The governing body have caused some consternation among football historians by upgrading some friendlies played on the so-called Oceanic tour of 1967 to full internationals, meaning caps for, among others, the previously cap-less Sir Alex Ferguson. So, then, what did we have here? Scotland didn’t even really have to win. But they did. Oh, how they did. It seems they’ve now forgotten how to avoid winning.
At times, it did feel like a testimonial. Perhaps an exhibition match. But that was only before kick-off. Before the Scots went to work and blew Denmark away. A breathless and yet controlled display was further distinguished by Scotland, despite all the pre-match fretting, avoiding any bookings at all. Talk about a perfect night in Mount Florida.
Some had wondered what kind of contest this would be. The Danes, after all, have long since secured their passage to the World Cup, and Scotland’s hopes of reaching the play-off, considered slim just a few weeks ago, had already been realised. Both sets of fans – there was an impressive Denmark following – linked arms before the game and there was a notable feeling of kinship existing between the teams that had finished first and second in Group F.
One banner in the home section saluted “Erikssen the brave” in a reference to Christian’s continued recovery from a cardiac arrest suffered in the Danes’ opening Euro 2020 group game in June.
It was friendly but it was partisan. We now know the value of a home draw in the play-off semi-final, something Scotland have now secured with this commanding win. No team will relish being drawn to play here.
John McGinn pausing to take a deep breath around ten minutes from half-time while waiting to take a corner provided the answer to what kind of game this was. A cup final.
This bid to take some time out was visible from the stands and reflected the pace at which this game was being played. The intensity was threatening to overwhelm some of the performers. Seconds earlier, McGinn had barely made the front post with a corner that trundled along the ground. Helpfully it was cleared behind for another corner. Rather than transmit their frustration at the poor set-piece, the Tartan Army struck up another chorus of “We’ve got McGinn, Super John McGinn….” McGinn seemed to be drinking in this energy, swallowing the good vibes as he contemplated Take Two.
His second attempt arced beautifully deep towards the back post where Liam Cooper was stationed in a move that bore all the hallmarks of set-piece expert Austin MacPhee. The Leeds United skipper sent a header back into the danger area and John Souttar, sent off in his last appearance for Scotland three years ago, powered a header into the net. It was the least the Hearts centre-half deserved after years of injury anguish, the least his side deserved too.
It took just 20 minutes for the first rendition of “Steve Clarke’s Tartan Army!” The Tartan Army were respecting Clarke’s request, made after he was urged to give fans a wave while play raged on in Moldova last week, to leave such requests until after the game.
Scotland were creating chances but at the same time living dangerously. As well as being booked for gesturing the shape of a pair of spectacles in the direction of the linesman, Kasper Schmeichel had made one fine save with his foot from Che Adams after a sweeping Scotland move that had started in the home team’s half. They were moving the ball at a furious speed.
As much as one hesitates to use a word imbued with such rich Brazilian associations in Glasgow in November, there was a carnival atmosphere inside Hampden prior to kick-off. Such scenes made the minute’s silence that was impeccably observed by both sets of fans feel even more poignant and powerful. The decibel meter suddenly dropped to zero in a salute to Walter Smith and Bertie Auld after a burst of applause had initially rung out across the stadium. How these titanic Scottish figures would have relished this Scottish performance.
After the Parken stadium was packed out for the visit of Scotland in September, it was nice to be able to return the compliment. Hampden rocked with a first full first full house since….last month against Israel. These are halcyon days. Supporters are flocking back. Everyone wants to be a part of the action.
Adams led the line like Joe Jordan in his prime. He has been one of Clarke’s major successes since convincing him to sign up for Scotland earlier this year. Adams managed to negotiate the fine line between being physical and almost unplayable at times without collecting a dreaded booking.
All five Scotland players who were operating amidst the threat of an ill-timed suspension did so without too much drama. Clarke and Andy Robertson were quick to drag Billy Gilmour away after he had been hauled to the floor on the touchline. The outstanding on-loan Norwich City player was the first to be replaced after 74 minutes. Mercifully, he’d come to no harm and will be available, all being well, for the play-off semi-final that we now know will be at Hampden in March. Andy Robertson similarly vacated the scene before any misfortune could befall him, Kieran Tierney too. By the latter’s exit, Hampden had erupted once more when Adams struck the goal his efforts deserved to secure a famous victory.
The Southampton forward timed his run to perfection to latch on to Armstrong’s dinked pass and kept his nerve to drill past Schmeichel from 16 yards.