Scotland ended what has been a truly dismal European Under-21 Championship campaign with another defeat, Scot Gemmill’s young side going down to Macedonia, who qualified as group winners in a section that also included France and Iceland.
This loss in Skopje was the fourth game in a row where Scotland had neither scored nor collected even a point, although the new boss had made it clear he is building for the future by blooding youngsters.
But for the hosts, it was an extraordinary night as they celebrated their first qualification for any tournament at any age group and their packed National Stadium in Skopje erupted into scenes of joy at full time.
Gemmill insisted Scotland can draw inspiration from the celebrating Macedonians, who even sang and danced around their manager at the post-match press conference.
“All credit to Macedonia,” Gemmill said. “They have maximised it and found a way to win the group. Yes, of course it can be motivational for our players – they are all witnessing their players celebrating now. We have to use that to keep focused and keep pushing forward.
“We were playing against an opposition who were up for it and really highly motivated. It was a difficult match. To be in that position with our backs to the wall, I thought our players responded really well in the second half.”
Macedonia’s early dominance was rewarded with the opening goal in the 18th minute. A snapshot from the edge of the box from Marjan Redeski was saved by Scotland’s Liverpool goalkeeper Ryan Fulton, but Kire Markovski was sharpest to the rebound and drilled the ball into the net.
Four minutes later and Scotland’s hopes were all but dead and buried. The vistors’ midfield was posted missing as Macedonia quickly moved up the park and Ernis Bardi drilled a low shot from 20 yards that whistled in past Fulton to the delight of the home fans.
Scotland were given a lifeline eight minutes before the break when Fulton saved a penalty after Oliver McBurnie handled in his own box, the keeper saving Babunski’s poor spot kick.
The stadium erupted when news of a Ukraine equaliser and winner against Iceland came through and thankfully, the hosts took their foot off the gas in the second half and Scotland also improved to their credit – to the extent Liam Burt almost squeezed in a consolation goal.
But the former Yugoslav nation comfortably held on and started ecstatic celebrations.
l Celtic striker Moussa Dembele scored for France under-21 as they defeated Northern Ireland 3-0 in Belfast last night.
Jean-Kévin Augustin of Paris Saint-Germain netted twice in the first half for the French before Dembele made sure of victory with a third in the 89th minute.
The win means France finish second in Group 3, behind Macedonia.