Scot Gemmill praised his Scotland Under-17s starlets after their UEFA European Under-17 Championship bid came to a dramatic end in Croatia yesterday.

Scotland were within a minute of securing the point they required to advance to the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament at the expense of France before a last-minute goal sent them spinning out of the competition.

The goal earned France a 2-1 win and was Scotland’s first defeat in nine competitive matches, a run stretching back to September last year, but it was enough to end all hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Gemmill hailed his young squad after the agonising defeat and believes they should be applauded for their achievements.

He said: “I’m extremely proud of the players.

“We have lost one game all year and came within a minute of reaching the quarter-finals so these players deserve so much credit and the staff couldn’t be prouder of them.”

After falling behind in the first half, Zak Rudden responded two minutes into the second, equalising with a brilliant header from an Elliot Watt corner.

France piled on the pressure as they went in search of the winning goal that would see them advance and it paid off when they struck in the 80th minute to send the Scots home.

“Most people wouldn’t have expected Scotland to come out and score against France,” said Gemmill.

“Most people would have thought France would come out and get the second goal, but this team is not like that: they showed the fight and the belief they’ve got.

“France had to go for it at some point because they had to qualify but in terms of this Scotland team taking the game to them? That was very encouraging.

“We were absolutely gutted at losing a goal so late in the match and it has resulted in not only our first defeat of this entire campaign but also out place in the quarter-finals. It’s hard to take.

“Think about who they’ve played this year, both competitively and in friendlies – Portugal – last year’s winners, Serbia – who are also at the finals. They’ve beaten them, never mind competed with them.

“We’ve played against one of the most famous nations in Europe and they weren’t overawed in the slightest.”

Gemmill has now challenged his young stars to reach the next level with both their clubs and internationally.

He said: “They’ve proven themselves all year, but it’s about the bigger picture. Can we help them to go on and play for Scotland?

“All of them are going home better for the experience. Now they need to go and show it with their clubs.

“Some of these boys have already had a taste of the first-team and they are hungry for more.

“You have to remind them what they’ve achieved. They are all young human beings.

“When you play football for about 15 years or so you’ll get those disappointments. It’s about how you handle them from here.

“Having working with this group of players, I have no doubt they will respond to this disappointment in the right way.”

Scotland’s UEFA European Under-17 Championship results

Wednesday 3 May: Scotland 2-0 Faroe Islands

Saturday 6 May: Scotland 1-1 Hungary

Tuesday 9 May: Scotland 1-2 France

Highlights of the 2-1 defeat to France