After a surprise victory in Lisbon last year, the Scotland team were asked to host the tournament in June 2017. We accepted, and late last year started searching for a venue; and recruiting new players.
We settled on St. Andrews University as the venue, after being unable to find a suitable location within our home city of Edinburgh. As we were hosting, and therefore had vastly reduced travelling costs, interest in playing was high. We entered two teams into the tournament, Scotland and Caledonia, and despite a few dropouts managed to get to St. Andrews with two fair sized squads, including most veterans from Lisbon and Frankfurt, along with a whole new team in Caledonia.
The draw was held earlier than usual, livestreamed on the Monday afternoon prior to the tournament (unlike the usual Friday night before) due to flight times for European teams. Scotland were seeded for the draw, along with London, France, and Munich, with the remaining 12 teams being free-drawn. We were the first ball out of the pot; with Caledonia coming out second - we had drawn our new squad in the tournament opener! Our group was completed with Birmingham and Portugal, very similar to last year.
|Group A||Group B|
|Group C||Group D|
CGI Scotland 2017
Opening game vs Caledonia
Our first game should have been a lot easier than it was; Caledonia hadn’t played together before. Most of them hadn’t even met prior to the previous night in the pub. We managed to get an early lead through our right winger, though Caledonia made us work to keep the score 1-0 going into half time, with a lot of good link-up play and a fair few chances to equalise. Slight heart-in-mouth moment as our left-back slid into an ill-timed challenge just inside the box - total stonewall penalty. We were saved only by the linesman flagging for an earlier offside, otherwise we’d have been looking at a very tough second half.
Caledonia did manage to equalise after a pinball in the box from a corner, but our central midfielder gave us the lead again shortly after, and as Caledonia started to tire, we managed to sneak a third in the dying minutes of the game. 3-1 win, points on the board, just the start we needed. A much-improved Birmingham side swept aside Portugal in the other opening game of Group A, keeping us off top spot on goal difference.
Scotland 3 - 1 Caledonia
Birmingham 4 - 1 Portugal
Second game vs Birmingham
In a replay of our opening fixture in Lisbon, our second game of the day was against a strong Birmingham side who had just put four past Portugal. The game started out well for us, with our left winger cracking in the opener; however the game was very stretched for the most part, with a lot of running for both team’s defences. The Birmingham side managed to get themselves an equaliser shortly before half-time, which in all honesty had been a long time coming and was well-deserved.
The second half was more of the same, although both defences stayed strong and very few chances were created for either side, until the Birmingham striker turned me with five minutes to go in the second half. He was clean through on goal, and in my pursuit I clipped his ankles and he went down. The whistle went, and the referee reached for his pocket. I honestly thought I was getting my marching orders, and probably wouldn’t have complained too much if I’d seen red, but the referee did us a favour and the card was only a yellow. Birmingham complained about that to no avail, and the resulting free-kick went nowhere. Crisis averted. The remainder of the match went more or less without incident, with the exception of our right back and captain also picking up a yellow card for a very similar challenge to my own, although in a less dangerous position. Our first two cards in three years and they came in the same game.
We saw the game out as a 1-1 draw, the same result as we achieved in 2016, and paid our fines for the cards to the referees. After learning that Caledonia had lost 5-3 to Portugal, we knew we needed to avoid defeat in our final game to ensure progression to the top knock-out stage on the Sunday.
Scotland 1 - 1 Birmingham
Caledonia 3 - 5 Portugal
Third game vs Portugal
After swapping tips with Caledonia before our final group game, we set up with a relatively positive formation, which paid early dividends with goals from our striker and left winger in quick succession giving us a 2-0 lead. Portugal created very few attacks, and were surprisingly quiet with their complaints to the referee compared to what we expected, with only a few obvious dives. In fact, to his credit I caught one of their players as he ran into the box; I assumed he would go down and we’d concede the penalty, but he stayed on his feet and tried to get his shot away without complaint. Our striker scored his second of the game shortly after, and we were cruising until close to half time when the Portuguese pulled a goal back.
Annoyed at losing our clean sheet, we went back out for the second half with our two-goal lead and played out a fairly tame second half, until the final moments when our right back scored his first tournament goal with a strike from just outside the six-yard box, giving us the 4-1 win.
We knew we’d qualified with the win, although we were relying on the other game to see whether we’d go through as group leaders or runners-up. Unfortunately, a tired Caledonia shipped five goals against Birmingham, meaning we had to settle for second place.
Scotland 4 - 1 Portugal
Caledonia 0 - 5 Birmingham
Birmingham and Scotland progess to the European Championship quarter-finals.
Portugal and Caledonia progress to the European Vase quarter-finals.
Despite their disappointment from the results, Caledonia seemed in high spirits as we headed out to the pub after the group stages. One positive from the teams being in different competitions was that we could watch each other play; being in the same group meant that our games were played simultaneously, so we couldn’t cheer each other on. The Sunday games were to be played alternately, so we would both have supporters for our games - and we would need it, having drawn our old friends in the quarter finals, Group C winners Munich.
This post is part 1 of 2 of a trip I took in June 2017.
Part 2 covers the Sunday knock-out tournament.