Publication:

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - 2021-10-10

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GREAT SCOTT!

World Cup 2022

By Graeme Croser AT HAMPDEN

STEVE CLARKE last night hailed Scotland’s tenacity after his team twice fought back to win a five-goal thriller against Israel. The 3-2 victory courtesy of Scott McTominay’s stoppage-time winner enhanced the prospects of claiming a play-off spot to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar. With just three games left to play, the Scots sit second in Group F, four points clear of Israel and Austria, who defeated the Faroe Islands 2-0 last night. While clearly delighted by his team’s showing, Clarke urged caution ahead of the next qualifier — a trip to face the Faroe Islands in Toftir on Tuesday. Scotland need just two victories from their remaining three fixtures to guarantee a place in the play-offs for Qatar 2022, with the next match following the Faroes clash against Moldova away. The national coach insists his players have earned their chance by scrapping deep into stoppage-time when McTominay claimed the winner. ‘The Braveheart stuff is a cliche, but what it shows is this group of players want to do well for their country,’ said Clarke. ‘It would have been easy for them to feel sorry for themselves at halftime. It would have been easy for them to think it wasn’t going to be their night. ‘But they refused to accept it. They didn’t accept it. ‘It was really pleasing for me. People keep saying we can’t score goals. Well, on a night we needed to score three we managed it. ‘That’s really important for the development of this group.’ So elated was Clarke by McTominay’s decisive moment that he broke into a touchline run reminiscent of his former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho in his pomp. ‘He would’ve been away further,’ laughed Clarke. ‘I got so far and then I thought, “Where are you going?” and wandered back to the technical area. ‘It was a good time to score a goal and then see the game out. In the context of the group, it’s a big three points and it puts us in control of the position. ‘But you’ve got to put the lid on it because it’s only three points and we need three more on Tuesday against the Faroes. That’s the next target, another cup final.’ Scotland and Israel have become familiar opponents over the past few seasons, this being their seventh meeting in three years. Yet the game played out with a verve and freshness often absent from international football as the two countries tore into each other. First-half goals by strikers Eran Zahavi and Mu’nas Dabbur sandwiched a John McGinn effort at half-time, with Scotland further bruised by a missed penalty from Lyndon Dykes before the break. Yet Dykes rallied to net the equaliser and set up the grand finale for McTominay. Clarke continued: ‘It was a strange night. In my experience the Israel games have been quite tight, cagey affairs. ‘We shouldn’t have conceded a soft free-kick in the first couple of minutes. We know the threat of Zahavi and he sticks it in the top corner. ‘That changed the whole night. It meant they could play the counterattack game they like, and are good at. They are quick on the break. ‘It took us time to recover and get a foothold in the game. We did that and got back into it with a fantastic move. It was the first time we stretched them across the pitch and played a bit of football. ‘John McGinn does what John McGinn does and you think, “Okay, we’re back in control”. ‘Almost immediately we conceded another one off a soft free-kick. We didn’t defend it well. They got a bit of good fortune as the boy hooked it on and it fell for the runner to tap in. ‘We were on the back foot again. To suffer two blows like that in 45 minutes is difficult to recover. ‘We got the break with the penalty on half-time, but then we miss! ‘At half-time you are having to pick them up. I said to them, “If you want to lose a game you are going about it in perfect fashion by conceding two goals and missing a penalty”.’ With Billy Gilmour and Callum McGregor taking a grip of midfield and wing-backs Nathan Patterson and Andy Robertson rampant on the flanks, Scotland deservedly drew level ten minutes after the restart. Yet referee Szymon Marciniak initially ruled out Dykes’ equaliser for a high boot before overturning the decision on the advice of the video assistant referee. ‘VAR was always going to be crucial and it has been kind to us,’ added Clarke. ‘Obviously when the referee disallowed the goal we felt a bit nervous. ‘Listen, it’s a clean goal, fantastic for Dykesy to get after missing the penalty. ‘In the second half I think he showed his character and how good he is for us.’ Clarke’s final praise was reserved for the noisy crowd, who kept the team going to the end, adding: ‘You see what it means for the supporters at the end of the night, which was great for us.’

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