WE OFTEN bemoan Scotland teams exiting tournaments with a whimper rather than a bang. Well, that accusation could not be levelled at Billy Stark’s under-21 side as their hopes of reaching the European Championship finals went up in flames last night.
Scorers: Scotland U21 - May (60); Netherlands U21 - Promes (26, 40, 42), Retik (50), Ziyech (76, 78)
There were pyrotechnics aplenty in Paisley. Unfortunately for the home fans, it was the team in orange that lit the Dutch-paper, with a first-half hat-trick from the explosive Quincy Promes serving to illustrate that some talents burn far brighter than anything Scotland can produce.
The stakes were unmistakeable for Stark’s side. Lying fourth in their five-team Group 3, with Slovakia six points better off at the summit and the Netherlands three points to the good, they knew a loss would end any finals prospects.
On such a night you do not want to be ranged against the Dutch, who have a masty habit of spearing Scotland at international level. They did so in emphatic fashion in the semi-finals of the Under-17s European Championship only last week, of course, but that 5-0 thumping was merely in keeping with what occured the last time the nations met at the level they were locking horns last night.
The 4-0 defeat inflicted on Scotland when they travelled to the Netherlands put them under early pressure in their section, with only one point from their subsequent back-to-back games against Georgia late last year, leaving them facing that uphill struggle all-too-familiar to Scotland sides at senior level.
Within 42 minutes of last night’s Paisley encounter, the struggle had become a forlorn one, with Promes helping himself to a 16 minute hat-trick that he claimed with finesse and finishing that was of the exhibition variety. Scotland started, alright, and Stuart Armstrong was unlucky to slide an effort just wide of the post when sent through by Ryan Fraser, but from the moment Promes first struck 26 minutes in, worries of a whacking became very real.
There appeared plenty of blue shirts blocking the FC Twente youngster’s view of goal in the moments before he set about single-handledly demolishing his opponents. A little shimmy, however, and he created all the sighting he required. Picking his spot high to the left of goal, he cupped his foot round the ball and sent it precisely where he wanted it.
Within seconds of this concession, the young Scots came agonisingly close to the response required First, they opened up the visitors’ backline with some neat interplay between Ryan Fraser and Armstrong and then the ball broke to John McGinn, who heaved a low effort towards goal from 22 yards that battered the base of the post.
It was the last time the result could be considered in any doubt. Promes made certain of that. His footwork and composure proved just as audacious and captivating for his second as was true of his first. And, as with the opener, home defenders Stuart Findlay and Jordan McGhee – the Hearts full-back the unfortunate directly up against the right-sided attacker – had no answer to Promes’ promenading.
He ghosted past markers as if they were see-through, and then lashed a sumptious effort beyond Jordan Archer that found the target via the crossbar. Two minutes later he brought up his treble by springing the offside trap, zipping across the turf and drilling a low effort in at the far post with supreme conviction. The Scotland support numbering 3,000 inside St Mirren park could only have one response and that was to acclaim the 22-year-old.
The wonder of the second period was not that a fourth for the Dutch arrived quickly, but that Promes was not once more executioner. That role fell to Karim Retik, who smashed a shot in-off the crossbar after Kenny McLean had appeared to avert danger with a headed goalline clearance.
Matter turned from awful to woeful when Hakim Ziyech was introduced as a substitute with only quarter of an hour remaining. Within 60 seconds he had bagged his side’s fifth, adding a sixth two minutes later. Scarily, the drubbing did not flatter the Dutch.
In fact, the 85th-minute goal from Stevie May, who capitalised on a moment of understandable slackness in the home defence to slam in an effort from the edge of the area, might have been more than the home side deserved.