Euro 2020 qualifier
Hard work ahead if Clarke is to turn around Scots’ fortunes
Dejected: Scotland captain Andy Robertson (pic: SNS Group)
Scotland 1 Russia 2
Group I, Hampden Park
It’s just as well Scotland can still qualify for Euro 2020 through their Nations League exploits as they stand next to no chance of making it automatically.
Thanks to their campaign under former boss Alex McLeish, the Scots face a semi-final at Hampden in March in their quest to reach their first major championship finals since 1998.
After the disappointing defeat to Russia in Glasgow in what was widely regarded as a ‘must win’ game, it will take something of a miracle for Steve Clarke’s men to emerge from Group I.
With five games having now been played, Scotland sit fourth in the table, six points behind the second-placed Russians.
The hosts can have no complaints about the result, despite taking the lead early in the first half through John McGinn’s first goal for his country.
The early exchanges promised so much but in the end it was a defeat which could have been heavier after Russia dominated the second half, David Marshall producing some top-class saves to keep his team in it.
He was helpless at both the Russian goals, Artem Dzyuba finding space to shoot home five minutes from the break and then Stephen O’Donnell netting through his own goal in the 59th minute.
Clarke is not long in the Scotland job after McLeish’s sacking but he’ll be aware already that he has a lot of work to do turn round the fortunes of the national side.
“It is a bad result for us,” said Clarke. “We took the lead and then seemed to freeze. We seemed to panic a bit and got nervous. We didn’t cause them enough problems. We have a lot of things to work on.”
The boos from the Tartan Army which greeted the final whistle was the fans venting their frustrations at another insipid performance.
With a Hampden clash against group leaders Belgium – 4-0 winners over San Marino – on Monday and the return against the Russians next month, the challenge facing Clarke could not be tougher.
Scotland: Marshall, O’Donnell, Mulgrew, Cooper, Robertson, McTominay (Phillips), McGinn (Christie), McGregor, Forrest (McLean), McBurnie, Fraser.
Goals: Scotland – McGinn (11); Russia – Dzyuba (40), O’Donnell (og, 59).
Other Group I results: San Marino 0 Belgium 4, Cyprus 1 Kazakhstan 1.