Report by ASF Sports Ambassador and reporter Cameron Steer 10/18/20
Scotland’s European soccer fixtures got off to a fantastic start with a 5-3 semi-final win on penalties against Israel to send them through to the Euro 2020 play-off .
Steve Clarke’s men now face Serbia on November 12th in Scotland’s first chance to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in over 20 years!
Scotland vs Israel
The game was tight, nervous, and absent of end quality for the most part, going through a whole ninety minutes and half an hour of extra time without either side being able to register a goal, the closest chances for Scotland coming from set pieces, McTominay heading a chance wide and Liam Cooper then hitting the post in the final minute of extra time. Eran Zahavi missed his chance to convert the first penalty of the shootout with Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall denying Zahavi in a tense moment.
In the build up to the game, Clarke stated that “Israel have a lot of very good attacking players” and talked of the threats that this would pose to his team. In reality, the Israeli players created very few troubling chances for David Marshall, apart from one which looked to be the game winner, Elhamed whipping in a cross which Weissman failed to get on the end of.
Even more impressive about this result is that Clarke and his men had to rearrange tactics with last minute injuries and positive covid tests in the camp, but it wasn’t just Scotland suffering the losses, six Israel players were ruled out due to positive tests. Twenty-four hours prior to the game, Stuart Armstrong came back with his positive result, meaning that another two key players, Kieren Tierney and Ryan Christie, as close contacts had to be quarantined as well. In addition to these three key players, right-back Liam Palmer was ruled out along with centre-back Scott McKenna. In accordance to these absences, Clarke changed his starting line-up slightly with midfielders Scott McTominay and Declan Gallagher and defenders Liam Cooper coming into the fold. Clarke also tested out a new strike partnership of Sheffield United’s, Oli McBurnie and Lyndon Dykes, of QPR.
It must be noted that this wasn’t just Scotland’s first penalty shootout win at men’s international level, but also their first in general. You wouldn’t be able to tell either, with the Scots converting all five of their penalties to win the game. Clarke and his men will now face Serbia on the 12th November to battle for a place in England’s Euro 2020 group in the first play-off final game for Scotland since Holland thumped us 6-1 over two legs in the Euro 2004 qualifiers.
Scotland vs Slovakia
Following on from victory over Israel, Scotland came out confident against a Slovakia team weakened by nine changes to their starting line-up. Lyndon Dykes’ second goal in four games extended Scotland’s unbeaten run to seven games.
Four changes to the starting lineup from the Israel game meant that Clarke came good on his word to rotate the squad for these quickfire three games. Mcgregor, Cooper, Jack and McBurnie all started on the bench for a much needed rest. In their place Fraser, McClean, Fleck and Considine started. The importance of the occasion wasn’t lost on Considine who was making his international debut for Scotland at the mature age of 33. A very well deserved debut for a veteran whose impressed services over the last decade or so in an Aberdeen shirt. Considine’s debut started off a little shaky but after ten or fifteen minutes he grew into the game, looking generally solid and working hard to preserve a clean sheet.
Previously, Clarke expressed his concern for the strange environment created for his players by an empty Hampden Park for these games, however this doesn’t look to have affected the Tartan Army too much in recent games as they now look as if they are finally getting used to the absence of fans and the noise they bring. By the same token it does seem to take a while for the players to warm into the games with no fan atmosphere, the half chances and scrappy play of the first half standing testament to that. That being said, no less than ten minutes after the second half restart, Scotland took the lead through an excellent move with Fraser setting O’Donnell for an inch perfect cross that Dykes could sink his teeth into, 54 minutes in, Scotland 1-0 Israel. The next key chance fell to Sheffield United’s Ollie McBurnie who saw his header graze the bar in the 79th minute. McBurnie has not yet opened his goal account for Scotland but seems to grow into his role as the national team’s target man with every game he’s involved in.
Scotland vs Czech Republic
Scotland held on at 1-0 for 84 minutes of the game after a sixth minute goal from Newcastle’s Ryan Fraser which capped off a nice little bit of link up play between O’Donnell and Dykes. The previous two wins for Scotland looked to have taken a toll on the players fitness wise however with the Czeck Republic dominating the game for the most part and Scotland only registering one shot on target in comparison to the Czech Republic’s six.
It’s very surprising that Scotland left Hampden Park with a win when viewing the games statistics but this is also a testament to the new found defensive solidarity which is fast becoming a key part of Clarkes teams results based philosophy. Perhaps its that, perhaps its luck, the Czech Republic certainly had some clear cut chances to equalize throughout the game, sixteen to be exact. First chance to equalize fell to Matej Vydra who found himself open at the back post, skewing his shot wide. The shots that the Czech Republic did get on target were excellently covered by goalkeeper David Marshall, most notably his improvised save to prevent Soucek from nodding home a header. Soucek then went on to misscue a shot from less than six yards from goal leading to Scotland countering, creating a chance for Ollie McBurnie who rattled the bar with a dipping effort which was the last action of the game.
Scotland leave this international break with three straight wins to teams we have historically struggled against in the past. That makes it eight straight games unbeaten in a run which stretches back to last Autumn. It certainly seems like the pin has dropped for the Scotland National Team who seem hungrier than ever to do well at the international level. Now it’s on to Serbia in November for the European Championship Playoff Final for the chance to join England’s group.