Take it away, Struan.
Scotland 1 Croatia 3
In the end it was all so depressingly familiar. Scotland did what they always do – they gave their blindly loyal fans an all-too-brief, tantalising glimpse into the sunny uplands of sporting success before drenching them beneath the inevitable downpour of miserable defeat.
Defeat to Croatia – by three goals to one in the end but the score hardly mattered – was simply the latest incarnation of the same, decades-old recurring bad dream made real.
As someone once said – probably Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain – it’s not the despair that kills you, it’s the hope.
Neither had ever watched Scotland flailing helplessly in pursuit of yet another lost cause but if they had, they couldn’t have put the spirit-crushing fatalism of the experience more succinctly.
There was a quaint naivety in all the pre-tournament hype about Scotland’s talented young squad; the spirit of positivity and togetherness fostered by coach Steve Clarke; and the manic, tuneless chanting of Yes Sir, I can Boogie.
While all the talk was of Scotland playing in its first major finals in 23 years, everyone over a certain age knew, in their heart of hearts, that was as much as there would be to celebrate at the end of the group stage.
Defeat to the Czech Republic – supposedly the weakest team in Scotland’s mini league – was followed by the inevitable rallying to the cause, with a goal-less draw against England celebrated as though it was a famous win. Such is the paucity of ambition when you’re a Scotland fan.
It would have been much too simple for the team to lose to Gareth Southgate’s men – instead, they had to give the country a morsel of ambition to carry into the final game where, our expectations, once more revived, could be brutally crushed under a final, humiliating onslaught.
Even after conceding in the 17th minute to an unremarkable Vlasic goal, Scotland once more rallied to the cause and, when McGregor equalised three minutes before the break, the path to victory appeared to have been cleared.
The goal energised the home crowd who burst into spontaneous song which lasted well into the break, which presumably was preferable to supporters discussing among themselves that their team had been roundly outplayed for much of the first period.
Croatia continued to dominate after the break and Luka Modric’s world class finish in 62 minutes, followed by Perisic’s glancing header 15 minutes later, should have been enough to silence the crowd. But then cold headed realism is not a commodity in plentiful supply among the ranks of the Tartan Army.
McGregor’s strike was Scotland’s first goal in a tournament final in 23 years. All they needed was another three in the final 10 minutes and they would be through to the knock-out stages of a competition for the first time in their history. Against the World Cup finalists who counted among their ranks the 2018 winner of the Ballon d’Or.
By then, supporters at Wembley – where England were doing their bit for the Scottish cause by beating the Czechs – were singing sarcastic songs about the Scottish team’s ineptitude.
Clarke made a couple of late substitutions in a final, desperate attempt to halt the Croats’ dominance of the midfield.
But it was too little too late – the dream was over, barring three late penalties for Scotland in added time or a sudden deluge flooding the pitch and forcing the referee to abandon the game.
Neither happened but it was all the supporters could do to hope.
As for England’s game: a victory but perhaps everyone would have enjoyed a more convincing one.
Czech Republic 0-1 England
Doom and gloom - Pre-match, you would have thought we were the worst team in the world. All because we have not created many scoring chances. Dear reader, I invite you to cast your mind back to the 2018 World Cup. We scored 12 goals.
But, dear reader, do you remember that nine of these goals were from penalties and set-piece plays? If not, have a read of my match review from 2018. Take the penalties and set pieces out of those games, and we only scored three goals in open play. I submit to you, dear reader, that England is a defensive team loaded with attacking talent.
And this is no bad thing. Our England team is unbeaten in their last eight games. Our England team won their opening game for the first time in eight gazillion years, well, at least since Alison Platt joined Countrywide. Our England team is defensively solid, who pre-match had conceded the fewest number of big chances of all teams in the tournament so far.
Focus on the defence - Southgate asks England to build from the back and retain possession. Then use the movement and positional rotation of the attacking players to find space with the ball between the lines. This game was no exception, in the first half at least.
Southgate stuck to his primary approach to build from the back. Shaw (left-back) and Walker (right-back) lined up with Rice or Phillips, forming a W shape with the centre-backs. The ball was moved forward through the spare pivot defensive midfielder or the three attacking midfielders from the defensive players in their W formation.
In attack, Grealish and Sterling frequently swapped position and moved into each other's space. The movement created a congregation of Czech defenders crowding Kane, Grealish, Sterling and Shaw on Czech's right in the final third. The right-sided pack of Czech players enabled Saka to go around the Czech midfield and defence (rather than cutting in like Foden), giving Bukayo lots of space.
First half - The first 15 minutes were a statement of intent from England.
Grealish made adventurous runs targeting the space between Celustka (right central defence) and Coufal (right-back), with Shaw following in support. By working the ball, Grealish, Shaw, and Kane dragged the Czech players to the right of Vaclick (goalkeeper), which created space for the first goal – a lovely cross for Sterling to head-in, enabled by Czech defenders marking Saka rather than Sterling.
Sterling earlier had an opportunity (started from a Shaw long ball – over-the-top very much England's plan B in attack) that sadly pinged off the post.
The Czech players looked crestfallen after the England goal. But to their credit, they worked their way back into the game and threatened with a few corners. England's defence held.
Second Half - Rice was subbed for Henderson, the football equivalent of ending the stamp duty holiday. It was good for Henderson to get some game time, but England looked less dangerous as a result.
Henderson played further upfield than Rice. Henderson's position removed some of the protection from England's back four, while simultaneously getting in the way of Grealish's runs to the right, and pushing Saka upfield around five yards preventing him from linking the defence and attack.
I'm not saying Henderson should not have come on, because it was good for him to get a run before the knockout games. However, he did upset the balance of the first half. It was understandable when Grealish was subbed around the 65-minute mark.
The next 15 minutes were as dry as a gaggle of estate agents worrying about where their next listing was coming from. The highlight was comparing Kral's hair to Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons. Then, like a well-targeted social media campaign that wins new vendors, Sancho was given a run, and he woke England up. While on the pitch, England had a good quality chance to score and a Henderson offside.
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France, Germany or Portugal await us in the last 16, to be played at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday. All tough opponents, but we have to play them at some point. I hope the next seven days are spent practising how to earn free kicks in dangerous areas to get our scoring mojo back. Come on, England!