FOOTBALL, BLOODY HELL!
The famous words of Sir Alex Ferguson spring to mind after being through yet another rollercoaster ride with the Scotland Men’s National Team. In the seventh meeting inside three years against Israel, all was not rosy going into the half time break. Two-one down and Lyndon Dykes having his penalty on the stroke of half-time saved by Ofir Marciano, Scotland were in danger of letting a World Cup qualification playoff spot slip out of their hands.
On a night where Sir Alex was finally rewarded with a Scotland cap 54 years after representing his country in an end of season tour, it was fitting that we should turnaround the situation and win the game in Fergie Time. More fittingly, it was a player who Sir Alex signed as an eight year old who should be the one to score the crucial winning goal.
Scott McTominay’s chested winner in injury time sparked scenes at Hampden that have not been witnessed for a long long time. The euphoria was incredible, the celebrations were wild. This was something really special.
As Laura Brannan pointed out on Twitter, as special as the Euros were, they were not played to a capacity crowd. This was the first sell out at the National Stadium in over four years, this had everything riding on it and the way that victory was secured against a side we’ve had little luck against was sweet.
The turnaround started with a Hampden first – the use of VAR. It looked as though we were going to be cruelly denied an equaliser by way of a terrible refereeing decision, who fell for the antics of the Israeli defender claiming to be booted when Lyndon Dykes beat him to the ball to redeem himself from his penalty miss. Luckily, he was asked to review the decision, he then made the correct call and Scotland were level.
Our tails were up, and Israel knew it. They resorted to even more persistent fouling and time wasting antics they could to halt our momentum. But this Scotland side wasn’t going to let that derail them and created more opportunities, most notably through Dykes and McGinn, and you just had that feeling this was going to be our night after all.
Three minutes into time added on, I held my six year old son Callum in one arm and my phone in the other, saying to him before John McGinn swung in that corner “it’s got to work now.” Words cannot describe that moment when the ball hit the net. Not because I finally caught a goal on my phone after the fifth or sixth attempt, but the sheer euphoria amongst the crowd was incredible and a feeling that has not been matched at a Scotland game at Hampden in four years.
The stadium was bouncing, the significance of that goal was felt by every single person who was part of the 50,000 crowd, the mood from half time had shifted 180 degrees from “here we go again” to “ya effin beauty!” To share all that with my son, and contain my language in the process, was special. This is what International Football is about, everyone coming together as one to enjoy these moments. Whilst the thrill of being at the Euros was special, it simply wasn’t the same played in a 25% capacity Hampden, our National Stadium NEEDS a big support.
It was Football justice on another level that Scotland got the winner inside the six minutes of time added on. Israel’s play acting and time wasting tactics were amongst some of the worst I’ve seen from a visiting team at Hampden, and there have been a lot over the years. Add to that the persistent fouling that was going largely unpunished (how Scotland ended up with more yellow cards than them is beyond me) and you get the picture of how dirty they were. To give credit to the referee, he took this into consideration when instructing the fourth official to put the number six on his board as the clock hit 90 minutes, and Israel’s tactics came back to bite them big time.
Having now taken four points from six against both the Israeli’s and Austria, we now sit four points clear of both our main rivals in that coveted second spot with three games to play. The playoff spot is now within touching distance, and six points from two away trips against the bottom two sides Faroe Islands and Moldova will see us earn that opportunity to qualify for the Qatar ’22 World Cup in March.
Now let’s not get carried away, the job is FAR from complete. We’ve been in this position before in 2007 after we’d beaten France and Ukraine, only to then lose to Georgia before that fateful, painful night against Italy. We haven’t beaten both pot five and six sides home and away in a qualifying campaign since 2002, a big reason why we hadn’t qualified for a major tournament in 23 years. However, this Scotland team has been overcoming a lot of obstacles recently, like getting to a Finals and getting a signature result away from home against a main group rival, so surely they can do the business against the Faroes and Moldova?
Let’s hope they can get over the ghosts of Georgia and make nights like Israel on 9 October 2021 all the more special. Maybe we can invite Sir Alex over for inspiration there too!