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SCOTLAND 1 SWITZERLAND 1 Pride restored as brave Scotland keep alive hopes of reaching knockout stage

TEDDY ROOSEVELT, the late American President, once said that nothing in the world is worth having or doing unless it involves effort, pain and difficulty. The Scottish national football team has never known anything different. It is a deeply ingrained way of life.

The well-oiled, raucous ranks of the Tartan Army, shuffling out of the RheinEnergieStadion, harbored a mixture of emotions. Pride, relief, anticipation and that old familiar feeling of fear.

When Grant Hanley pounced on Andrew Robertson’s free-kick after 66 minutes, the match was in the balance and tension was suffocating the city of Cologne. Two inches to the right and Scotland would have achieved only their seventh win in a major international tournament in 34 attempts. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

A point keeps the field alive for history. Beat Hungary in Stuttgart on Sunday and four points should seal a place in the last 16 of Euro 2024 as one of the best third places. After the unbearable horror of *that* 5-1 defeat to Germany, any Scot would have taken that before a ball was kicked.

The Scots were aggressive, resolute and ambitious, and Scott McTominay’s deflected strike could even have secured the three points had it not been for Anthony Ralston’s catastrophic pass and a quite sublime finish from Xherdan Shaqiri.

Despite being lucky at times, the Scots deserved at least a point. Even though the start of the game promised so much more.

McTominay celebrates in front of the Swiss fans after giving Scotland a crucial opener

McTominay celebrates in front of the Swiss fans after giving Scotland a crucial opener

McTominay lets fly with the effort that produced Scotland's opener, via a deflection off Schar

McTominay lets fly with the effort that produced Scotland's opener, via a deflection off Schar

McTominay lets fly with the effort that produced Scotland’s opener, via a deflection off Schar

Clarke was happy with the point, which meant Scotland had its fate in its own hands

Clarke was happy with the point, which meant Scotland had its fate in its own hands

Clarke was happy with the point, which meant Scotland had its fate in its own hands

A first turn within two minutes was an improvement over Germany, which did not win at all. A goal after 13 minutes almost seemed too good to be true.

There was definitely a bit of luck with the way it ended.

Don’t take anything away from the quality of the build. Billy Gilmour’s deft lay-off saw Robertson surge forward. By laying the ball to the left for Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain’s cutback picked McTominay into the position where Scotland suited him best; at the edge of the area with a shot on it.

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It wasn’t his best effort on target. Would it have beaten Yann Sommer if Fabian Schar’s outstretched boot hadn’t directed him into the roof of the net? Possibly not.

No one cared how the goal came about, just that Scotland had the best possible position in the match. Aggressive in the press, more threatening in attack, they had made an excellent start. UEFA officially awarded the goal to McTominay and any debate was settled.

At this level, all it takes is one misstep, one catastrophic mistake, to turn disbelief into despair.

Angus Gunn can only look back in despair as Shaqiri's effort finds the stamp corner

Angus Gunn can only look back in despair as Shaqiri's effort finds the stamp corner

Angus Gunn can only look back in despair as Shaqiri’s effort finds the stamp corner

Shaqiri drives away after scoring in his SIXTH major tournament final, a Swiss record

Shaqiri drives away after scoring in his SIXTH major tournament final, a Swiss record

Shaqiri drives away after scoring in his SIXTH major tournament final, a Swiss record

Shaqiri’s return made Switzerland the oldest starting eleven ever at the European Championship. Packed with experience, Shaqiri – left out of the opening match victory over Hungary – made his seventh major tournament appearance. He knows how this game goes.

Ralston’s retention for game two was always controversial. As Celtic’s second-choice left-back, he was mercilessly attacked by the Germans and Switzerland was also unlikely to miss him.

Yet there was no real pressure as he played a weak pass to no one in particular along his own 18-yard line. Let’s be clear about this: the Swiss Chicago Fire veteran still had so much to do and the quality of the curly stamp finish was quite stunning. It could already be the goal of Euro 2024.

None of that provided much comfort on Steve Clarke’s part. All that good work, all that hope and optimism, was torn apart with one loose, careless pass. Mix with the big boys and that’s all it takes.

Scotland then survived a difficult old period. Switzerland had its tail up.

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Despite an unconvincing run in qualifying, the Swiss had lost just two of their last fourteen group matches at major tournaments, winning seven and drawing five. They had lost just one of their last eight Euro group stage matches. Their last fifteen games in all competitions had resulted in just one defeat and suddenly it was normal to fear the worst.

A dramatic counterattack from the team in white deserved a goal. Angus Gunn, a much-criticised figure after Munich, went some way towards redemption when Bologna’s Dan Ndoye cut inside from the left and forced a brilliant fingertip save.

Ricardo Rodriguez takes Gilmour to the touchline, which earns him a booking

Ricardo Rodriguez takes Gilmour to the touchline, which earns him a booking

Ricardo Rodriguez takes Gilmour to the touchline, which earns him a booking

When Switzerland’s physical, dangerous number 19 had the ball in the net moments later, an offside intervention was needed to save the Scottish defender. They seemed to be a gasping team, looking for a second wind somewhere.

It came from the calm and guile of Billy Gilmour and Callum McGregor. In the minutes before half-time, the deep-lying duo demanded the ball, held it and passed it on. There was nothing special, nothing complicated about what they did, but it worked. When Gilmour had the ball, Granit Xhaka did not; it really was that simple.

Slowly the ship stopped rocking and Scotland reached peace without sustaining further damage. Che Adams even crawled to the back post and forced Sommer into a save from a corner, as if to remind everyone the score was level. There were still three points to be won.

Possession statistics showed Scotland had 59 percent possession at the start of the second half, providing reason for hope.

Unfortunately, it never stays dry for long in Scotland. And when Kieran Tierney was stretchered off after twisting his studs in the turf while trying to deal with a big missed chance for N’Doye, the injury curse that blighted the build-up to the tournament struck again.

When he signaled on the bench as soon as he went down, there was no question of the Arsenal defender continuing to play. Tierney looked devastated and covered his face with his hands as he left the field horizontally and received a hug from Clarke.

Akanji gets the ball before substitute Shankland in a nerve-wracking final for the Swiss

Akanji gets the ball before substitute Shankland in a nerve-wracking final for the Swiss

Akanji gets the ball before substitute Shankland in a nerve-wracking final for the Swiss

Scott McKenna moved into place on the left for a balanced and exciting final half hour and how close Scotland came to taking the lead with just over twenty minutes to play.

Robertson won a free-kick in a dangerous position on the corner of the 18-yard area and floated the ball towards the back post. Hanley won his double brilliantly, a downward header from eight yards clattering off the post before turning past the lurking McTominay. Despite the Tartan Army’s best efforts to suck the ball into the net, Switzerland survived. God only knows how.

The last minutes were played on a razor’s edge, with the fear of defeat palpable. Substitute Breel Embolo raced through on goal and fired into the net via Angus Gunn. He was rightly flagged for offside. Zeki Amdouni nodded a free kick inches wide and the Tartan Army’s hearts were ticking again.

It took a brilliant piece of defending from Manuel Akanji to deny Lawrence Shankland, Clarke’s final roll of the dice, a tap-in. As time expired, the Tartan Army applauded a great effort by their team.

Robertson and McGregor embrace after an exhausting 90 minutes in Cologne

Robertson and McGregor embrace after an exhausting 90 minutes in Cologne

Robertson and McGregor embrace after an exhausting 90 minutes in Cologne

Most had gathered in the sun-drenched bars and cafes of Cologne to watch Hungary give Germany a significantly tougher match than their own team in an excruciating opening match of the tournament, when they managed just one shot on target in 90 minutes. This was so much better.

Both the hosts and Switzerland will safely progress to the knockout stages, while Scotland and Hungary will face off in a true test of mettle in Stuttgart on Sunday.

It’s not done yet. Not by a long shot.

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