Has Shankland played himself OUT of Scotland's Euro 2024 opener?

Shankland started last night - and did not impress.Shankland started last night - and did not impress.
Shankland started last night - and did not impress. | SNS Group
Germany easing into top gear as stop-start Scotland seek vital spark

It may not even have been a full calendar year. But that magical afternoon in Oslo, the undoubted high point of Scotland’s soaring Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, feels like a very long time ago now. A different age, even.

Munich, on the other hand, is just around the corner, chronologically speaking. While few will read too much into one night of back-to-back friendly action beamed to us from the Algarve and Nurenburg, there is a clear and obvious need for Steve Clarke’s men to rediscover the positive vibes of last summer’s golden moment.

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The national side were flat against Gibraltar, currently ranked 203rd in the world. No great surprise, given both our recent record in friendly games and the makeshift nature of a starting XI unlikely to bear much resemblance to the team lining up against Germany.

And the Germans, well, they’re obviously extremely accomplished team. The ease with which they dominated Ukraine, regardless of the final result, should be of concern to all Scots; our boys may need to withstand an absolute onslaught on the night of June 14.

So what did we learn, then, from a night spent glued to Premier Sports, hoping to see something remarkable while repeatedly telling ourselves that none of this really mattered? Let’s take a look at some key talking points:

Shankland will not – cannot – start against Germany

The Hearts striker was always on a hiding to nothing last night. Had he bagged a hat-trick, there would have been an army of critics lining up to dismiss his achievement because it was – trigger alert – only Gibraltar.

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But it’s also true that, while he was never going to prove himself a world beater against such limited opposition, he took every opportunity to show his lack of international experience and nous in Portugal. This was not a good night for a player who dominated the Scottish Premiership last season.

If it wasn’t easy for anyone in that fetching change kit – Almost Blue is the official brand name, honest – to impress, with even John McGinn looking anonymous until dropped back into a more traditional midfield role, Shankland’s performance was decidedly dull. The fact that Che Adams came off the bench and scored a screamer merely reinforced the pecking order ahead of our opening game, almost regardless of what happens at Hampden on Friday night.

The Gibraltar game was a decent training exercise, nonetheless

No, there was no pressure on Scotland. No chance of being punished for sloppy play or slack passing; virtually every loss of possession inevitably ended with one of our boys winning the ball back quicker than you could say Europa Meister mannschaft.

But there were guys who needed game time. Players who will have benefited just from the feel of grass underfoot and a touch of the ball. If Ross McCrorie is to be even a back-up option at right wingback – we won’t be playing a back four against Germany – then it’s as well that his new team-mates get used to him now.

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In a shock development, Germany look good

The hosts may also have ended their night bemoaning an inability to convert chances. But the fact that they created so many openings against quality opposition, in the shape of a Ukraine side fancied to perform respectably at the tournament, bodes well for Julian Nagelsmann’s team.

To be blunt, the front four of Havertz, Wirtz, Musiala and Gundogan is more than a little terrifying. Jonathan Tah is a cheat code at the back. And the Germans can always call on Thomas Muller, a man with a footballing IQ so high that he should be awarded a PhD in the art of constructive-destructive movement, to make an impact from the bench.

Panicking won’t help – we’ve tried that before

Scotland have a long tradition of stumbling into tournaments (the mind instinctively retreats to a 3-1 loss to Egypt ahead of Italia 90, for reasons related to psychological scarring). It’s as proud as our record of stumbling straight back out of them. But there has to be something in the old ‘bad dress rehearsal, good opening night’ adage, right?

Nothing that happened against Gibraltar, nor even the most seemingly seismic event in Mount Florida on Friday, can be interpreted as a definitive indicator of performance once the tournament kicks off. Professor John Curtice, if he could drag himself away from less important matters, would surely tell us all to be wary of reading too much into such a small sample size.

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But quick improvement is required

How do you divide up the time between now and Friday week, 8 pm UK time? Ten days? 90-something minutes of football against Finland at Hampden?

Either way, Clarke has some big decisions to make. In a hurry. There’s no point in pining for the loss of Lyndon Dykes. And the gaffer would be the last one to moan about his lot.

Regardless of what happens at the national stadium on Friday night, Clarke will have a very clear Plan A for the opening game of a tournament that still promises plenty. Even for a team who possibly peaked, for a couple of precious minutes, 12 months too soon …