Heroes from Celtic, Motherwell, Liverpool and more have secured a piece of Scottish footballing history, Scotland beating Serbia to reach a first major tournament since 1998.
Steve Clarke’s men put in a heroic performance, taking a second-half lead through Celtic star Ryan Christie before the hour mark. But Luka Jovic equalised in the final minute of the game, leading to a bag of nerves in extra time. Penalties were to come and Clarke’s heroes stood tall, winning 5-4 to secure a long-awaited tournament spot.
There’s no underestimating the size of this match. For 22 years Scotland have tried to reach major finals with no reward but in Belgrade there was genuine hope Clarke’s side could get it over the line.
In the last round of international matches, Scotland reduced their opposition to next to no chances, leading to few shots conceded. It was much the same in the first half against Serbia.
The hosts were left frustrated, reduced to half-chances from range. Scotland weren’t creating all that much either but the likes of Lyndon Dykes were getting into threatening positions, John McGinn spurning a good chance before half-time.
It would be after the break that a big moment would come. A stray pass from Filip Kostic resulted in a Celtic link-up, Callum McGregor passing to Christie who shimmied and shot past Predrag Rajkovic.
A tense final 30 minutes was set in motion for Scotland as the battle for major tournament football heightened. That said, Clarke’s men were in control, but a header into the side-netting from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic gave everyone in navy blue a real scare.
Serbia were pressing hard and it became an awful watch for the Tartan Army as the home team looked for a leveler. Jovic went so close with another header that fizzed past inches by the post.
He was to have his moment, left free in the box to head home and leave Scotland reeling from a last-minute sickener. That feelng carried into extra time as Serbia dominated the first extra 15 and then the second.
Scotland were hanging by a thread as subs from the bench proved ineffective, Leigh Griffiths thrown on with five minutes to spare in a desperate attempt to steal something. To penalties it went.
Cometh the hour, cometh the David Marshall. After a nail-biting shootout had each penalty hit the net, the veteran keeper made a big save to send the nation to a major tournament, sparking emotional scenes from Celtic man Christie, captain Robertson and about everyone else in the nation. Here are three things we learned from a momentous night.
It’s unfair not to give every single player credit, everyone in navy blue was unbelievable more or less. But in attack, Dykes had arguably the best game of his career, a tireless shift up on his own.
Christie did brilliantly playing off him but everything that was good in attack for Scotland came through Dykes. A heroic display for the ages and his exit was felt greatly.
Manager Clarke has had an illustrious career in football and his finest moment looked upon him. But as the Serbians scored and the likes of QPR’s number nine and Celtic’s playmaker made way, the signs were ominous
Joy was to come as the team showed an immense amount of character to hold on for penalties. Legendary status is now what awaits Clarke and his team following the battle in Belgrade.
Yep, the rhetoric of 22 years of not being at major tournaments is finally banished. Craig Brown got his wish, he is no longer the last Scotland manager to take the nation to a major tournament.
What this does for the profile of the national team and Scottish football as a whole is immense. We are actually going to a major tournament, dreams have been made.