Craig Brown column: Croatia were class above us at Hampden but criticising Scotland is unfair

Scotland manager Steve Clarke and his players will be criticised in the press for Tuesday night’s disappointing 3-1 Euro 2020 Group D defeat by Croatia which eliminated us from the tournament.

By Craig Brown
Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 10:42 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 10:43 am
Andy Robertson of Scotland applauds the fans with team-mates following defeat to Croatia on Tuesday night (Pic by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Andy Robertson of Scotland applauds the fans with team-mates following defeat to Croatia on Tuesday night (Pic by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Sometimes you just need to hold up your hands and say we were beaten by the better team at Hampden.

In any sport if you’re playing a team that’s better than you – Croatia are ranked 14th in the world to Scotland’s 44th – they likely beat you.

That was the situation on Tuesday night. If you’re playing a better team you’re liable to lose unless you’re lucky.

There is a big gulf between Scotland and Croatia. They are a smaller country but they have got a fantastic football set-up and football tradition as well.

They were onc e part of the old Yugoslavia, who were magnificent and Croatia were the main country serving them before it was split.

Croatia has a terrific development programme and is the only country in the world that qualified for the World Cup at under-16, under-20 and the full one in the same period.

Not even Brazil, Argentina or other top South American countries managed to do that.

Luka Modric – scorer of the second goal against Scotland – is their wonder man but there’s more than him in the team.

That was a sublime strike into the back of our net and you could tell how excellent Croatia were overall.

Scotland losing Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour for the Croatia game due to a positive coronavirus test was a real blow.

But it might have been asking too much of Gilmour as he has only played one competitive game for Scotland, he didn’t even play the full 90 minutes in the 0-0 draw against England last Friday.

Gilmour would have been more assured on the ball than sometimes we displayed against Croatia but I don’t honestly think it would have made a huge difference.

We certainly seemed to be in the faces of England more than we seemed to be in the faces of Croatia.

But Croatia were very much better than England in my opinion.

Our only goal in the tournament was scored by midfielder Callum McGregor and there’s no doubt that we somehow need to unearth a world class striker.

But we need to give the strikers the supply. I don’t think they got a lot of good provision during the three group games.

I don’t want to criticise the manager Steve Clarke because I don’t think he deserves to be criticised.

But he is seeing a winger like Ryan Fraser in training sessions and this is a player I really like.

I saw Fraser every game he played for Aberdeen and he was excellent. Before he left Aberdeen he had the highest number of assists in the top league.

He was laying goals on a plate for Niall McGinn through the middle and Fraser did likewise for Lyndon Dykes in an international not so long ago.

But it’s an over simplification to say Ryan Fraser would have made a difference against Croatia.

No-one was complaining after Wembley because we did so well. I think we’ve got to put into the equation the fact that England weren’t so good.

When England played against Scotland they weren’t allowed to play well and maybe our ‘in the faces’ attitude and the fact it was the Auld Enemy gave us the extra inspiration.

We went down there and played really well. I don’t think we played that badly on Tuesday night but we were the poorer team and I think Croatia will be there or thereabouts in this tournament.