DESPITE being as spirited as we knew they would be, Scotland’s hopes of securing even the point Gordon Strachan felt would re-ignite their Euro 2016 qualifying chances foundered on Germany’s ability to raise the tempo when required.
An ultimately disappointing outcome after four goals were exchanged by the sides in the opening half was compounded by news of Republic of Ireland’s win over Georgia. It means Scotland now need to rely on other results to reach the finals next summer, while also taking at least four points from six in their final two games just to have a chance of making the play-offs.
Ilkay Gündogan struck the winner nine minutes after half-time and Germany warded off the threat of a third Scotland comeback. Thomas Müller was the star of the show with two first-half goals on top of having a hand in the winner.
But Scotland refused to be shrugged off. With Hampden in ferment, and goalkeeper David Marshall pushed forward for a corner, they kept on pushing until the very end and deserve the credit that will undoubtedly come their way. But despite a Mats Hummels own goal and a strike by James McArthur, it was another tale of epic effort resulting in no tangible reward.
Initially Scotland seemed to be affected by some confidence issues, understandably so given the identity of the distinguished visitors. There was also the residual effect of Friday night’s reversal in Georgia.
Germany carried the mantle of world champions with expected poise. They answered each question asked of them by a Scots side featuring three changes from the 1-0 defeat in Tbilisi.
This was far from the meek surrender of last week, when Scotland failed to register a shot on target. Two goals before half-time against the world’s best was a thrilling output from a side operating on the back of heavy criticism. Strachan drafted James Forrest, James McArthur and Grant Hanley into the starting XI. But it was players such as Alan Hutton and Russell Martin, perhaps driven with desire to atone for the defeat by Georgia, who caught the eye.
The loss of a goal after only 18 minutes was not in Scotland’s plans. It was particularly frustrating given the solid start made by the hosts. However, there was the suspicion Germany were simply toying with their opponents. This grew stronger when Müller scored on the first occasion that he ran at the Scotland rearguard with something approaching intent.
He showed his class as he strode forward after an exchange of passes in midfield, shrugging off a challenge by Scott Brown in the process. His angled shot took a cruel deflection off Martin’s leg as it rolled into the corner of the net – agonisingly so for Scotland.
The hosts responded well from this setback and were level within ten minutes. The hosts made the most of a free-kick that could well have been given as a penalty had referee Bjorn Kulpers interpreted Emre Can’s tug on Charlie Mulgrew as being inside the box.
The whistles at this decision quickly turned to cheers, however, as Shaun Maloney whipped in a shot from the set-piece that Neuer was surprisingly hesitant about clutching. Instead, he weakly palmed the ball up into the midriff of Hummels, who looked on in horror as the ball rebounded into the net.
Unusually perhaps, fortune had favoured Scotland. But Maloney’s contribution cannot be overlooked as he continued an impressive campaign.
On a night of see-sawing emotions, Müller was alert enough to put Germany back in front after 34 minutes. Germany, again looking dangerous down the left, suddenly switched play through Mario Götze to the right, where Scotland were left open by Mulgrew’s decision to move inside. Can was handed plenty of time to send a controlled drive towards goal that Marshall did well to block. However, the ball spun up off the goalkeeper and Müller contorted his body to send a header in off the post, despite Mulgrew’s despairing attempt to clear from just behind the goal-line.
It was a blow that briefly silenced the Tartan Army and roused the visiting supporters, who responded to previous taunts by agreeing they only sing when they are winning. But again they were in front only relatively briefly.
Just three minutes before half-time Scotland drew level and again Maloney contributed with a set-piece delivery, this time from a corner that was only half-cleared. The ball fell invitingly at James McArthur’s feet, and he sent a half-volley into the net past Neuer from 12 yards, with the German goalkeeper put off by Morrison ducking in front of him.
Half-time came and a lone bagpiper attempted to stir Scotland’s spirits further. But it was Germany who struck first, taking the lead for the third time in the match in the 54th minute with another well-worked goal. Gündogan, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder, drove forward and spotted Müller making a run outside Mulgrew. Müller’s awareness was to the fore again as he cut the ball back for Gündogan, who had continued his run into the box and stroked a shot into the corner.
It confirmed the feeling that Germany were able to find another gear whenever it was required. This time the hosts were unable to find a way back. When Morrison was booked for a foul on Bastian Schweinsteiger, Scotland lost a valuable player through suspension for the match against Poland next month. But rather than replace Morrison, Strachan chose to swap Brown with Chris Martin and Forrest with Matt Ritchie as the hosts searched for an equaliser. It never came and now Scotland are reliant on others for help in their quest.
Scotland: Marshall, Hutton, R Martin, Hanley, Mulgrew, Maloney (Anya 60), McArthur, Brown (C Martin 80), Forrest (Ritchie 80), Morrison, S Fletcher. Subs not used: Gordon, Griffiths, Whittaker, Greer, Naismith, Russell, D Fletcher, Forsyth, McGregor.
Germany: Neuer, Can, Boateng, Hummels, Hector, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Muller, Ozil (Kramer 90), Gundogan, Gotze (Schurrle 86). Subs not used: Zieler, Mustafi, Rudy, Ginter, Podolski, Volland, Bellarabi, Kruse, ter Stegen.