Scotland’s bid to reach the 2022 World Cup emerged from a night of extraordinary drama at the national stadium healthier than ever.
In front of a bouncing Hampden, which included Sir Alex Ferguson himself, the country came back from behind twice to seize victory 180 seconds into stoppage time. Fergie time.
And if the winner, which rolled up Scott McTominay’s torso before nestling into the Israel net, was as scrappy as they come, the celebrations it triggered were truly magnificent.
Billy Gilmour limped off the pitch, with a smile that stretched from ear to ear while the Manchester United midfielder went from teammate after teammate trading embraces.
Manager Steve Clarke for his part, possibly in a nod to Fergie who was given a retrospective cap at half-time, went old school turning to the stand with both arms aloft and holding the pose.
When the dust had settled, the position Steve Clarke’s men have earned for themselves is a simple one. Win in the Faroes on Tuesday then a victory in Moldova next month and a play-off berth will be secured.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) October 9, 2021
The start could not have been in more contrast to the finish – it was disastrous, with Eran Zahavi once again proving a real thorn in the country’s side.
The Israeli striker first earned his side a free-kick when tumbling under the challenge from Jack Hendry on the edge of the box.
Craig Gordon set himself out a defensive wall that included John McGinn as the draught excluder, lying behind his teammates to guard against a crafty low effort.
Not that Zahavi cared; he was able to get it done by going over and above the wall, producing a stunning strike to beat the keeper at his top right-hand corner.
Falling behind is nothing new to Steve Clarke’s side, but doing so in a handful of minutes in match of this magnitude was painful.
They bounced back quickly, though, equalising with a belter.
Skipper Andy Robertson drove in from the left flank at pace, exchanged passes with Adams and then rolled the ball to the edge of the area where McGinn was lurking with intent.
The VAR call on Dykes’ high boot kept Clarke’s side in the game and – eventually – on course for a play-off place.
Andy Robertson. The Scotland captain led by example with a performance that mixed passion with precision in equal measure.
This was a tough test for Szymon Marciniak but would have been for any official.
Almost in slow motion, the midfielder took a touch with his right to steady himself and then curled a lovely effort beyond Marciano and into the far side of the net.
Hampden, at full capacity for the first time in Clarke’s career, erupted with joy – only to be silenced almost immediately.
Scott McTominay conceded a free-kick deep in Scotland half when diving into the tackle.
Natcho swung the set-piece in and Gordon saved pushing the ball straight to Munas Dabbur at the back post.
Unmarked and only a couple of yards out, the striker gleefully converted for a 2-1 lead.
A couple of Scotland players appealed that the ball come off Peretz and for a few seconds it looked as if there would be a reprieve via VAR but referee Szymon Marciniak pointed to the centre spot and that was it.
They should have gone in level at the break just the same.
Israeli skipper Natcho conceded a penalty when he clattered Billy Gilmour right on the line.
After a brief pause, Lyndon Dykes strode up to take the spot-kick but he hit the ball straight down the middle at Maricano who had a simple task to save.
To his credit, the QPR striker responded in the best possible way – by returning after the interval to put it right.
Robertson was again the instigator, darting down the flank and slinging in a ball to the near post for the strikers to attack.
Dykes did exactly that flying in to volley home.
Initially he thought the goal was going to be taken off him as the referee ruled it off, adjudging his high boot had endangered defender Ofri Arad as he attempted to clear.
This time, though, VAR did get involved. The referee was dispatched to check a rerun on the screen at the side of the pitch.
Fifty thousand held their breath but the technology succeeded in changing the official’s mind and, to wild celebrations, he changed his decision to rule it a goal.
It teed up a super finish, McGinn’s corner nodded to by Hendry to the back post where McTominay chested home.
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