England and Scotland share an island, a border and a widespread love for football. But very rarely have they shared a similar level of optimism ahead of a major tournament.
As the old rivals prepare to face off in a 150th anniversary friendly of the oldest international fixture, both teams are casting one eye on next summer’s European Championships amid their unbeaten qualifying campaigns.
For the first time ever, both England and Scotland are all but qualified for next summer’s Euros in Germany with a few games to spare. In fact, Steve Clarke’s Scotland are the Home Nations’ shining light in qualifying with a 100 per cent record, amassing two more points than England in arguably a trickier group.
So both England and Scotland go into Tuesday night’s fixture as confident as they have ever been. The Three Lions, as beaten finalists in the last Euros two years ago, are expected to be one of the contenders once again next summer. But with question marks over Gareth Southgate’s future, this could be the England boss’ last chance at a trophy.
Meanwhile, two major tournaments in two years under Clarke – following 22 years away from the international spotlight – represent a golden era for Scotland. And with recent scalps against the likes of Spain and Ukraine, Scotland will be hoping for more shocks over the next 12 months, starting on Tuesday night against England.
Despite England holding the riches of the Premier League and Scotland’s squad holding just two players participating in this year’s Champions League, recent history shows these encounters can still be tight despite the difference in experience.
After all, England last tasted victory over Scotland during Gareth Southgate’s first year in charge back in 2016. The most recent two matches have ended in tense draws.
The Scots were minutes away from claiming a major victory during a World Cup qualifier at Hampden in 2017 following two memorable Leigh Griffiths free-kicks, only for Harry Kane to spoil the party with a stoppage time equaliser.
Then, during a rain-sodden European Championships group stage match at Wembley, Scotland held England to a 0-0 draw, with Steve Clarke’s side coming closest to claiming the points through two major chances for Steven O’Donnell and Lyndon Dykes.
With Scotland on a five-game winning run, unbeaten in nine, and buoyed by recent victories over Spain and Erling Haaland’s Norway, this represents their best chance of beating their rivals after a quarter of a century without a win.
So, is this actually a friendly? No chance.
Southgate: Experimenting would be ridiculous
England boss Gareth Southgate:
“We have to find the balance of physical freshness, experience, finding out about players, winning and playing well. The usual expected of us with England. We can’t fiddle around with the team as we’re playing a top team at full tilt who will give us a high-level challenge. You can’t overly experiment as that would be ridiculous.
“This is horrendous considering we’re playing Scotland tomorrow but I was supporting them in 1978 (at the World Cup) as we didn’t qualify, so I followed that trauma against Peru and Netherlands. And we were back in 1982 and from then onwards it was all about England.
“It’s a great fixture. I’ve met and worked with so many of the players from this fixture over the years. It’s a fabulous game. I know there is a rivalry and people will be worried about it crossing the boundary but it’s a brilliant sporting rivalry. It’s a great game to be involved in.
“We see it as a test of us as team, in an intimidating atmosphere. Those type of nights have been important to our progress, so it’s going to be great to find out about those who have yet to experience them. It’s a challenge we need to relish. We have to remind ourselves that we are all about the team and we need to show that.”
Clarke: We’re trying to close the gap
Scotland manager Steve Clarke:
“It’s been 150 years in the making so they’re always good games, always competitive games.
“In the modern era certainly, in my lifetime England have probably moved a little bit further in front. We’re trying to close the gap on them and we’ll find out tomorrow how much we’ve closed that gap.
“It will be a competitive friendly, if you can have such a thing. I think both teams will want to win. Obviously the boys from both sides interact with each other at different clubs. They come across each other all season so both sides want the bragging rights.
“We’ll try to take out of this game what we need to take out it so I’ve got some things that I want to see on the pitch, testing ourselves against top opposition, which we’re going to come across more often in the next 12-18 months.
“Gareth will use it the way he wants to use it. I don’t think it really matters how both teams set up or how both camps are once you get here, [with] the atmosphere of the game. They’ll be very competitive and it should be a good match.”
Will Colwill and Nketiah get their England chances?
Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett:
“Kieran Trippier is going to be in the news conference with Gareth Southgate today, which is usually an indication he will start.
“Does that mean he’ll be at right-back instead of Kyle Walker or left-back instead of Ben Chilwell?
“There are probably not going to be too many changes – it’s an important game.
“That means it’s difficult for Eddie Nketiah. He’ll be desperate to make his England debut. I’d expect Harry Kane to lead the line, so he may have to wait his turn but I think Southgate will want to get him on the pitch.
“You’d probably say the same about Levi Colwill. I think Southgate will want to get him some game time. It’s possible he could start alongside Harry Maguire. It was Marc Guehi he went with against Ukraine and he didn’t make any mistakes. We’ll wait and see.
“One of the things which may change is the goalkeeper. We know Jordan Pickford is first choice but Aaron Ramsdale has travelled with England a lot and had very few opportunities. This might be a good chance for Southgate to see him in action – or even Sam Johnstone.“
Three memorable England vs Scotland games
England and Scotland are meeting at Hampden Park to commemorate 150 years since the oldest international fixture. Take a look at the most memorable matches between these two teams since then…
England 2-0 Scotland – Euro 96: A second half which had everything. Illusionist Uri Geller claiming he moved the ball on the penalty spot for Gary McAllister’s miss from 12 yards, only for Paul Gascoigne to score one of England’s greatest goals for their second. And then the dentist chair celebration!
England 2-3 Scotland – 1967: The Three Lions were recently crowned world champions – but suffered a shock defeat to Scotland at Wembley to end their 20-game unbeaten run. Denis Law, Bobby Lennox and Jim McCalliog all scored and the Scots held on despite Geoff Hurst and Jack Charlton finding the net.
England 3-2 Scotland – 2013: Rickie Lambert, remember him? The former Southampton and Liverpool striker scored with his first – and only real memorable – touch for England on his debut to settle a thriller after a Kenny Miller double put the frighteners on the Three Lions.
Follow Scotland vs England on Sky Sports’ digital platforms via the live blog on Tuesday night; kick-off 7.45pm