Steve Clarke anticipated dog-eat-dog group - sadly it's Scotland who could suffer after disappointing draw with Israel

An example of the throat-cutting anticipated by Steve Clarke in Scotland’s World Cup group took place in Tel Aviv. Sadly, his own side were one of the teams involved and are liable to pay a heavy price.

Scotland winger Ryan Fraser (centre) celebrates his equaliser against Israel in Tel Aviv (Photo by Seffi Magriso / SNS Group)
Scotland winger Ryan Fraser (centre) celebrates his equaliser against Israel in Tel Aviv (Photo by Seffi Magriso / SNS Group)

Scotland had hoped to retrieve some lost ground in the Promised Land. They staged a comeback on the night but might have left themselves with too much to do in terms of the bigger picture. Their resilience is not in question. But Scotland again suffered for a lack of composure at critical times. As happened twice last week against Austria, they made life extremely difficult for themselves by going behind. All the effort expended in scrambling to get back into two opening games has yielded just two points to date.

Scotland stood off Dor Peretz and now risk being bystanders when Qatar hosts the finals next year. The Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder thrashed a 20-yard shot into David Marshall’s top corner after 44 minutes. Ryan Fraser equalised ten minutes after half-time which meant the visitors still had plenty of time to achieve their objectives.

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Scotland had arrived carrying a dossier labelled: Project Eliminate Israel. That mission might have been successful but at the same time they could well have scuppered their own hopes. This fiercely-contested draw suits no-one except Denmark and Austria, who sit rather ominously first and second in the table.

A Scottish victory – which Clarke stressed was their target - would have left Israel on zero points after two home games and having to face some harsh reality. In fact it’s now both teams who must deal with the dread of wondering if it’s already too late to mount a challenge to finish in the top two places. Scotland are far from already out of course and an away point against a side who have proved so troublesome recently would normally be cause for satisfaction. But coupled with Thursday night’s home draw with Austria, it means Scotland are back playing a familiar game of catch-up again.

Familiarity breeds contempt. And there was a certain disdain detected in the way Israel initially treated Scotland’s plans to finish them off. This was the fourth meeting between the sides this season. Scotland have only won one of these meetings and only then on penalties. Somehow the hosts are still languishing in the 80s in the FIFA rankings.

They seem to save their best for Scotland. The same applies to Peretz. Both his international goals have come against the Scots. He scored his only other previous one in his side’s 2-1 win in Haifa in 2018. He did pick up a booking for simulation with ten minutes left after a challenge from Andy Robertson. But it was his goal from around 20 yards that seemed to move in the air and evaded Marshall that remained his most enduring mark on the night.

The Scotland goalkeeper has maintained such a high standard of performance since returning to the side under Clarke so this moment, like the one against Austria, when he failed to hold Florian Grillitsch’s shot from a long way out to let Sasa Kalajdzic put his side in front, had to be considered disappointing. It was a fine strike but Marshall did get both hands to the ball and yet could not prevent it causing the net to ripple.

Clarke sought to be proactive. He replaced Jack Hendry, who had picked up a booking, with Ryan Christie at half-time and Scotland reaped the benefits of a more attacking outlook. The hard-working Fraser gathered Che Adams’ pass and bent a fine shot into the corner from 18 yards.

With Scotland already in the practice of imitating goals following John McGinn’s Mo-Johnston-esque overhead kick from against Cyprus in 1989, it would have been helpful if someone had managed to produce an impression of Kenny Dalglish’s winner in Tel Aviv in 1981. Fine strike though it was, it also secured an important 1-0 win on the road to Spain ’82.

Scotland won the group on that occasion. They will be doing well to do that this time around but their first challenge is to remain in the mix. They will have to produce at least one, maybe two, eye-catching results. This was’t one of them.

The pattern of the match was similar to Scotland’s last two visits. Israel were the more dangerous side and could and perhaps should have been in front before Peretz was allowed a free shot at goal on the cusp of half-time. Their best chance prior to this had come when Marshall managed to beat away Manor Solomon’s drive after a ball inside from the dangerous Bibras Natcho. Solomon also hit an effort over the top earlier. Marshall was also happy to clutch a Shon Weissman header from Natcho’s cross.

It wasn’t quite one way traffic. McTominay headed wide when in a good position and picked out by Robertson from a corner. Adams was also nearly played in after an astute pass from Fraser.

The Southampton forward was demonstrating why Clarke was keen to include him in this squad after hearing reports the player was prepared to switch nationality from England. He proved a willing runner, tracked back when he had to and genuinely impressed. He was also heavily involved in Scotland’s very welcome equaliser.

Marciano saved from Adams just after the hour mark as Scotland sought to build on the platform provided by Fraser’s strike. But the visitors could not summon the further bit of quality required. The Scots now sit third in Group F. It would surprise no-one if this is their fate when qualifying concludes later this year.

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