The Tartan Army’s collective groan was felt across the country as fans digested their team’s exit like an unchewed dollop of raw Balkan meat. It was unpalatable for all concerned, but perhaps one member of Steve Clarke’s squad felt more exasperated than most.
Craig Gordon the Hearts goalkeeper, entered the Euros with a justifiable case for selection. He finished season 2020/21 in fine form with a run of eight consecutive clean sheets, including one for his country in the 4-0 World Cup qualifying win against the Faroe Islands in March.
David Marshall, his friend and international rival, was out of the team at Derby County towards the end of the campaign. Gordon kept goal against Netherlands in the first pre-tournament friendly which ended 2-2, then Marshall took over for the 1-0 win over Luxembourg.
Ultimately, the Hearts man was left on the bench unable to effect any of the Group D matches as national coach Steve Clarke showed faith in Marshall. It was Marshall’s penalty save in Belgrade which secured Scotland’s place at Euro 2020 and Clarke’s loyalty was therefore admirable.
Ken Buchanan: Statue of Scottish boxing legend unveiled on Edinburghs’s Leith Walk
Robbie Neilson reveals Hearts' chances of a new signing for Zurich tie - plus Alex Cochrane and Craig Halkett injury update
Hibs debrief: Alarm bells in the stand (and defence); Tavares decision; ref's big calls
Former Hearts striker steps out of 'comfort zone' with move to Turkish top flight
How the Hearts players rated in the 4-1 victory over Dundee United
Czech Republic’s second goal in the opening group match prompted questions of the man installed as No.1, however he performed confidently against England at Wembley in the second group game and managed a clean sheet. The Croats then put three past him at Hampden on Tuesday as Scotland’s European Championship campaign came to an abrupt end.
Although Marshall was helpless at Croatia’s second and third, some critics feel he reacted slowly getting down to his right when Nikola Vlasic struck the 17th-minute opening goal. Gordon could only watch from the technical area, perhaps wondering what might have been.
At 38, he is still performing consistently and is about to return to the Scottish Premiership as the undisputed first-choice keeper at Tynecastle Park. He would dearly love to regain the same status at international level. Desperate to represent his country in a major tournament, he pushed as hard as possible for 36-year-old Marshall’s place over the last few weeks.
So what does the future hold? That opportunity to play in a finals for Scotland still exists but the keeper knows he is in the twilight years of an outstanding career. Qatar 2022 is 18 months away so he must decide whether to continue whenever called upon and risk more inactivity, or call time on his international career.
World Cup qualifying resumes in September and the chance to oust Marshall and take the No.1 spot will hold natural appeal. It would certainly be a fitting way to finish with Scotland – as first-choice keeper in Qatar. By then Gordon will be just days from his 40th birthday.
At the moment, there aren’t many realistic options if Clarke wants to nurture a younger man to assume the goalkeeping mantle. Jon McLaughlin is very much second choice to Allan McGregor at Rangers. Others like Robby McCrorie and Liam Kelly have both been in the senior squad without winning a cap.
So it seems a straight choice between Marshall and Gordon for now. It must be hoped the Hearts man feels he has one more international campaign in him.