REVIEW - Scotland 6-0 San Marino
On a rain-lashed night at Hampden Park, Scotland gave the Tartan Army a bucket of goals to cheer. Scotland’s 4-0 reverse in Moscow last week left qualification through this group unattainable, meaning the key outcome of this match would be some renewed positivity looking towards the final two qualifiers against Cyprus and Kazakhstan and the Nation’s League Playoffs in March.
I had the privilege of taking my fiancé’s nephew Luke to his first Scotland game and he absolutely loved it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we don’t win 6-0 every week!
More Debutants for Clarke
After Michael Devlin and John Fleck made their debuts in Moscow, at Hampden it was the turn of Kilmarnock’s Stuart Findlay to earn his first cap and Dundee United’s Lawrence Shankland made his first start up front.
Jon McLaughlin made his competitive debut in goals while McTominay, Christie and McGinn returned to the starting 11, replacing Fleck, Fraser and Snodgrass.
Fast & Furious Start
Scotland started with real purpose, attacking at speed inside San Marino’s half. The opening ten minutes saw several shots and corners forced. Sat beside me, my six-year-old companion was impressed: “Andy, go on Andy, you can do it, you definitely can!” The type of positive energy the team needs right now!
Luke became a big fan of 'Andy', 'Ryan' and 'John' as the game progressed.
After Lawrence Shankland was denied by an excellent save by the keeper, Scotland’s positive approach was rewarded. Andy Robertson started the move with an inch perfect cross-field ball to Ryan Christie at the corner of the box. He drifted inside before delivering a skidding cross-cum-shot to the back post. The deftest of touches from John McGinn saw the ball nestle in the corner.
(Super) John McGinn
Aston Villa’s John McGinn came into this international break on excellent form, scoring goals in the EPL. He brought that scoring form to Hampden and added two more in the first half, becoming the first Scotland player to score a first half hat trick since 1952.
His second came as Scott McTominay’s driving run into the box and cross was diverted into McGinn’s path by the keeper for a simple tap-in. Perhaps unchained from his defensive responsibilities by the paucity of opposition, McTominay impressed all game in advanced positions.
The hat trick goal came in the last minute of the half. Another Ryan Christie corner was nodded down by Stuart Findlay with McGinn quickest to react, swivelling on the ball to smash home.
Raining Goals (and rain, lots of rain)
The second half would be played in the same vein, Scotland camped inside San Marino’s half. In truth, the rain was almost as effective at holding up Scotland’s slick attacking play as San Marino’s defenders. The ball regularly holding up in the puddles forming on the pitch.
Scotland would still add three more goals in the second half. First, Lawrence Shankland would net his first for Scotland in the stadium he used to call home with Queen’s Park. Scott McTominay’s excellent curling effort coming back off the post and landing at Shankland’s feet, leaving him with the simplest of tasks to convert.
Then it was Stuart Findlay’s turn to score a debut goal for Scotland, meeting another Ryan Christie corner with a header into the back of the net.
Finally, substitute Stuart Armstrong curled a fantastic free kick into the top corner with minutes to spare.
Reasons to be Optimistic
- Six goals with some slick attacking play
- McGinn and Christie really impressing in attacking areas
- McTominay showing his importance to the side after returning from suspension
Reasons to be Pessimistic
- It was only San Marino
- Centre back pairing of Devlin / Findlay untested defensively
McLaughlin – Palmer, Devlin, Findlay, Robertson © - McTominay, McGregor (Russell 70’), McGinn (Armstrong 70’) – Christie, Shankland, Forrest
The Playoff Picture – Monday 14 October (AM)
The Playoff draw will take place on the 22nd of November 2019, once the current qualification process is over. The one-leg Playoff Semi-Final will be played on 26 March 2020 with the one-leg Playoff Final played five days later - 31 March 2020.
Scotland’s scheduled Semi-Final opponents Finland had looked set to qualify automatically from their group, meaning they would not require the Nation’s League Playoff. However, in this international break their hold over that spot has weakened.
They lost 4-1 to Bosnia leaving them only two points ahead of Bosnia and Armenia. They host Armenia tomorrow (15 October) where a positive result is essential to retain their hopes of qualifying automatically.
Should Finland qualify automatically, Scotland’s Semi-Final opponents would be determined by random draw from a selection of (as it stands): Bulgaria / Israel / Romania.
Israel – sit fifth with two wins from 7. They host Latvia tomorrow (15th).
Bulgaria – dead last in England’s group and winless. England are in Sofia tonight looking to bounce back from their reality check on Friday night in the Czech capital.
Romania - Could end this international break in an automatic qualification spot. They host Norway tonight while Sweden welcome Spain. Romania are currently one point behind Sweden. Norway will likely be in the other Nation’s League Playoff Semi-Final, so this group is worth watching.
Of those three, I’m sure Steve Clarke would be very happy with Bulgaria, comfortable with Israel and less keen on Romania.
The Other Semi-Final
Norway v Serbia
A last-minute Josh King penalty gave Norway a very impressive 1-1 draw with Spain on Saturday. They travel to Romania tomorrow (described above) in a game that is huge for both sides. Norway are four points off Sweden in 2nd so their chances of automatic qualification remain slim.
Serbia’s chances are equally slim, they play in Lithuania tonight. Over the weekend Portugal won their game in hand extending their lead to five points.
Dates for your Diary 22/11/2019: European Qualifiers play-off draw 30/11/2019: UEFA EURO 2020 final tournament draw
26/03/2020: European Qualifiers Play-Off Semi-Final (Scotland v Bulgaria / Israel / Romania)
31/03/2020: European Qualifiers Play-Off Final (Scotland v Norway / Serbia)