Israel’s next visit to Hampden Park will carry considerably more importance than this exit of Scotland from cold storage. Next month, these teams meet in a long-awaited Euro 2020 play-off semi-final. Still, as he seeks to build momentum that has been so painfully lacking during umpteen years in the international wilderness, Steve Clarke is entitled to frustration that his side could not build on the first-half lead afforded them by a Ryan Christie penalty.
Israel, in the first game of Willibald Ruttensteiner’s caretaker spell, were worthy of their point. Clarke will privately be perfectly aware Scotland must improve if that semi-final is not to follow a grim storyline that has dominated since 1998 and a last appearance at a major finals.
Clarke had persisted with a back four for every one of his previous 10 matches in charge. This, however, marked the first time in his tenure that Kieran Tierney was fit for selection. In replicating a tactic occasionally used by Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, Clarke deployed Tierney on the left side of a back three. Andy Robertson, the Scotland captain, was advanced to the left of a four-man midfield.
Clarke’s other key switch utilised Scott McTominay at centre-back. Lyndon Dykes, born in Australia and having recently switched Livingston for Queens Park Rangers, made his Scotland debut in attack. With the Scots painfully short of striking prowess, this marked a serious opportunity for the 24-year-old.
Given 10 months had passed since a Scotland fixture, the hosts’ tepid start was partly understandable. Israel, while fluent in possession, did not particularly carry a threat. With 30 minutes played, neither goalkeeper had been forced into a save. The only penalty area flurries involved John McGinn, who was twice denied reasonable claims for a Scotland spot-kick.
Third time lucky for McGinn came immediately after Israel nearly opened the scoring. McTominay missed his attempted clearance of an Eli Dasa cross and David Marshall had to act smartly to bat away Munas Dabbur’s header. Having apparently heeded the warning, Scotland seized the initiative.
Eytan Tibi’s challenge on McGinn as the ball broke from a corner was clumsy enough for Slavko Vincic to point to the penalty spot. On closer analysis, the Aston Villa player may have kicked his opponent, hence Tibi’s protestations. Christie cared little about the debate, the Celtic player lashing the ball high beyond Ofir Marciano.
Only poor control from Manor Solomon denied Israel parity when he squandered a glorious chance within 90 seconds of the restart. This set the tone for a far more entertaining spell, whereby both sides seemed to embrace the fact they might as well play with an element of freedom. Dykes noticeably grew in confidence as the minutes ticked on, with the forward showing composure and strength when hit with passes from deep. Tierney was similarly sharp when clearing as Eran Zahavi lined up for a shot at goal from 12 yards.
That incident rather summed up Israel’s frustrations; despite decent levels of possession, they had not placed Marshall under proper pressure during the first hour of the game.
That was soon to change. A delightful cross from Dasa somehow eluded a clutch of Israel attackers, with the Scotland defence stranded. Clarke’s back line was not altogether clever again as Zahavi played a neat one-two with Dabbur before planting an excellent half-volley past Marshall. Whereas Zahavi’s technique was superb, the Scots had switched off at an earlier and swiftly taken throw-in.
Clarke replaced Dykes with Oli Burke as Scotland looked to swat Israel’s confidence. They did to an extent but it was the visitors with spring in step as full time arrived.
Czech Republic ‘postpone’ Scotland game due to Covid
Scotland’s preparations for the crucial play-off match against Israel were disrupted late on Friday night when the Czech FA announced on Twitter the postponement of Monday’s game in Olomouc due to “the current situation with Covid-19”.
West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek and RB Leipzig striker Patrik Schick are self-isolating after coming into contact with a backroom staff member who tested positive for the virus. The Czech FA delayed their departure for Slovakia by 24 hours while the entire squad was retested and the players made the 200-mile journey by road after splitting up into small groups. However, after their opening win, the FACR added in their statement: “There is great concern that the virus could spread further.”
A Scottish Football Association spokesperson said: “We are aware of reports that the Football Association of the Czech Republic have taken the decision not to play Monday’s game. We have not received any official notification from the Football Association of the Czech Republic to that effect but have contacted Uefa for confirmation on the status of the match.” PA Media