Euro 2020 play-off final
At last! Scots end 22-year wait for major finals
History: Steve Clarke (pic: SNS Group)
Serbia 1 Scotland 1 (aet)
Scotland won 5-4 on penalties
Stadion Rajko Mitic
In yet another tense sporting occasion so typical of a Scottish performance, the whole nation was left nail-bitten and drained of emotions as victory was delayed until the final moment.
Goalkeeper David Marshall not only ended a 22-year wait for an appearance in a major finals, he sent an entire country into what at any other time would have been a boozy all-night celebration on the streets.
After Scotland feared that an equalising goal by Serbia in the last minute of normal time would once again rob them at the death, Marshall’s save of a decisive spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out added drama upon drama.
It may just have also added a few more percentage points in favour of the independence campaign as Scots turned to social media to hail their heroes after such a long wait for an appearance at one of international sport’s top tables.
Scotland now head to Euro 2020 for games against England, Croatia and the Czech Republic. It will be a tough test, but that can wait for another day.
Belgrade represented a deserved triumph. As against Israel, they converted all five penalties and when Marshall leapt to his left to turn aside Aleksandar Mitrovic’s shot, history was made.
“I’m so proud of the players,” said boss Steve Clarke. “It’s a magnificent night for everybody in Scotland. We said we’d try to put a smile back of the face of everyone and I hope they enjoyed the moment as much as we did here.”
Clarke’s team seemed on course for victory in normal time only to concede a last-minute equaliser.
It’s a magnificent night for everybody in Scotland. We said we’d try to put a smile back of the face of everyone and I hope they enjoyed the moment as much as we did here. – Steve Clarke
There was little to fear for the Scots in the first half, with the visitors enjoying the better of the opening 45 minutes against a strangely subdued Serbian team.
Lyndon Dykes caused the home defence all sorts of problems, while John McGinn had a good shooting opportunity inside the area only to shoot straight at Rajkovic.
As far as a game plan working for Clarke, the first-half was executed perfectly by his players.
The men in dark blue were confident in possession, pressed at every opportunity and restricted the Serb attack to just one real opportunity, when Sasa Lukic should have done better from 20 yards out.
The Scots continued the good work after the break.
Skipper Robertson, who was four years old when Scotland last appeared in a major finals, blazed over the bar from a great position minutes after the restart but he soon forgot about the miss when Christie broke the deadlock after 52 minutes.
SCOTLAND ARE IN DREAMLAND! 🏴— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) November 12, 2020
Steve Clarke’s side take a deserved lead in Belgrade through Ryan Christie’s precise finish from the edge of the box! 🎯
Follow the action on Sky Sports Football and Sky Pick or on our live blog: https://t.co/x7IRfVo2yx pic.twitter.com/o1jFSoFTwk
The Celtic star gathered the ball just outside the area and somehow managed to thread his shot through a packed defence and in off the inside of the left-hand post.
It was no more than Clarke’s men deserved after dominating proceedings.
As the Scots defence tired, Serbia began to carve out some chances but couldn’t find necessary accuracy in front of goal to beat David Marshall.
That was until the last minute when substitute Jovic found himself unmarked in the penalty box at a corner to head down and in past the despairing grasp of the Derby County keeper.
It was cruel luck on Scotland, who had performed so admirably.
“It’s been a horrible year for everyone and we knew we could give something back to the country. – Ryan Christie
The flow of the match turned in extra time with the rejuvenated hosts in the ascendancy.
Marshall produced a stunning fingertip save to deny Gudelj as the home side took a grip on the game.
He was roundly applauded by his team-mates for the stop but that was nothing compared to the scenes of jubilation that greeted his final contribution.
“It’s just an amazing night,” said Christie. “It’s been a horrible year for everyone and we knew we could give something back to the country.
“It’s a monkey off the back and we can move on from here.”
Scotland: Marshall, McTominay, Gallagher, Tierney, Robertson, O’Donnell (Griffiths), McGinn (McLean), Jack, McGregor, Christie (Paterson), Dykes (McBurnie).
Substitutes: McLaughlin, Gordon, McKenna, Cooper, Armstrong, Burke, Palmer, Considine.
Goals: Serbia – Jovic (90); Scotland – Christie (52).
Additional reporting: Terry Murden