In so many ways, 2021 has been a stellar year for Scottish football.
It may have been short-lived and ultimately lacking in anything to shout about – 0-0 stalemate at Wembley aside – but the national team’s brief foray into the world of major international tournament football at Euro 2020 brought with it hope and spectacle the likes of which hadn’t been seen for two decades.
Domestically, Rangers toppling Celtic after nine years of dominance has reintroduced a spark into a title tussle and unending feud that feels more vital now than it has in ages, while the steady rise of young talent like Nathan Patterson and Billy Gilmour, the latter of whom just happens to play for the reigning champions of Europe, would suggest that there are plenty of reasons to believe that the future could be bright north of the border too.
Watching last night’s dampened 2-0 defeat to Denmark without any prior context, however, you wouldn’t have known any of that was the case.
Two goals in two minutes planted Steve Clarke’s men firmly on their backsides, and with the exception of a well-hit Gilmour effort from range and a Ryan Fraser attempt that forced a smart save from Kasper Schmeichel, the Tartan Army made little motion towards dragging themselves up off the canvas.
There are, of course, caveats to this. For one thing, Denmark played some champagne stuff on the night, and the build-up to their second strike in particular was sharp, slick, and irresistible. For another, we’re talking about a team who made it to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 less than two months ago. The Danes nearly gave England the bloodiest of noses in their own backyard too, and Scotland might justifiably argue that there’s no shame in losing to a side of that calibre – especially in Copenhagen.
But while that may be true, it doesn’t excuse the lacklustre manner of the defeat, or the passive acceptance that laconically reared its head in the aftermath.
Captain Andy Robertson – as fierce and all-conquering a talent as Scotland have boasted for many a moon – even went as far as to suggest that a 2-0 loss represented admirable progress.
Speaking after the game, he said: “What we have showed is we have improved since three or four years ago, that potentially could have been three or four-nil but we dug in.
“Unfortunately we found ourselves two goals down, the second half you go out and try to get back in the game, you try to stamp your authority on the game, we have done that at times but I felt Denmark were always in control and that was the disappointing thing.”
At this present moment in time, Scotland should be more ambitious than they have been in at any other point in the 21st century. They have legitimate quality, a high ceiling of potential, and a foundation of relative success to build on.
But Clarke’s men aren’t going to get anywhere if they simply roll over and accept that they are a second-class operation. Sure, a side like Denmark might have the edge on them, but in terms of footballing heritage, the respective prestige of their domestic leagues, and even population size, the gap between the two, if it exists, is hardly unbridgeable.
Scotland shouldn’t be looking at Denmark as their unquestioned superiors, they should be looking at them as an example to follow, and a rival to hunt down.
Last night’s display and Robertson’s subsequent comments would suggest that they need to alter their mindset somewhat if they are to do that.