There is no shame in being laid out by an absolute worldie of a goal. No great disgrace in being put to the sword by a former Ballon D’Or winner still capable, clearly, of producing golden moments of pure genius.
As they took the applause of a grateful support at full-time, Steve Clarke’s men will know that their efforts just in reaching these European Championships will always be appreciated.
But the manner of their exit from the tournament isn’t, ultimately, what matters.
Scotland were beaten 3-1 by Croatia as they crashed out of Euro 2020 at the group stages
Luka Modric spearheaded the Croats’ performance with a stunning goal to make it 2-1
The midfielder hit a shot with the outside of his right foot and the ball flew into the top corner
They won’t put an asterisk next to the score to denote how bravely the boys in blue performed against a better, more technically gifted and talented group of footballers in their final Euro 2020 fixture.
All that really counts is that the great adventure, Scotland’s long-awaited return from the international wilderness, is at an end.
And honestly? It hurts. Hurts like all get out. As it should. If you’re not in a world of pain, if pride in the jersey isn’t overshadowed by a big dollop of suffering, then what does that say about our collective sense of ambition?
Everyone desperately wanted our boys to extend their visit to the big time beyond the duration of their usual tourist visa.
Failure, even against a side who made it to the World Cup final just three summers ago, has to carry a sting. Although we should be used to it by now, of course.
The Tartan Army’s exit from Euro 2020 hurts after 23-year wait to appear at a tournament
Think of all the great men who had tried and failed to pull off the achievement of getting beyond the group stages in a major finals.
In a different footballing age, when the difficulty of smaller tournaments was offset by the presence of so many genuine whipping boys in the world game, it proved beyond the very finest players – and coaches – Scotland has ever produced.
So no, there was no great sense of fury or frustration among those lucky enough to have been at Hampden on Tuesday Merely an acceptance that, when it comes to tournament football, this is just what Scotland do.
Be honest, now. Some of you expected this to happen. No amount of front could hide the fear that always lurks just beneath the surface, where our national team are concerned.
Everything we’d been through, up to this point, every instance of snatching catastrophic defeat from the slippery jaws of victory, has become embedded in the Scottish psyche like shrapnel in scarred flesh.
There are times when it feels as if a virulent strain of hopelessness – a deadness of the soul that goes beyond mere footballing nihilism – has become inexorably entangled in the double helix of our DNA.
Yet here, on home soil and in front of their ain folk, was a chance for the class of 2021 to remove that deep-seeded fear from our collective code.
A game offering us all that any Scotland fan could ever hope for. An opportunity for Clarke’s men to shape their own destiny.
The national mood had already undergone a fairly major transformation in the wake of Wembley.
Supporters were hopeful Steve Clarke’s side could make history by progressing to the last 16
A new sense of optimism, that most cruel of teases, had been created by the performance in Friday night’s 0-0 draw against Euro 2020 favourites (in their own fevered imaginations) England.
With a couple of choruses of Loch Lomond under their belts and a healthy back catalogue of fan-favourite terracing chants to get everyone in the mood, the Scots started with all the fire and intensity that anyone could have demanded.
They also did what so many wee teams – sides not exposed to this sort of challenge more than once in a generations – do in these situations.
They played well for 15 minutes. Gave the higher-ranked side a few pretty serious scares in their own box.
And then conceded to the kind of simple, straightforward, well-executed counter that so often leave light middleweights sprawling on the canvas.
It was nothing more dangerous a cross from the right that found O’Donnell on his heels at the back post – and his team-mates unable to deal with the knockdown falling to the feet of Nikola Vlasic six or seven yards from goal.
It was a good striker’s finish in a crowded box. Just the kind of thing Scotland were lacking when, rallying from the shock of going behind, John McGinn failed to convert two chances no more than 30 seconds apart.
Hampden Park erupted when Callum McGregor equalised with a brilliant first-half strike
The Scots certainly got the ball into Croatian territory with genuine intent. Even managed to get some really good deliveries into the box.
Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson, Stuart Armstrong and the man McGinn – clearly in the mood to cause mayhem – all asked questions of the men wearing international football’s snazziest home kit.
But, once they got ahead, the Croats could relax, fizz the ball around. Make the Scots – further hampered by the loss of grant Hanley to injury – chase shadows for a while.
Clarke’s men did what they had to. They endured. And then? Oh. My. Goodness.
Whatever Callum McGregor goes on to achieve in his career, he’ll surely always remember the reaction to his goal – a low shot from his right boot, of all things – forever.
This place went wild. Hampden wild. Quarter of a century in the wilderness wild.
Generations of waiting for a chance, just one chance, to progress beyond the group stages became a roar of relief that tumbled down the gentle slopes of this oddly-refurbished old ground – and swept the players up in a moment of wonder.
John McGinn came agonisingly close to putting Scotland ahead when the game was 1-1
Modric punished McGinn’s miss as the 35-year-old midfield maestro showed his class
The men in dark blue carried serious momentum into the half-time break. And came out inspired by a crowd howling their way through a raucous rendition of Flower of Scotland.
That definitely gave them the extra half yard needed to stick with opponents who had all the slick moves and most of the clever answers.
They still looked capable, too, of hitting the classy Croats with a street-fighter’s knockout. McGinn should have done it from another excellent Armstrong cross just before the hour mark, to be honest.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for his point-blank miss at the back post to be punished.
What can we say about Luka Modric’s strike with the outside of his right boot? Sure, maybe he should have been closed down. But sometimes you just have to admire the technique of a true genius.
There is a gilmmer of hope that a bright future lies ahead for Steve Clarke’s side
But the time Ivan Perisic had made it 3-1, thanks to another peach of a set-piece delivery from Modric, the Scots were well beaten.
They never gave up, of course. And, late in the game, Clarke put young Nathan Patterson on for a first cap.
Against the slate grey skies of a Scottish summer’s night, a glimmer of hope to suggest a bright future ahead?
Something to soothe the pain, perhaps. In time. Just not now. Not for a day or two.