, was sent through on goal as he was pursued by the Hungary centre-back Willi Orban. A moment later, Armstrong and Orban were crashing to the ground. The Tartan Army saved their biggest roar of Euro 2024 and directed its full force in the direction of referee Facundo Tello, then howled again as nothing was given. “A 100 per cent penalty,” said Clarke.

Armstrong went down under the challenge of Orban
Armstrong went down under the challenge of Orban (Reuters)

Scotland kept going; they had chances and brought pressure. Grant Hanley shot straight at Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulasci, then, in the last throes, a loose ball fell to Callum McGregor. Hungary found the blocks they needed to survive. For Scotland, a draw would have left a very slim chance that two points was enough to go through. In a flash, Hungary raced clear to take it away. Finally, the hope was gone.

Yet, by the end of it all, the worst feeling for Scotland would be a sense of regret. Could Clarke’s side have done more to go for the win in the first hour? There was a switch flicked in Scotland midway through the second half but did the manager leave it too late? The 60-year-old will certainly argue that his bold double change to bring off John McGinn and Che Adams for Armstrong and Lawrence Shankland almost made an instant impact. Scotland left themselves open at the back in search of a historic winner and were then punished as Csoboth swept in on the counter-attack, but maybe they had no choice.

Hungary celebrated the most dramatic of victories after Kevin Csoboth’s goal
Hungary celebrated the most dramatic of victories after Kevin Csoboth’s goal (EPA)

There was no question of a lack of commitment or desire here, certainly at the closing stages of more than 100 minutes of crashing challenges and hard knocks in Stuttgart. The storm was only paused during a lengthy stoppage when Hungary’s Barnabas Varga remained down following a sickening collision in the Scotland box after a free-kick. Sheets were held over Varga as he received emergency attention, with Hungary’s players furious with the delay for a stretcher to be brought onto the pitch. Later on, word trickled through that Varga was in a hospital in Stuttgart and in a stable condition.

When the forward was eventually stretchered off, the thunder resumed, the game becoming stretched and ragged. Scotland had given everything, but Lewis Morgan and Ryan Christie were found out of position as Csoboth sent Hungary through. The Hungary fans behind the goal exploded. Scotland, suddenly, found they were going home.

Yet the Tartan Army will leave a lasting impression on Germany, even as Scotland depart the tournament. From Munich to Cologne and finally Stuttgart, as well as everywhere in between, the Tartan Army have offered so much to these Euros, bringing smiles, harmony and good cheer.

Scotland fans in Stuttgart before facing Hungary
Scotland fans in Stuttgart before facing Hungary (Getty Images)

This week, the German broadcaster RTL asked their audience to name their favourite visiting country at Euro 2024 and over half of respondents voted for Scotland. Despite hundreds of thousands travelling to Germany over the past two weeks, there have barely been any instances of trouble. As Scotland fans packed into the trams out to the Stuttgart Arena, locals in Germany shirts stopped to wave from the pavements.

Somehow, Flower of Scotland has become louder each game, a final rousing rendition saved for a must-win game. But in terms of quality, the first half may have been the poorest of the tournament. Scotland struggled to do anything with their early possession. Clarke’s side almost attempted as many passes in the first half as they did in the entirety of the Germany defeat, but with the same end product of no shots on target. There were improved displays from McGinn and Adams, with McGinn drawing two early yellow cards from Callum Styles and Orban. A theme was how scrappy the contest became under the guidance of referee Tello.

Steve Clarke consoles Scott McTominay
Steve Clarke consoles Scott McTominay (Getty)

Hungary stood off and were mostly unthreatened by Scoland’s early spell in charge, as Clarke’s side found themselves unable to stop the counter. Angus Gunn was unconvincing as he shovelled out a dipping strike from Bendegu Bolla, while Roland Sallai and captain Dominik Szoboszlai both grew in influence and flashed shots off target.

Scotland had to be braver. McGinn showed his frustration before the break when McGregor turned down a pass through the lines for the safer option – and to begin the second half it was Scotland’s No 7 who led by example, charging around the outside of two challenges before almost setting up Scott McTominay with a pull-back. The wall of the Tartan Army behind the Hungary goal rose as the game entered a new phase, one in which both sides gambled on the outcome.

Only then for Scotland to suffer the cruellest of blows, and the same old heartbreak.

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