GENEVA (AP) — Back in a major soccer tournament for the first time since 1998, the Scottish national team sent a message Friday for next year’s European Championship.
“No Scotland, No Party.”
The Euro 2020 tournament, which is scheduled to be played in 12 different nations but may be held without fans amid the coronavirus pandemic, got a boost Thursday when hosts Scotland and Hungary advanced through the playoffs.
The euphoria overflowing from Scottish soccer and its Tartan Army of fans can help make up for other tournament hosts — Ireland, Romania and Azerbaijan — falling to join the 24-team lineup.
The festivities started in Belgrade after Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall saved Serbia’s fifth penalty in a shootout following a 1-1 draw.
Clips of players singing and dancing in the locker room to “Yes Sir, I can boogie,” a Spanish disco hit in the 1970s, and later to “Sweet Caroline” at a hotel party lit up their social media accounts.
“It’s been so long and it’s just massively emotional,” said the 35-year-old Marshall, whose Scotland career in mostly underwhelming teams began 16 years ago.
Scotland perfectly timed its run back to relevance. Its historic home stadium, Hampden Park, was picked in 2014 to stage four games at Euro 2020, which has been postponed by a year because of the pandemic.
With of the victory in Belgrade, Scotland will host the Czech Republic and Croatia in Glasgow. England will face all three group opponents at Wembley Stadium in London.
Scotland’s last trip to the European Championship also went to Wembley. The team’s hard-luck 2-0 loss to England in 1996 was before current players like Scott McTominay of Manchester United and Kieran Tierney of Arsenal were born.
The 23-year wait since Scotland last played at a major tournament — the 1998 World Cup — follows a 24-year span starting in 1974 in which the team went to six World Cups and two European Championships.
“Obviously I am a certain age now that I can remember old tournaments,” Marshall said, praising teammates “who just turn up as youngsters and go and qualify for tournaments as if it’s normal.”
Scotland’s failures to advance from past group stages fed a fatalistic streak in older fans who often expect the worst. That feeling became a mix of self-mocking humor among the Tartan Army and despair of ever again seeing the team on the biggest stages.
Few were surprised at Serbia’s 90th-minute equalizing goal on Thursday.
“This time we didn’t let them down,” Scotland coach Steve Clarke said.
Scotland captain Andrew Robertson, a Champions League winner with Liverpool, acknowledged tough times with the national team.
“We dealt with a lot of negativity previously,” the 26-year-old defender said.
Hungary was near the end of its own 30-year tournament drought when UEFA picked Budapest among its Euro 2020 hosts.
Trailing 1-0 against Iceland entering the 88th minute, Hungary equalized and then got an injury-time winning goal from Dominik Szoboszlai to reach a second straight European tournament.
The reward comes to the 67,000-seat Puskas Arena next June when Hungary will host defending European champion Portugal and World Cup champion France.
“When I was a child my dream was to play against (Cristiano) Ronaldo,” the 20-year-old Szoboszlai said.
North Macedonia won’t be hosting any matches next year but the young soccer nation is now going to play at one. A 1-0 playoff win in Georgia put the former Yugoslav republic, which joined UEFA in 1994, into a group with the Netherlands.
“We will play for our nation’s pride in the finals,” North Macedonia coach Igor Angelovski said.
National identity is also a factor in Scotland, where support for an independence vote is trending again amid rising dissatisfaction with the British government in London during the pandemic.
The leader of Scotland’s parliament, Nicola Sturgeon, celebrated the soccer team’s result on Twitter after the game.
“What a lift for the country,” she wrote.
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