Scotland did things the hard way against Israel but managed to secure a huge win in Euro 2020 play-off semi-final action via penalty kicks after a 0-0 stalemate
It was an extremely tight affair with next to no chances, the first shot on target not coming until the 72nd minute. Extra time came about without either side making much of a fuss before the dreaded spot kicks. It was composed from Scotland at that stage, holding their nerve to win 5-3 on penalties
Scotland whilst critiqued during the last round of internationals did extend their unbeaten run to five matches. It was a 1-1 draw in September against Israel and the performance had to improve this time around to secure a huge victory.
But it wasn’t going to be easy. Injury and virus trouble had hit the squad just 24 hours before the game, leaving Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney, Ryan Christie, Scott McKenna, Liam Palmer and Oliver Burke all unavailable.
Captain and Liverpool star Andy Robertson would have the first chance, bending a free kick just wide of Hibs keeper Ofir Marciano’s goal 11 minutes in. It was all that really happened inside the first 20 minutes.
The biggest chance of a quiet first half fell to Scott McTominay. The Manchester United man was left completely free at the backpost, putting his effort wide of the post, a huge opening that should have hit the net.
In a match of few chances, opportunities like that had to be buried. Israel’s first big chance came seven minutes after the restart, Eyal Golasa curling just over David Marshall’s goal.
As the game creeped over the hour mark, things started to get nervy for Scotland. Israel were standing to dominate and whilst struggling to create clear chances, one was bound to come.
Nothing was to arrive in 90 minutes though as the game went to extra time after an uneventful two halves of football. Opening exchanges in extra time suggested for the next 30 minutes, it was going to go the same way.
It had penalties written all over it unless someone could pull off something extraordinary. Unsurprisingly, nobody managed it as the inevitable penalties rolled around to decide Scotland’s fate.
Aston Villa star John McGinn just about scored the first one as David Marshall made a huge save from Israel’s first. Callum McGregor dispatched his before his Celtic teammate Nir Biton put the first Israeli penalty away.
McTominay made it three from three for Scotland and Shon Weissman kept the away team in the game as Lawrence Shankland maintained Scotland’s 100% record. Mohammad Abu Fani handed Kenny McLean the chance to win the game by scoring his.
The Norwich midfielder held his nerve and buried his kick, securing progression to next month’s final with Serbia. Here are three things we learned.
Learning from last time?
Scotland are no strangers to facing Israel, especially after meeting them last month in a sturdy 1-1 draw of few chances. It was going to be intriguing to see what Clarke did to open up his opponents more.
But it was almost a carbon copy of the September fixture, Scotland shading the first half and Israel edging the second. Neither team changed their approach for this one, leading to a similar game but obviously, a much happier end result for the Tartan Army.
Result in the end
Scotland fans have been handed their fair share of misery since 1998 and this had all the trademarks of another what could have been story for the national team as penalty kicks loomed.
But fair play to those on the park, everyone held their nerve and scored five accomplished penalties along with a good Marshall save. It wasn’t great performance-wise, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Improvement needed for Serbia
The result is all that matters from this game in isolation but performance-wise, things have to change for the game against Serbia. Again Scotland struggled to really click into top gear.
Given how Scotland have played recently, to still be six games undefeated is a testament to the character in the squad. But Serbia are of a higher standard than Israel and Clarke’s men will need more than what they gave over 120 minutes at Hampden.