Scotland's chaotic draw with Norway leaves Steve Clarke with plenty to ponder over Euro 2024 selection
It was 2-2 shortly after the half hour mark and 3-2 to Scotland after an hour. By the end, the teams had shared six goals. Norway then quickly vacated the scene and left the floor clear for the Scotland players to don “We’re off to Germany” tee-shirts. It’s the only thing that matters of course and there’s nothing anyone, including Norway, can do about it.
If this was meant to be a party, it was the type remembered the next morning as being utterly chaotic.
But then the best parties normally are those where anything goes. Scotland and Norway placed their carry-outs on the table and merry hell broke loose. Steve Clarke will have to make some sense of it and judge who strengthened their case to be included in the squad for Euro 2024 – and who did not.
Stuart Armstrong is one of those who can surely already expect to be on the plane to Germany but he did himself no harm by putting Scotland ahead for the first time in the match after 59 minutes after a one-two with John McGinn. It was a goal fit to win any game, even a relatively meaningless one.
Few were surprised when it did not prove the decisive counter. With three minutes left, Norway equalised through a header from former Celtic forward Mohamed Elyounoussi, a second-half substitute. Julian Ryerson’s cross looped over Zander Clark and Elyounoussi had the simple task of converting.
There was no late drama. Or at least nothing as late as against Georgia, even though Lawrence Shankland was again pushed on in the dying moments. This time his challenge was to grab a winner. It didn't come.
File this encounter under one for the neutral – or one for those who are already safely berthed at Euro 2024. Fortunately, Scotland are in the latter camp otherwise this would have been another torturous night at Hampden.
This is the beauty of getting the hard work done early on. There was nothing foolhardy about the pre-match tifo display. “We’ll be coming,” it declared, with only the details – like how to get tickets – requiring ironed out.
Clarke has a similar headache with regards to allocating places. Everyone in his squad and beyond wants to go but there are only 23 spaces. Around 20 of them already seem filled. The manager had to strike a balance between picking a side able to compete against Norway and one allowing him the opportunity to run the rule over players about whom he needs to reach some firm conclusion, sooner rather than later.
Chief among those in the possible bracket for Euro 2024 is Jacob Brown, handed his first start after a grand total of 94 minutes across seven caps since his debut just over two years ago against Moldova. Zander Clark, meanwhile, was given his second successive start in four days in what was a show of faith from the manager. Play yourself in was the challenge, or, as Craig Brown sometimes mischievously put it in private asides, play yourself out.
It would be harsh to venture that anyone did that. Clark made a terrific save late on from a header from Sander Berge. Brown, meanwhile, struggled to get involved but worked hard and should have scored just before Armstrong's excellent finish. He was replaced by Lyndon Dykes with 20 minutes left.
The untidy opening half passed the Luton Town striker by somewhat. The ball just didn’t seem to drop for him. He did not read a ball through to him early on from McGinn which underlined the fact it takes time for players to get on the same wavelength, however long they might have trained together.
This was the real thing and while it might have lacked the intensity of a normal qualifier, there was still a capacity crowd to entertain. Erling Haaland was a glaring absence up front for the opposition. As was Martin Odegaard in midfield. Celta Vigo forward Jorgen Larsen replaced the Manchester City striker up front and few could ask much more of him in terms of this unenviable task than to get his name on the scoresheet, which he did by half time. Haaland is not fussy about the type of goals he scores, and neither should Larsen be concerned that his near post touch to put Norway ahead again after 20 minutes could easily have been chalked up as a Clark own goal. The 'keeper got the last touch as he sought to claw the ball away.
Norway went ahead inside two minutes. Leo Ostigard sent out a long ball to the right and Scotland did not deal with the cross into the box. The ball fell for Aron Donnum whose shot clipped off Nathan Patterson into the net, past the despairing dive of Clark. It was a statement of intent from the visitors, who had already voiced their intention to be party poopers on the eve of the fixture.
Scotland have not got where they are through meek acceptance. McGinn drove towards the box before having his heels clipped by former Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer. The crowd appealed for a penalty. It was just outside the area, however, in a position very similar to where McTominay had whipped in a delicious free kick against Spain that was then scrutinized out of existence by VAR. This time the ball did not end up in the net, although it did eventually, after it was cleared only as far as Callum McGregor. His shot hit Ostigard on the upper arm and referee Horatiu Fesnic pointed to the spot. The decision was upheld by VAR and McGinn swept in his 18th goal for Scotland, leaving him just one short of Ally McCoist.
Norway edged ahead nine minutes later through Larsen. It was already clear it was going to be one of those sort of nights, something underlined by Kenny McLean’s skiffed header from McTominay’s corner being deflected into the net off the hapless Ostigard, who will be happy to never play Scotland again after his mistake in Oslo allowed Lyndon Dykes to equalise and change the entire dynamic of the group.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.