How Scotland under-21s and Aberdeen's Connor Barron impressed with high-press tactic to take point from Belgium

With the qualification pressure off, and Scotland employing a high press, Scot Gemmill’s Under-21s shone to take a point from Belgium.

Belgium's Ignace Van der Brempt, Scotland's Lewis Mayo and Belgium's Michel Ange Balikwisha fight for the ball  (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
Belgium's Ignace Van der Brempt, Scotland's Lewis Mayo and Belgium's Michel Ange Balikwisha fight for the ball (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Georgia and Romania will host next year’s European Championships without the young Scots following this disappointing campaign, which ends this week, but one that could end on a high after a good performance in this scoreless draw away home.

The rain-lashed result suited the hosts, enough to win the group where Scotland have toiled, which is why such an impressive performance and result will grate, just a little. How can a team with just one win to their name produce such a high-pressing, positive away performance to better the group leaders for spells in soaking Sint-Truiden.

They gave the Belgian defence, and man-for-man across the hosts’ entire team, little so little time on the ball and forced risks to be taken at the back. With players from Juventus, PSV Eindhoven and the highly-rated Belgian captain Aster Vranckx of Wolfsburg, playing out from the back wasn’t punished by a Scotland team who more than matched their highly-rated hosts in all other areas.

Stewards remove the rain and mud ahead of the U21 Euro qualifier between Belgium and Scotland, Sunday 05 June 2022 in Sint-Truiden. (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

The Belgians did step up in the second half, and Scotland’s opportunities lessened but it was a contrasting performance from a team who lost a 2-0 lead in Kazakhstan and gave the bottom-side their only point on their last outing in March.

This display gives hope hope, and more is to come with the exciting talents of Alex Lowry and Archie Meekison receiving first call-ups after a season making the first-team breakthrough at their clubs. With no qualification at stake, Gemmill described this game as “a step up from club football” but Connor Barron, who has also made his own inroads at Aberdeen this season, took that step with ease.

The midfielder was everywhere, providing such important industry and support at both ends of the pitch – helping the high press that discomfited the Belgian defence so much but also nipping back to support Lewis Mayo and Ross Graham in plugging the defensive midfield gap that the tactic created.

When the ball didn't hold up in the standing water, Newcastle’s Elliot Anderson provided an attacking threat on the left, and Scott High imposed himself in the middle, but it was Barron who excelled.

Belgium's Johan Bakayoko and Scotland's Elliot Anderson fight for the ball during the latest qualification match for the 2023 Under-21 European Championships. (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

The Aberdeen midfielder was closest from open play for Scotland, confidently stepping forward to test Maarten Vandevoordt with a low strike after 12 minutes.

Scotland did have the ball in the net through a Stephen Welsh volley, but the Bulgarian referee ruled it out for an earlier push by Lewis Mayo.

The offside flag later denied substitute Ken Nkuba, who headed a lovely lofted pass from Anass Zaroury at goalkeeper Ross Sinclair. Belgium’s creator-in-chief was as impressive for the hosts as Barron was for Scotland.

In the first half he released his club-mate Anthony Descotte with a delicious outside of the foot pass and then went himself, firing into the side-netting of Sinclair’s net. The stopper denied his deflected effort too but beyond his chances and late pressure, Scotland stood tall amidst the slippery conditions.

Anderson had a late opportunity, stabbing a Barron cross just outside the post with nine minutes to go as Scotland took a promising point ahead of a trip to second-placed Denmark on Friday.

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