Scotland tame Great Danes at Hampden to reach playoffs

Scotland players left to right Ryan Christie, Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor and John Souttar sing the national anthem before their qualifying match against Denmark. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Scotland players left to right Ryan Christie, Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor and John Souttar sing the national anthem before their qualifying match against Denmark. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) /
Scotland Denmark
Scotland manager Steve Clarke congratulates John McGinn after the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match against Denmark. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images) /

On another magical night at Hampden, Scotland overcame quality opposition to clinch an all-important home tie in next March’s World Cup qualification playoff semi-final.

The Danes, well fancied prior to kick-off, couldn’t cope with the Tartan Army’s intensity, both on the park and in the terraces. As a passionate rendition of Flower of Scotland boomed round the national stadium, one couldn’t resist feeling a certain optimism about events set to unfold.

Of course, in rather “un-Scotland” fashion, the Scots secured their playoff berth in Chisinau at the start of this weekend’s international double-header. A calm, assured performance to acquire second place rather bucked the trend of recent qualification campaigns.

There was a further sobering thought to consider; Scotland had gone to Moldova and drew during the ill-fated Bertie Vogts regime – a torrid result that signalled the beginning of the end for the German. No such problem this time.

Clarke’s tactics pay off

So, perfect preparation for taking on the European Championship semifinalists. However, with UEFA planning to continue the “one-legged” approach to playoffs (as utilized during the height of the pandemic), and teams of sizable pedigree laying in wait, this was a real opportunity for Scotland to secure a favourable pathway to Qatar.

Clarke went for his favoured three at the back, despite a number of preferred defensive personnel unavailable for the tie. Scott McTominay missed both clashes due to picking up a viral infection, and Jack Hendry sustained a knock in Scotland’s 2-0 victory on Friday.

In attacking areas, Ryan Christie returned from suspension, but, Lyndon Dykes, so impressive in recent times, couldn’t quite get up to match sharpness over the weekend after his recent injury spell.

Clarke needn’t have worried. The Scots were brave on and off the ball from the first whistle, pressing the Danes with conviction, and holding on for prolonged spells of possession. A flurry of corners characterised the waves of Scottish pressure (further enhanced by 40,000 compatriots in the stands), Kasper Schmeichel apparently cited as a potential vulnerability at set-pieces, with McGinn and Gilmour whipping balls dangerously into the six-yard box.

As if to further underline Clarke’s squad selection, the man who popped up with the breakthrough was none other than John Souttar, the centre-half deputising for his absent colleagues. Unsurprisingly, it was a John McGinn corner that ignited chaos in the Danish box. Leeds United skipper Liam Cooper nodded back towards Souttar, and the Hearts defender crashed a headed effort goalwards from seven yards out. Hampden dually erupted.

Scotland’s dynamic midfield pairing of McGregor and Gilmour kept the ball ticking over, cool and collected in a first half wrought with nerves and excitement. They were linchpins in Steve Clarke’s tactical shape.

Adams punctures Danish resistance

For all Scotland’s defensive tenacity and maturity in possession, inevitably Denmark had their spell in their game.

As the hour mark edged closer, Denmark gained more & more territory. They patiently probed, parked pretty much exclusively in Scotland’s final third for extended periods, but crucially failed to carve out any clear-cut chances. Sisto, who had caused multiple problems for Celtic earlier in the season in a Midtjylland shirt, was introduced midway through the second half. He added an injection of pace and trickery, but, much like his country’s performance, rather flattered to deceive.

To get this far and not mention Che Adams is a tad unfair on the Southampton marksman. The striker worked tirelessly all evening, causing an unwanted headache for Milan’s Simon Kjaer. Leading the line in a dark blue shirt can sometimes be a lonely existence; Che Adams has yet to disappoint in his commitment to the cause.

Eventually the harrowing, bustling and chasing endless lost causes paid off. After a sustained bout of Danish pressure, a clearance broke kindly in the midfield to playmaker McGinn, who knocked the ball onto the advancing Stuart Armstrong. Adams expertly held his run, latched onto a pass from his Southampton teammate, and rifled a near-post finish past the despairing Schmeichel.

Che Adams took to twitter to his express his delight:

Scotland onto the playoffs

The Scots were in truth good value for their victory, and despite Gordon being relatively busy between the sticks, his evenings work revolved more around cross-balls then shot-stopping. His penalty heroics on Friday night, coupled with another clean sheet against one of Europe’s best, demonstrates why Clarke has opted for the Hearts No.1 over David Marshall, last year’s Euro 2020 qualification hero.

The Danes will be ultimately disappointed with their night’s work, particularly as they had a chance to make history – only two other European nations in qualification history have won every game in their qualifying pool. Scotland swiftly put that to bed and delivered a wee record of their own: six straight consecutive competitive wins notched, the first time this has happened since the Craig Brown era.

Scotland’s win looks all the more important against the backdrop of a seismic week in World Cup qualification, which saw heavyweights Portugal and Italy forced to settle for playoff spots after dropping points to Serbia and Northern Ireland respectively.

dark. Next. Why playing three at the back is proving popular

Scotland stand with the two previous European champions on the seeded side of next weeks draw; not bad company to be keeping at all. Who needs Ronaldo in Qatar, we’ve got super John McGinn……..