For much of the last 30 years any satisfaction Scotland fans have derived from international football has stemmed from penalty shoot-outs.
The void created by a 22 year absence from major finals has been filled by petty glee after repeated England failures from 12 yards.
On Thursday night David Marshall finally gave the Tartan Army something positive to cheer. Before this game Eran Zahavi was the man Scotland feared most. Marshall’s outstanding stop from the PSV goalscorer at the beginning of a tortuous passage of sudden death drama was the catalyst for the Scots securing a Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia in Belgrade next month.
Scotland’s Euro 2020 dreams live on after Steve Clarke’s side squeezed past Israel
Make no mistake. This was a game of such low quality it caused stigmata of the eyes. After a testing covid-19 disrupted build-up, however, the final outcome was all that mattered.
Largely outplayed by Israel for long spells Scotland were forced to play their first 30 minutes of extra-time in 59 years. A 4-2 defeat to Czechoslovakia in a play off for the the World Cup Finals of 1962 ended in hearbreak and anguish.
And when Leeds defender Liam Cooper crashed a header from Andrew Robertson’s corner off the upright in the final act of extra-time you feared this might finish the same way.
Marshall’s sprawling save from Zahavi changed the narrative. John McGinn’s first spot kick squirmed under Ofir Marciano and the Scots grew in confidence. Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay and Lawrence Shankland showed immense composure. Handed the decisive kick as a spartan Hampden fell into hushed silence, substitute Kenny McLean kept hopes of a first appearance at a major finals since 1998 alive.
Substitute Kenny McLean scored the decisive penalty for Scotland in the shootout
To reach the promised land Scotland will have to play better than this. Scotland’s National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch spoke of extending the pub curfew if the game went to extra-time. As the home nation laboured to overcome a glaring inability to pass the ball, alcohol was the only anaesthetic for a night of painful viewing at times.
There was mitigation for much of that. The loss of Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie left the Scotland manager bereft of options. With Tierney self isolating and Scott McKenna and Liam Palmer injured this was bare bones stuff.
Even so the lack of technical craft and attacking guile here was alarming at times. Scotland’s saving grace for long spells was a makeshift defence sturdier than anyone thought possible and Marshall’s outstanding prowess from penalties.
Strikers Lyndon Dykes and Oli McBurnie operated on scraps in attack, the £20million man once again belying his price tag by making it ten games without an international goal.
Motherwell’s Stephen O’Donnell came in at right wing-back, Israel exposing Scotland’s right flank at will. That Scotland have weaknesses is a surprise to no one. To see them exposed by an Israel side deeply unfortunate to lose as they did was a painful business.
Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall dives to save a penalty from Israel’s Eran Zehavy
Chasing their first appearance at a finals since 1970 Israel travelled without a number of Maccabi Tal Aviv players. The scale of the problems facing the visitors was summed up by Celtic right back Hatem Elhamed playing on the left side, while The sight of Nir Bitton in the starting line-up must have come as another surprise to Neil Lennon.
One of three SPFL Premiership players in the visiting team, the Celtic defender entered the international break nursing an ankle injury. With Odsonne Edouard and Christie already out of the Rangers game next week, Neil Lennon must been watching this through the cracks of his fingers. When it comes to international football most club managers do.
A complete sell-out before lockdown struck, Hampden was a caverous and empty place in the end.
Scotland started with purpose and promise. Maintaining it was the problem.
Dykes looked threatening in the early stages, but faded. After eight minutes the QPR striker chested a Callum McGregor cross into the path of John McGinn. Involved in nine of the 17 goals scored in the Steve Clark area, the Aston Villa man slashed the ball over the bar with his right foot from 18 yards. It was a chance in a first half of football hardly brimming with goalmouth action.
A Curling Andrew Robertson free kick drifted inches wide of Marciano’s left hand post after the lively Dykes was crudely chopped down by Sheran Yeini 25 yards from goal. As in last month’s Nations League stalemate, however, Israel looked the more dangerious team in attack. O’Donnell, in particular, had a ropey time of it.
Unmarked Scott McTominay headed wide from just six yards out just before half-time
Dumped on his backside by Hatem Abd Elhamed after 22 minutes it needed a Callum McGregor block to prevent the Celtic player getting a strike on goal.
Scotland’s best chance of the half came after 40 minutes. By any standards it was glaring.
Strong surging midfield play from John McGinn bought some yards and won the home side a corner through a deflected shot.
When Scott McTominay lay in bed last night he must have visualised Andrew Robertson’s curling inswinger a thousand times. He had time and he had space and how he managed to skim the upright instead of planting the ball in the corner of the net only he can say. He should have scored and, there and then, it had the feel of a costly, damaging miss.
Scotland hadn’t threatened nearly enough. In a second half devoid of quality the pattern continued.
The first Scotland international to feature VAR, technology proved no help to the home side when Elhamed’s sclaffed clearance struck the outstretched arm of teammate Eytan Tibi in the penalty area. Few really know what the handball rule is these days, but the defenders outstretched arm was deemed natural enough to need no further scrutiny from the eye in the sky.
Israel’s Shon Weissman, left, challenges for the ball with Scotland’s Declan Gallagher
As the hour came and passed the game began to open out and stretch. Possibilities began to open up. Neither team had the creativity or composure to take advantage.
Israel’s right back Eli Dasa’s thumping low shot caused panic in the Scotland defence. Seconds later he was back in his own half pulling off a heroic acrobatic clearance to prevent Oli McBurnie getting on the end of a Dykes knockdown ten yards out.
Still seeking his first Scotland goal in 10 caps the Sheffield United man has yet to convince in the dark blue. Lawrence Shankland took his place with 17 minutes to play. Extra-time became a reality after Israel spent the final minutes of the 90 laying siege to the home goal.
Steve Clarke threw on Ryan Fraser and Callum Patterson to try and change the flow of the game.
Whatever the Scotland manager tried made no odds. Israel were the better team, substitute Shon Weissman coming to within inches of converting Elhamed’s cross with four minutes of extra-time to play. Three inches the other way and Cooper’s header would have won it at the death. Somehow they got there in the end.