The rejects & scapegoats set to face Germany's serial winners

Scotland players celebrateImage source, Getty Images
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Germany's likely starting line-up is a team dripping with silver and gold.

Two World Cup winners, 13 Champions League medals, 13 World Club medals, 30 Bundesligas, five La Ligas, five English Premier Leagues - and that’s not counting domestic cups, which would bring the overall titles tally to close to a century.

Every squad has its own story and Scotland’s can be summarised in a word: resilience. They are footballing renaissance men.

It’s not to say that their German equivalents have not had hurdles to clear in their own careers, but Scotland rewrite the book on that front.

Five of Steve Clarke’s 26-man squad are either without a club or soon to be unattached.

Throughout the camp there are stories of players fighting back from heartbreaking rejection, flak from fans and very serious injury.

United by struggle, they are easy to identify with and easy to root for.

At the age of 16, Zander Clark, the second-choice goalkeeper, was released by Hamilton Academical on the grounds that he was too small.

He started applying for joinery jobs until giving football one last crack.

Andy Robertson was released by Celtic, his boyhood team. “Height was part of it,” he said. “And physicality.”

Robertson started again with Queen’s Park in the fourth tier of Scottish football. Doggedness defines the captain.

Anthony Ralston is favourite to fill the right-wing back spot but has been second-choice at Celtic for the guts of two seasons.

Grant Hanley ruptured his Achilles, missed most of Scotland’s qualifying campaign and has rarely been a darling of the Tartan Army, but he’s back.

Kieran Tierney, dogged by myriad injuries over the years, has an uncertain future now that he’s back at Arsenal, where his face doesn’t fit. Tierney has been magnificent for his country.

Another likely starter, Jack Hendry has led a nomadic life since failing to make an impact at Celtic, joining Melbourne City, then Oostende, Brugge, Cremonese and now Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia.

There’s no news on Liam Cooper and whether he’s staying with Leeds. His contract expires in weeks. No news either on Scott McKenna, who doesn’t have a club.

The case of Ryan Porteous is particularly interesting.

The challenges he has faced have been self-inflicted. Two years ago in Edinburgh Sheriff Court he pleaded guilty to culpable and reckless conduct after hitting a woman with a tumbler while on a night out.

His then club, Hibs, condemned his behaviour. Porteous has got himself together again and has been one of the big success stories of the Clarke era.

Grit is at the centre of Ross McCrorie’s story.

In January 2023, he was in the Aberdeen team that lost 1-0 to sixth-tier Darvel in the Scottish Cup. McCrorie moved to Bristol City, whereupon he suffered an infection in his pelvis in his early weeks at the club.

“It was a real traumatic experience,” he said. “I was popping pills, left, right and centre to try and get me through the days. I wasn’t sleeping.”

The idea then that McCrorie would be where he is now was unimaginable, but here he is.

'A millimetre away from bleeding out'

Media caption,

Scotland at Euro 2024: John McGinn's schuhplattler lights up arrival in Germany

And here’s Scott McTominay, a player who has so often been one of the scapegoats for Manchester United fans.

And here, too, is John McGinn, who shouldn’t even be playing football, not to mind being a hero of Aston Villa and Scotland.

Nine years ago he had a narrow escape after getting a spiked training pole lodged in his thigh when at St Mirren.

“It went into the leg seven centimetres and I went to see the surgeon who told me I was fortunate still to be alive,” said McGinn.

“It was a millimetre away from the femoral artery so I would have bled out in a minute. So that was a bit of a scare.”

You could say that, yes.

From a similar grisly place is Ryan Christie’s comeback story.

In the 2019 Scottish Cup final, Christie, then at Celtic, suffered a facial injury after a clash of heads. It took 18 months before his eyesight returned to normal.

“The doc had to cut in below my eye, up through my mouth, and into the side of my head," he explained.

"I had a broken eye socket, a broken cheekbone, a broken jaw and a break up the side of my head as well.”

Christie is one of life’s good guys as well as being as tough as teak.

You could say the same about Callum McGregor, whose injury woes are more recent. He damaged his Achilles in March.

“When we got the scan, it was bad news. It was pretty much season over," he said.

Only it wasn’t, because McGregor is a ferocious competitor. “The mind can do crazy things and will you back to a point where you’re fit,” he added.

McGregor led Celtic to a league and cup double on his return to health.

Two of Clarke’s other midfielders are living in unsure times. Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Jack currently have no club to play for next season.

Billy Gilmour does, but he’s had his own challenges.

Little football for Chelsea, an unhappy loan spell at Norwich City, only seven league starts at Brighton in 2022-23 and a manager, Roberto de Zerbi, who needed an awful lot of convincing.

He turned 23 the other day and he says he’s probably a steelier character for what he’s been through. Gilmour played in 30 of Brighton’s 38 league games last season.

The theme of mental hardiness continues up front.

Lawrence Shankland was the most prolific striker in Scotland last season, but he’s had to battle. It never worked out for him at Aberdeen, St Mirren, Morton and Beerschot in Belgium.

“Half the time I’d just think I was shocking,” he said about his early years. “It just got in my head I wasn’t a good player. You can see why guys can get depressed.”

Lewis Morgan has parachuted in from the MLS having not played for Scotland since 2019.

Last September he wasn’t even playing for his club, New York Red Bulls, following hip surgery.

"It involved almost a complete reshaping of my hip," he said this week. "It ended up being really, really severe."

Another remarkable recovery in a squad full of characters who have had to dig deep on the road to Munich.

They now have to go again on Friday. Having come this far in their careers, against the odds in many cases, they may as well go a little further.