How Scotland became the one team Rodri could not defeat

Spain’s defeat at Hampden was the last time Rodri was beaten in normal time

Yet Scotland would be wise to look ahead to their trip to La Cartuja with a certain amount of trepidation, too: Spain are seeking revenge and, in Rodri, Scotland have managed to make a nemesis out of a player whose powers have never felt greater. His grave error of judgement in grabbing Morgan Gibbs-White by the throat last month has sparked a title race; Manchester City lost all three games while he was suspended, to Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup, and then Wolves and Arsenal in the Premier League. Indeed, the last time Rodri lost a match when on the pitch was at Hampden six months ago – defeat to Arsenal on penalties in the Community Shield final, after a 1-1 draw, notwithstanding.

It is also unlikely that Spain will make the same mistakes as last time. A rare defeat for Rodri came in an experimental Spain side, in what was manager Luis de la Fuente’s second match in charge. Rodri was one of only two players in the side with more than 20 international appearances; De la Fuente had made eight changes from the team that beat Norway just days before, resting the Barcelona star Gavi and keeping the squad’s top scorer Alvaro Morata on the bench. Scotland ganged up on Spain and exposed them for what they were: inexperienced and underprepared.


There is little chance De la Fuente underestimates Scotland for a second time, not when Clarke’s team sits top of Group A with five wins from five (only France and Portugal can also boast 100 per cent records in Euro 2024 qualifying). Even a draw at La Cartuja would potentially leave Spain in a vulnerable position ahead of Sunday’s trip to face Norway and Erling Haaland in Oslo. Scotland, meanwhile, know qualification for Germany could be secured by the end of the week: a win would do it tonight, any other result would be fine too, unless Norway win both games this week against Cyprus and Spain.

Scotland, though, must focus on themselves. Clarke’s side were brought back down to earth by England at Hampden last month, outclassed by Jude Bellingham in the 150th anniversary match. Bellingham was exceptional but Scotland were also second-best in every department. Once again, the lack of a leading forward is a huge issue: while Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams have both made important contributions throughout Clarke’s spell, the reality is Scotland’s two main strikers are playing for clubs stuck 10th and 22nd in the Championship.

Scott McTominay scored a famous double as Scotland beat Spain at Hampden

Thankfully for Clarke, in Scott McTominay, Scotland have a force who has scored more than Haaland, Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe in Euro 2024 qualifiers – only Romelu Lukaku has managed more than his six goals so far. It shows how, under Clarke, Scotland have often been able to rise as a collective. Rodri’s comments back in March crucially missed that Scotland’s victory came through cohesion and playing as a team while making Spain look like individuals. This international window is another pivotal test: after Seville, Scotland will travel to Paris to face France. The Tartan Army have not enjoyed a double-header of such calibre in some time.

That is assuming Spain look a bit more like Spain. Since Hampden, a result that put De la Fuente under some early pressure, La Roja have clicked by scoring 16 goals in their subsequent three qualifiers, as well as lifting the Nations League title with victories over Italy and Croatia. Yet a young squad full of bright things is held together by Rodri, undisputedly now the best in the world in his position, the driving force in midfield who will look to lead the Spanish retribution. By his own admission, failure to do so would be another rare mark on the year of Rodri: Scotland, after all, are a “bit rubbish”.

Spain vs Scotland kicks off on Thursday 12 October at 7.45pm, on Viaplay Sports 1

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