IT MAY be a familiar tale of heroic defeat for Scotland. But on this occasion, it is also a heartening one. Nothing was gained in the way of points. However, Gordon Strachan’s side at least have the satisfaction of knowing their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign has been invested with a great deal of hope, following this narrow defeat in Dortmund.
Scorers: Germany - Muller (18, 70); Scotland - Anya (66)
Eight weeks to the night after lifting the World Cup, Germany were required to dig deep for victory here in the Westfalenstadion.
Thomas Müller was denied a hat-trick when he hit the post in the last minute. But while this paints a picture of dominance, there was a very distinct sense of panic on the steep slopes of the stadium after Ikechi Anya scored a thrilling equaliser for Scotland after 66 minutes.
Müller opened the scoring in 17 minutes and the visitors endured some testing times in this opening spell. But Anya’s goal was deserved after a bright start to the second-half.
Following this, there can only be disappointment at the failure to hold Germany for longer than five minutes. The manner in which Müller’s second goal was conceded, from a corner kick, was infuriating. Scotland’s frustration was compounded by a red card that was shown to Charlie Mulgrew in injury-time.
The defender was shown a second yellow card for kicking the ball away. There was also a question why the referee Svein Oddvar Moen did not play the full three minutes of injury-time, and why he did not punish Erik Durm with more than a booking when he pulled back Steven Naismith as he broke through in the second half.
Scotland grew into the game after being relegated to the role of onlookers directly from kick-off start as Germany retained possession with the authority expected of world champions.
Anya was first Scotland player to touch the ball when giving away a corner after fully two minutes of play. He was set to make a more decisive intervention later in the game but getting a boot to the ball represented minor victory at this stage of the game.
Scotland were forced to chase the ball around and wait patiently for their own chance to build a move. Germany sensed they might profit from Scotland’s area of weakness in the centre half area, where Russell Martin, who passed a morning fitness test to play, and Grant Hanley were paired.
The surprise choice of David Marshall, who was preferred over Allan McGregor, also seemed to encourage the home team to either shoot from distance or deliver a cross into places where the goalkeeper had to make a decision whether to come for the ball or not.
As suspected, Scotland had to endure a challenging opening spell and though they did repel these early advances, even venturing up field on one occasion themselves to go close through a deflected effort from Barry Bannan, there was little surprise when Müller made a breakthrough.
Müller had already signalled his intent. Indeed, Scotland were granted a let-off after only eight minutes when the unmarked player headed wide from a good position. He showed more accuracy after 17 minutes after Sebastian Rudy became just the latest player to very deliberately send a testing ball into the middle of Scotland’s defence. Müller made the task of winning the ball seem very easy indeed as he out-jumped both Alan Hutton and Martin to send the ball past Marshall.
Germany were imposing themselves again after last Wednesday’s eyebrow-raising friendly defeat to Argentina, who they had so recently conquered. Two months after they created history in the Maracana, Germany returned to competitive action on another balmy Sunday night.
They were again faced by a team wearing blue – a darker shade of blue on this occasion. Perhaps underlining that Germany had their business heads on once more, there was no parading of the World Cup trophy.
Eight of those included in the startling line up last night played a part on that night in Rio, including the man whose goal secured Germany’s fourth title. Mario Gotze preferred to the out of touch Mario Gomez in attack. The Westfalenstadion seemed to approve. He was given a huge ovation when the teams were read out.
There was a carnival atmosphere prior to kick-off. “Stand up for the Champions” was played across the public address system.
Placards forming the shape of gold star were held up at the famous yellow wall was at the south end of the stadium – four banners each displaying a star had already been unfurled on the pitch, to mark each German World Cup triumph, with the biggest cheer saved for the last – ’14.
But Germany were not resting on any laurels – sadly for Scotland. Better teams than Strachan’s side will come here and chase shadows.
As one wag pointed out, by the half hour mark, when Scotland trailed by only one goal, Brazil had already conceded five times against the same team in that remarkable semi-final in Belo Horizonte.
But while there was only a goal in it, anything could happen. If Scotland were to cause any serious damage to Germany, it seemed Anya might be the one to do it by getting in behind the home defence.
On those few occasions that he managed this, he was invariably faced by an extra defender in the form of Manuel Neuer, whose sweeping play provided the home supporters with a thrill.
The goalkeeper robbed Anya just before half-time and then not only prevented the ball from going out of play, but played a precise ball up the left flank. Marshall was forced to make a more orthodox intervention on the stroke of half-time when clawing Marco Reus’ effort away from the goal-line.
Reaching half-time only a goal down could be treated as a positive by Strachan as he welcomed the players back into the dressing-room.
There was still the possibility that a single chance might see Scotland draw level – and it duly arrived just three minutes after half-time.
Rather than a mistake by Germany, it was created from Scotland’s own adventure.
Hutton drove at the home defence in the style of the full-back at his best and then had the composure to find Naismith, whose efforts to make room for himself saw him wriggle a little too wide. When he eventually shot, the angle had narrowed and the ball bounced agonisingly wide of Neuer’s far post.
Although frustrating, it still seemed to encourage Scotland, and rightly so. Strachan made two very proactive changes by replacing Bannan with Steven Fletcher. More surprisingly, Darren Fletcher made way for James McArthur. These alterations were quick to take effect.
But first Marshall had to make a fine stop from Reus to ensure the visitors remained in the game. Scotland then drew level with a goal of real quality. Steven Fletcher was the architect, turning to whip a fine ball into the path of Anya, who still had much work to do. The Watford winger showed remarkable composure as he slipped the ball past the onrushing Neuer.
On the two large scoreboards, there was no mistaking it – Germany 1 Scotland 1. But everyone associated with Scotland knew there would now be a reaction from Germany, whose fans were emitting some very obvious signs of displeasure.
The trick was to ensure such dissatisfaction intensified but this proved beyond Scotland. Just five minutes later, the visitors conceded a dreadful goal from a corner.
Mulgrew had the opportunity to clear but the ball fell at the feet of Müller, who rifled a shot high into the net from close-in.
But Scotland responded in the right manner, and might have equalised almost immediately had Fletcher’s header from a Naismith cross not been blocked by Rudy.
There was an appeal for handball, but this, too, proved in vain.
Referee: S Oddvar Moen (Nor)