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England vs Scotland: Passion play puts Three Lions on guard against Auld Enemy

·4-min read
England vs Scotland: Passion play puts Three Lions on guard against Auld Enemy
 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

No one in the England or Scotland camps needs reminding that tomorrow night's Euro 2020 clash at Wembley is no ordinary match.

The contest is steeped in history, emotion and memories, evidenced by a build-up that has been more coloured by nostalgia than any recent England international.

References to Euro '96 at England's St George's Park training base have already reached saturation point (we are no closer, though, to discovering which of Jack Grealish or Gazza lookalike Phil Foden is more likely to emulate Gascoigne's memorable goal), while Scotland are sustained by their own magic moments against the Auld Enemy.

Even with just 22,500 supporters in the national stadium — including 2,700 Scots — the atmosphere will crackle with tension, animosity and expectation, adding further dimensions to a match which is already loaded with jeopardy, at least for the visitors.

After an extended build-up which has largely been spent playing in sterile empty venues, the noise, colour and emotion will be a test for both sets of players.

For Scotland, though, the unique conditions are an opportunity and a potential advantage, helping to level an otherwise uneven playing field.

Many of Steve Clarke's side will be playing the biggest international of their lives and any kind of result would be cause for national celebration, not least because it would potentially set up a 'play-off' against Croatia in their final group game to reach the knockout stages.

John McGinn did not dispute Raheem Sterling's description of the game as Scotland's "cup final", but the Aston Villa midfielder urged his team-mates to strike a balance between inflamed passions and cool heads.

"If we play with too much emotion and passion it might go against us and we'll end up with 10 men on the park," said McGinn. "A lot of us have played at Wembley, we've all played in big games.

“We'll be passing on our experiences of it and we'll not be fazed one bit. It might be the cup final for the supporters, but it's important for us to use the knowledge of what it means to the country and the supporters and use our heads at the same time, be cool, composed.

"But we don't want to take out all of our passion and emotion, because that's what makes Scotland a force in these games."

By contrast, taking the emotion and the sting out of the contest would suit England, for whom the conditions appear more fraught with risk.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Declan Rice reflected the enthusiasm in the camp by describing the game as one of the biggest of their careers, and a significant part of Gareth Southgate's job will be managing the emotions of his young squad, who are still likely to be missing the calming influence of Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire.

Marcus Rashford compared tomorrow's fixture to a Premier League derby — in which, as the saying goes, form goes out of the window — and the danger is that England lose sight of their superior quality and their manager's carefully-curated approach in the tumult of the occasion.

"It's similar to the games against Manchester City and Liverpool, those type of games you have a different feeling," said Manchester United forward Rashford, who played in England's 2-2 draw at Hampden Park in 2017. "You can't put a finger on it, because you approach every game the same, but the build-up, the fans — it's just unique and I'm really looking forward to it."

Southgate is not oblivious to such pitfalls and has warned his players to ignore outside noise and concentrate on their performance tomorrow night.

"You can make the pressure as big as you want," the England manager said. "We know the importance for our supporters, we know the desire we have as a team, but we have got to play well. Everything else is a lot of noise."

 (Pool via REUTERS)
(Pool via REUTERS)

England were a very different side for their last meeting with Scotland four years ago — Jake Livermore and Eric Dier formed Southgate's midfield two — but the match was an apt demonstration of the kind of chaos this fixture can produce, as Harry Kane's equaliser at the death cancelled out Leigh Griffiths' stoppage-time free-kick to silence Hampden Park.

"When you look at the record between us, I was surprised at how tight the results were," said McGinn. "The English media would have you believe the gap is huge. It's up to us tomorrow to prove that wrong. We'll try to be cool customers, but we don't want to take the passion out of it."

McGinn also described England's strength in depth as "mental", reflecting the hosts' position as favourites for the match and to reach the latter stages of the tournament.

Scotland's best hope of denting their rivals' progress might be England playing the occasion, rather than the game, and the contest could be decided by which side best handles the conditions.

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