Scotland’s dreams of reaching the knockout round of a major tournament for the first time were dashed on Tuesday at Hampden Park by a 3-1 defeat to a Luka Modric-inspired Croatia, who advanced to the last 16 of Euro 2020.
Another historic accomplishment was beyond Steve Clarke’s Scotland team, who were undone by a moment of magic from Modric after breaking a 23-year wait simply to qualify for a major tournament.
Callum McGregor equalized Nikola Vlasic’s early goal to give the hosts optimism going into the break.
But Modric restored Croatia’s advantage with a spectacular goal with the outside of his foot just after the hour mark, demonstrating the quality that helped him break Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s grasp on the Ballon d’Or in 2018.
“No one knows how Luka does it,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic remarked of the 35-year-old.
“We anticipate Luka to fall and lose strength, but he is the power that pushes the entire squad.”
“Anything I say about Luka would be insufficient. I’m honored to have such a guy on our squad.”
I’m honored to have such a guy on our squad.”
Ivan Perisic’s header 13 minutes from time put salt in Scotland’s wounds as Croatia pipped the Czech Republic to second place in Group D behind England.
Dalic’s team will face the Group E runners-up, which includes Spain, Sweden, Slovakia, and Poland, in Copenhagen on Monday.
Scotland’s preparations had been hampered by Billy Gilmour’s positive coronavirus test after the 20-year-old had excelled in his maiden international start against England on Friday.
Scotland lacked anyone close to the caliber of Croatia’s midfield maestros, who finally drove the hosts into the ground with over two-thirds of possession.
“Overall, Croatia was the superior team on the night, and you just have to accept that,” Clarke said.
“We’re disappointed we haven’t managed to get out the group stage. We’ll all sit down, take stock, look and see what we can do better in the future and make sure it is not 23 years before we are at the next tournament.”
Just as against the Czechs and England in their opening two games, Scotland were made to pay for not taking their chances.
Roared on by 12,000 fans inside Hampden, Che Adams was inches away from connecting with John McGinn’s dangerous cross early on.
– Chasing shadows –
Croatia had barely threatened before they went in front on 17 minutes.
Perisic headed down a lofted ball into the box and Vlasic found space between three Scotland defenders to fire low into the corner.
Croatia then had Scotland chasing shadows for a spell as the midfield trio of Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic took control of the game.
“Modric was incredible,” said Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney. “I think tonight was a big learning curve for us all.
“They’ve been there before, the quality they showed it was hard for us to get going.”
Modric’s blistering drive from outside the box was brilliantly tipped over by David Marshall.
But Scotland bounced back to net their first major tournament goal since 1998.
McGregor pounced on a loose ball at the edge of the box and, on his weaker right foot, the Celtic midfielder drilled into the bottom corner to spark jubilant scenes.
Scotland went down the tunnel at half-time with a spring in their step, but the physical exertions of holding England four days earlier took their toll as the energy levels of Clarke’s men dipped in the second period.
Modric’s deft touch finally broke Scottish hearts on 62 minutes.
Croatia calmly worked the opening at the edge of the box before the Real Madrid midfielder caressed the ball into the top corner with the outside of his right foot.
Along with Modric, Perisic has consistently been one of his country’s key performers at major tournaments for nearly a decade.
The Inter Milan winger’s flicked header from a Modric corner dropped in off the inside of the post for his ninth goal at a World Cup or European Championship to end any hope of a Scottish revival.