So far the narrow and dark affairs between Scotland and Israel. A seventh meeting in three years broke the mold of everything that had happened before. This was a breathless encounter, a game for all ages, as befits the long-awaited return of a capacity crowd to this stadium.
The final act was the defining one. Scott McTominay knew little about the goal that sent Scotland short of a World Cup play-off. He linked a corner of John McGinn home with his thigh to send Steve Clarke into ecstasy. Scotland now lead Israel by four points in Group F and, should Clarke’s men see the Faroe Islands and Moldova in upcoming matches, second place behind Denmark will be theirs. The Danes’ visit to Glasgow in November would, in that scenario, be irrelevant.
“We left the goal a little late for everyone’s blood pressure,” Clarke said with a smile. “Fifty thousand fans who stayed to death was incredible. It was a strange night, not like any other game we’ve played against Israel. “
Eran Zahavi had given Israel the lead. McGinn brought Scotland back to proceedings. Mu’nas Dabbur edged the visitors ahead again, before Lyndon Dykes had his Scotland penalty saved. Dykes atoned for the game’s fourth goal shot, with a little help from the VAR. Things had settled down to a dull roar before McTominay’s prime in the colors of Scotland. The spirit is such within this field of Scotland that there was a feeling, legitimately as it transpired, that victory could be snatched away. Halfway through the six-minute stoppage time came the kind of moment that defines successful campaigns.
Scotland should have been ahead before the Zahavi strike pierced Hampden’s electric atmosphere. Che Adams scooped the ball up into the hands of the grateful Ofir Marciano after just 40 seconds, in the kind of wasteful act that tends to come back to haunt teams. The routinely impressive Zahavi emphasized that very point.
Jack Hendry, one of countless Scottish players who looked shaky during the first exchanges, unnecessarily pushed Zahavi 20 meters from home goal. The silence in the stands was in recognition of Zahavi’s experience in the pursuit of goals, and the PSV man stepped forward to launch a glorious free kick past the dunk but defenseless Craig Gordon.
Scotland’s response was low-key, a shot from the Dykes cleverly saved by Marciano was almost the sum of that, before McGinn regained parity. Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson, on the occasion of their 50th international game, combined before McGinn found a clear vision of the goal. The Aston Villa midfielder showed wonderful composure to pass the ball over Marciano with his left foot.
How short-lived Scottish optimism turned out to be. A depressing defense will be cited after a routine free kick bounced around the penalty area, but there was an element of whimsy in the moments before Dabbur continued his recently prolific international streak. Gordon saved well after a Dykes punt bounced off Dor Peretz and returned to his own goal. Dabbur scooped up the scraps, hitting the rebound from close up. Scotland asked in vain for a Peretz handball.
There was more agony for those in dark blue before the interval. A wild challenge from Bibras Natcho on Billy Gilmour logically led to a penalty shot. Dykes hit a direct effort that Marciano cleared.
“At halftime we knew we had to wake up,” McTominay said. Gilmour, inspired after the break, typified the rejuvenation of Scotland. Just days after Scottish clubs debated the introduction of VAR in their competitions, that same tool helped the national team recover from the game. In fact, there was nothing wrong with Dykes’ push off a Robertson cross that passed Marciano, but Ofri Arad, having thrown her head into the Queens Park Rangers forward’s boot, appealed to a dangerous play. The referee initially agreed before a check confirmed that the goal should be kept.
Gordon denied Zahavi. Marciano started a header from Dykes into the net. The game turned into a fast and furious cup draw, fueled by Israel’s sense of injustice and Scotland’s belief that three points could be returned after all.
McGinn missed a great opportunity to cut Ryan Christie. Israel seemed happy to settle for one point, but Scotland was not: enter McTominay. Clarke, arms raised full time, truly personified the state of mind of a nation.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism