Scotland 2 Naismith 58, Pique 66og Spain 3 Villa 43pen, Iniesta 53, Llorente 78
• Fernando Llorente celebrates scoring Spain's third goal which stopped the Scotland charge in its tracks and left fans with a sense of what might have been at Hampden Picture: Getty
Scotland and five-goal thrillers are not words expected to appear in the same sentence. But the phrase gallant loser is one that has attached itself to the football team for longer than anyone cares to remember, and here there was reason to apply it again.
It is, though, an improvement on the most recent performance from Craig Levein's team. Honour was nowhere to be found in Prague on Friday, but here Scotland redeemed themselves, and were re-acquainted with what it means to suffer a glorious defeat. For over ten minutes they revelled in the sensation of having clawed back a two-goal deficit against the world champions, but Fernando Llorente's winner, with just 12 minutes remaining, handed Spain the three points.
It also denied Scotland one of their greatest ever comebacks, with a header from Steven Naismith and an own goal from Gerard Pique cancelling out strikes from David Villa, from the penalty spot, and Andres Iniesta. It proved a brief period of joy but after the depressing defeat to Czech Republic, it should be enough to sustain the Scots in the 11-month break before re-engaging with the task of qualifying for Euro 2012.
MORE SCOTLAND v. SPAIN
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• Scotland foiled, but courage goes a long way
• Good old Scottish welly
Respect had to be paid to the world and European champions, but so, too, did attention. Their running off the ball provided Scotland with a host of problems. It was a clash of footballing cultures, with Scotland having at least decided to express their passion rather than keep it bottled up, as had happened in Prague.
Scotland were not being marked for style, and so did not need to worry about the absence of quality in their play when compared to the visitors. But Scotland had to be alert to the runs in behind the defence, with David Villa a menace throughout the opening half as he aimed to score the goal which would lift him above Raul in the all-time leading goal-scorer charts for Spain.
Proving that the Spaniards are fallible, Villa had plenty of chances to score this significant goal before he finally did, from the penalty spot just prior to half-time.
Scotland took just 60 seconds to do what they could not manage in over 90 minutes in Prague, and the corner they won, after Gerard Pique had cleared a dangerous cross from Kenny Miller, was rapturously received by the Tartan Army.
To say the fans were in need of a filip was an understatement, and before kick-off there could be detected a worryingly dispirited air. But this stoked them, re-lit an old fire.It also signalled a different tack taken by Levein after the heavy cost of last week's decision to play without a striker.
There was an unmistakable desire to ask questions of Spain. But that the Spanish retaliated by winning a corner of their own in just the third minute said all that needed to be said about their own prowess.
It was an encouraging start though. One-one on corners, and the employment of a formation designed to offer the full-backs an outlet as they looked to relieve the pressure that built up steadily throughout the half. Phil Bardsley, making his debut at right-back in place of the injured Alan Hutton, took advantage of this option with intelligent balls into the corner. Indeed, Scotland had their moments, and were destined to lament the missed chance after 18 minutes, when James Morrison saw his shot, after a Darren Fletcher cut-back, blocked in front of the line by Gerard Pique. His follow-up header was then cleared by Carles Puyol.
It wasn't possible to claim Scotland were matching the Spaniards chance for chance, however. The early corner count had seen parity achieved, but Spain were far in front when it came to possession. The visitors were kept at bay by another inspired performance from Allan McGregor.
He saved a David Silva effort with his feet and then beat out a Villa shot from close-range, following an attempt at goal from Xabi Alonso. He even very nearly kept out Villa's penalty kick, awarded after Steven Whittaker had used an arm to block Sergio Ramos' shot, just a minute before half-time.
Villa sensed it was time to seize his moment. The relief with which he looked to the sky after scoring acknowledged just how close McGregor had come to saving his effort, with the 'keeper's hand having brushing the ball as it made its it way into the right corner. The goal was a blow for Scotland, and another set-back was revealed after half-time, when Charlie Adam took the field in place of Lee McCulloch. The Rangers midfielder had only just made the starting line-up, due to a hip complaint.
The decision to replace him with Adam rather than Gary Caldwell reflected Scotland's requirement to score, and this need became greater still after 53 minutes. Spain's second was an artfully created affair inside the Scotland box, with Villa having first set-up Silva following some trickery. His shot was blocked by McManus, but Iniesta took a touch and then swept home the rebound. It was a deflating goal to concede, particularly on the back of Villa's penalty on the stroke of half-time. But somehow Scotland recovered, somehow they drew Vincente Del Bosque down to the touchline, as the Spanish manager sought to prevent a full-on Spanish collapse.Having only scored twice the in the first three matches of the campaign - both claimed against Liechtenstein - they managed to claim two in eight minutes, against the world champions.
Scotland began the comeback on 58 minutes, with a header which called to mind Mo Johnson's against the same opponents in 1984. Steven Naismith connected with Miller's cross from the right just before his nose left a furrow in the Hampden turf. His angled, diving header nestled in the corner, and left the Spanish defenders arguing among themselves.
Both Pique and Ramos had failed to track Naismith, but there was further embarrassment to be faced by the former as Scotland, incredibly, got back on level terms after 66 minutes. Fletcher played Morrison into space with a ball which opened up the Spanish rearguard, and the West Bromwich Albion layer drove a cross into the six-yard box. Pique's attempted to cut it out but could only help the ball into the net. Had the defender missed it - or deliberately let the ball go - then Miller was primed to strike, just behind him. For a few delirious moments it was possible to savour Hampden Park in ferment, and view a Scotland team with its tail up.
But disaster lingered not far away. With 12 minutes remaining Spain re-established their lead as Stephen McManus missed Joan Capdevila's cross and substitute Fernando Llorente, who had come on for Cazorla, took full advantage, stooping to head the ball past McGregor before theatrically wiping the sweat from his brow.
And to add insult to injury, Whittaker was sent off for his second bookable offence with two minutes remaining.
Scotland: McGregor (Rangers); Bardsley (Sunderland), Weir (Rangers), McManus (Middlesbrough), Whittaker (Rangers), McCulloch (Rangers), D Fletcher (Manchester United), Dorrans (West Brom), Morrison (West Brom), Naimsith (Rangers); Miller (Rangers). Subs: Gordon (Sunderland), Caldwell (Wigan), Adam (Blackpool), Berra (Wolves), Maloney (Celtic), S Fletcher (Wolves), Mackie (QPR).
Spain: Casillas (Real Madrid); Ramos (Real Madrid), Puyol (Barcelona), Pique (Barcelona), Capdevila (Villarreal); Alonso (Real Madrid), Iniesta (Barcelona), Busquets (Barcelona); Silva (Manchester City), Cazorla, Villa (Barcelona). Subs: Valdes (Barcelona), Monreal (Osasuna), Marchena (Villarreal), Arbeoloa (Real Madrid), Hernandez (Valencia), Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Soriano (Villarreal).
Referee: M Busacci (Swi)