8392 Days Later: Scotland shrug off ghosts of the past to qualify for Euro 2020
Scotland are going to the European Championship.
Qualification came in the most dramatic of fashions. Having spent much of the playoff in Belgrade bossing Serbia, only a Ryan Christie goal differentiated the sides. Half chances had been missed to add to the lead, but the game was tight and the Scottish defence, in which Motherwell’s Declan Gallagher distinguished himself alongside Premier League stars Scott McTominay and Kieran Tierney, was stout.
A lapse from a corner with just 30 seconds left of normal time allowed Luka Jovic to head an equaliser, and with their leading technicians now substituted and off the field, Scotland were forced to survive a tense period of extra-time under pressure.
The Scots have missed qualification by almost every imaginable fashion since their appearance at France 98. There has been glorious failure against the best sides in the world and embarrassing slip-ups against some of the worst. This Serbian episode, then, seemed set to add to the catalogue.
“It was horrible. Those penalties are probably the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” Celtic's Christie told Sky Sports, speaking for a nation.
But Scotland’s kicks were immaculate. Just as they had managed against Israel in the semi-final, all five were scored. Serbia’s replies were just as good until Aleksander Mitrovic saw his effort palmed away by the left hand of David Marshall.
The Hull keeper briefly looked at the referee before the nod was given. The save was good and Scotland were through.
Clarke deserves much credit for the success, having forged a team that is mentally strong and one that has cast away its victim mentality.
It was only three years that erstwhile manager Gordon Strachan blamed DNA for Scotland’s failures.
“Genetically we are behind,” he grumbled after a 2-2 draw in Slovenia that cost Scotland a chance of reaching the Euro 2018 playoffs. “We had to pick a team to combat the height and strength at set-plays. Genetically we have to work at things, maybe we get big women and men together and see what we can do.
“But it is a problem for us because we have to fight harder for every ball and jump higher than anyone else.”
Here, Clarke’s side were faced with a similar problem against an opponent known for their aerial strength. The team coped admirably, Jovic's late header aside.
Tierney and McTominay, though he lost his runner for the goal, looked accomplished at centre-back, while Gallagher had perhaps the game of his life in nullifying Mitrovic.
At the other end of the field QPR’s Lyndon Dykes, a former rugby player, roughed up the home defence and was arguably the most telling physical force on the field. Scotland have long lacked a forward in his mould.
There has been no genetic revolution in Scotland. Where change has occurred, however, is in the mentality of the players. That was amply obvious during the shootout.
“From the start we believed,” Christie, on the very of tears, explained. “Obviously in the last couple of camps, we’ve picked up so much belief in each other. Even the way the game went tonight, conceding that late equaliser but still digging in.”
Since back-to-back 4-0 defeats, six wins have followed in nine matches. There has not been a single loss.
The style employed has been safety first, befitting of Jose Mourinho’s former right-hand man at Chelsea, but it has also been effective.
Clarke will not allow Scotland to simply make up the numbers at the Euros; he will want to provide the Czech Republic, England and Croatia with serious competition – and he will give his side the framework and belief to do it.
Source : goal.com
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