Scotland will remain in Nations League B after a slender 1-0 defeat to Israel in the final match of the campaign.
Despite a flurry of chances, Scotland were behind at the break as Mano Solomon beat Manchester United star Scott McTominay before firing into the net a minute out from half-time. Steve Clarke’s men needed goals in the second half but zero came calling as the Israelis saved themselves from relegation to League C.
After the highs of Euro 2020 qualification last Thursday, attentions had to quickly turn to Nations League action. A defeat to Slovakia over the weekend meant this tie in Israel had to be won in order to secure a Nations League A spot, plus provide a boost in the quest for a World Cup 2022 play-off spot.
After making eight changes to his team on Sunday, Clarke returned to the XI that beat Serbia last week, the likes of Manchester United man McTominay, captain Andy Robertson and talisman Lyndon Dykes returning.
Scotland were much the dominant side in the first half and were asking questions of Israeli and Hibs keeper Ofir Marciano. He made a questionable effort to catch a cross before the half-hour stage, stumbling as Ryan Christie failed to bundle home.
Stephen O’Donnell then watched an effort of his from inside the box fizz past the post while crosses from Manchester United man McTominay were causing havoc. One in particular found John McGinn, denied superbly by his former Hibs teammate via an outstretched glove.
But after Israel got themselves a break of the ball, they managed to score. Solomon showed quick feet to leave Scotland’s Manchester United midfielder-turned defender seeing stars, blasting pass David Marshall.
It gave Scotland a mountain to climb, with Czech Republic leading at half-time in their match. Two goals were needed in the second 45, and for a team that’s only managed that twice in eight games prior, that was going to be difficult.
Israel had a cross flash past the post just minutes into this half in a big let-off before Scotland began to probe again, Declan Gallagher going close with a header before Well teammate O’Donnell made Marciano work after the hour mark.
But the Scottish attacks soon started to wind down as subs like Oli McBurnie and Oliver Burke were brought on to change things. They weren’t able to as Scotland had a flurry of late chances, and with a Czech win over Slovakia, Scotland remain in League B. Here are three things we learned.
The Scotland boss took a while to get his 3-5-2 system working. He’s managed that, now he is working on getting a settled XI in place. The team that started against Serbia was fielded again in Israel.
It’s a compact system that seems to be working well for Clarke and he looks to have picked 11 players to suit this. Whilst it does offer defensive sturdiness, he may look at how to get the best from it going forward when down in a match like this.
Didn’t we do this yesterday?
Both Israel and Scotland will be sick of the sight of each other. That’s now five times in two years that these sides have met on the international scene and with this outcome can expect to meet some more.
Scotland’s inability to progress from this group means they will meet in the next Nations League campaign. There’s potential for a meeting in World Cup qualifiers too… yay.
With destiny in our own hands over these Nations League matches, Scotland have still failed to earn promotion to Group A. It’s a sore one, as the chance to play Europe’s elite and move closer to a World Cup 2022 play-off passes by.
Of course it will do nothing to take the shine off last week’s major achievement. But given the clear road in front of Scotland and opportunities success would have brought, Clarke will be bitterly disappointed to remain in League B.