Scotland have become so unaccustomed to the work of preparing for the big finals that it is difficult to determine the significance of this tie with the Netherlands. However, there was plenty for Steve Clarke to cheer on, especially given the Covid outage that formed the backdrop to this Algarve encounter. Kevin Nisbet appeared to have won the game for Scotland before a surprising late intervention from Memphis Depay.
The Czech Republic, England and Croatia can take note as Clarke pursued this encounter with the Dutch with those tournament opponents in mind. Scotland was never intimidated or overwhelmed.
While Scotland’s appearance at Euro 2020 will end a 23-year wait at the top of the table, the Netherlands are on their own road to recovery. Based on this evidence, significant improvement is still needed for the major nations to be hit by the ones in orange when things take on more meaning.
Billy Gilmour, the 19-year-old Chelsea midfielder, made his Scotland debut in the 81st minute. Virgil van Dijk, who will miss the Eurocup through injury, followed from the stands.
John Fleck’s positive coronavirus test result wasn’t too troublesome in the context of Scotland’s tournament prep, but subsequent events gave Clarke a headache ahead of this friendly. The Scottish FA decided to leave six more players, including John McGinn and Che Adams, at their training base in Spain as a precaution after assessing previous interaction with Fleck.
“We decided to be extremely cautious,” Clarke said before the start. “I think it was the right decision.” It remains to be seen who reappears for Sunday’s meeting with Luxembourg.
The Dutch had their own issues with Covid, and Frank de Boer chose to leave Jesper Cillessen out of his Euros squad amid concerns about how long it will take for the experienced goalkeeper to recover from the virus. Tim Krul duly started against Scotland.
A strong start from the Scots belied any sense of tense preparations. Kieran Tierney had already shot wide off Krul’s left post when Jack Hendry scored his first goal for his country. After Scotland pressed a Dutch goal kick and Stuart Armstrong stole the ball, Hendry advanced from the center and knocked Krul out of the way from 22 yards. Lyndon Dykes stung the Norwich City goalkeeper’s palms shortly after, and the sight of the Scotland fans was dizzying.
The reality soon emerged from familiar sources. Georginio Wijnaldum deftly muffled a header on the way to Depay, who found himself in splendid isolation. The prolific Lyon shooter beat Craig Gordon with his first touch.
In what seemed like at least a predetermined move, De Boer took out Wijnaldum and Frenkie de Jong shortly after the half hour. The only threat the Dutch launched in the rest of the half earned Matthijs de Ligt a credit card for his savage defiance at Hendry. Scotland, while no longer a great threat of attack, was perfectly comfortable.
Liam Cooper kept Tierney from blushing after a rare international error by the Arsenal defender gave the Netherlands a chance in the 53rd minute. De Boer’s side often scores freely; they had scored two or more in each of their five outings prior to this.
Scotland could be accused of lacking such power but Nisbet, with his first touch after replacing Dykes, put them ahead for the second time. The Hibernian forward finished off a good play involving Ryan Christie and a perfect cross from Andy Robertson.
From close range, Nisbet made the toughest part of football look wonderfully simple after having moved away from the Dutch central defenders. Clarke and his players are credited with having paid off for their advantage.
Gordon saved magnificently from a deflected effort by Patrick van Aanholt when De Boer’s men chased after a draw. It came from Depay, who threw a wonderful free kick past the stranded Gordon in the dying moments. It was a goal worthy of a higher stage, soon to be available.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism