SCOTLAND lifted a trophy and at the same time raised their own hopes of obtaining a result in Dublin a week today by comfortably dealing with Qatar.
Scorers: Scotland - Ritchie (41)
Referee: S Delferiere
This was originally planned as no more than a rigorous work-out before next Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Republic of Ireland. To the Scottish Football Association’s rather naive surprise, it quickly grew in significance because of rather weightier issues.
Whether it was worth the rising tide of criticism directed at the SFA, the assignment certainly satisfied manager Gordon Strachan’s wish for a challenging evening’s work for his players. A goal five minutes before half-time by Matt Ritchie meant Scotland earned their first piece of silverware – the Qatar Airways Cup – since David Weir was handed the Kirin Cup in 2006 in Tokyo.
Scotland did not have to travel so far on this occasion. Easter Road rather than the Far East was the emotional setting for Strachan, who grew up not far from the ground and whose mother, Catherine, was making a rare outing to a football match.
She saw a perhaps surprisingly competitive fixture played at the ground where her son first fell in love with football. It isn’t likely that any young child who took advantage of the cheaper than normal tickets will have found the experience quite so intoxicating as the young Strachan did when watching Turnbull’s Tornadoes. Indeed, there were some sights that were particularly unsuitable for a minor’s eye.
What was clear from the opening half-hour spell is that Qatar were not another Gibraltar. Boosted by the questionable practice of using players who qualify through residency rules – five of their starting XI originally hailed from elsewhere, mainly countries in Africa – they were comfortable on the ball, and athletic looking.
But Scotland should still have taken the lead long before they did. James Forrest saw one shot blocked early on. This initial industry waned slightly before the hosts were offered a helping hand from an unexpected source.
It took the abrupt intervention of a naked interloper to unnerve the opposition. Five minutes remained of a fairly uneventful first half when a streaker bounded on. Often such invasions are treated with contempt by fans, who regard the interruption as being possibly damaging to their team’s hopes.
It was perhaps indicative of the entertainment hitherto on offer for here the man in question – and it was most definitely a man – was roundly cheered as he swigged from what appeared to be a miniature bottle. He then paused to shake hands with Ahmed Yasser M Abdelrhman, the Qatar centre-half. It took a while, but the streaker was finally escorted off the pitch by two stewards.
With poor Ahmed Yasser still experiencing flashbacks, Ritchie opened the scoring within a minute of the re-start when the ball broke to him kindly after some hustling by Steven Naismith.
The Bournemouth player had already had one scruffy effort with a volleyed effort but made a better connection this time from just inside the box to put his side ahead. But it was surely the first ever assist for Scotland by a streaker.
Strachan chose not to be quite so adventurous as against Gibraltar, when he sent Scotland out with what amounted to one defender – Russell Martin. The Norwich City player stayed on the bench this time, perhaps excused involvement from the start having led his club back into the Premier League via a gruelling play-offs schedule.
Seemingly confident Qatar would exert only nominal pressure on the hosts, the manager named a back four that was not really a back at all since it had Ikechi Anya at right-back.
Although Anya has played the position for Watford, he spent longer in front of Ritchie, on the right flank, than behind him. Both had a skip in their step as they enjoyed the sensation of having the ball at their feet again after a long interlude since sealing promotion to the Premier League with their clubs.
This was one of the objects of last night’s exercise; get players who have been off duty for nearly a month playing again. This applied to Derby County’s Craig Forsyth at right-back and Gordon Greer of Brighton at centre-half, both of whom have also enjoyed long lay-offs since the English lower tiers finished up at the start of last month. So for this reason, a game against any sort of opposition was welcome.
Away from the controversies concerning why Qatar of all teams were chosen to form the opposition, a decision placed under even fiercer scrutiny due to the ongoing ructions at Fifa, the spotlight – for 90 minutes at least – fell on the Qatari players themselves. They were competent enough to make the game’s billing as a Vauxhall international challenge match appear not completely disingenuous.
Beforebeing unnerved by having to hold a discussion with a naked man for several seconds the streaker appeared, Ahmed Yasser was called on to make a fine goal-saving challenge when Shaun Maloney broke through. It got perhaps a bit too competitive for Strachan’s liking in the second-half when Naismith made a brave attempt to get the ball and received a boot in the face for his efforts.
The game was held up for long enough to give the manager cause for concern but he got back to his feet eventually, if a little groggily. His next act was to volley into the side-netting before being replaced, with Strachan unwilling to take any chances on a player almost certain to fill one of his 11 starting places next Saturday in Dublin.
Also making their departures just before the hour were Scott Brown and Maloney, another two upon whom Scotland will be relying next Saturday. Naismith’s withdrawal provided Easter Road with the chance to welcome back a favourite son in Leigh Griffiths, but not even he could help Scotland add to their single-goal tally, with one effort ruled out for offside.
Scotland: Marshall (Gordon 45), Anya, Greer, Mulgrew, Forsyth; McArthur (Morrison 45), Brown (D Fletcher 58); Ritchie, Maloney (Adam 58), Forrest (Russell 73), Naismith (Griffiths 58).
Qatar: Abdullah Tresor, Kasola Mohammed, Ahmed Yasser, Abdelkarim Hassan; Hassan Khalid, Ahmed Mohamed A Eisayed, Ali Asadalla Thaimn, Karim Boudiaf, Abdelaziz Hatim, Mohammed Muntari.