Scotland 0 - 1 Costa Rica: McLeish makes losing start to second reign

Scotland's defence reacts after going a goal down. Picture: SNS
Scotland's defence reacts after going a goal down. Picture: SNS
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In retrospect, it was probably inviting trouble. While this friendly fixture was organised before Alex McLeish’s appointment, it was potentially setting up any new incumbent for a fall to present them with Costa Rica for a first appointment.

READ MORE - Five things we learned from Scotland 0 - 1 Costa Rica

Scotland could not even hold out as long as that infamous night in Genoa 28 years ago. Marcos Urena struck a lot quicker than Juan Cayasso, whose goal after 49 minutes was heard all around the world at Italia 90.

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Urena calmly stroked home after just 14 minutes as McLeish’s second spell as manager sadly lived down to the low expectations indicated by the paltry numbers inside Hampden Park. There was, at least, a VIP present in the shape of Jose Mourinho, who was in attendance to support, and assess, Scott McTominay. But not even the inclusion of the Manchester United midfielder, along with three others making their first international starts, could inspire a performance to provide much needed succour for the Tartan Army. Audible jeers rang out at the end.

In total there were five new Scotland caps created as the game suffered amid multiple second-half substitutions.

There was no great mystery to why the visitors looked more assured. Qualifiers for four of the last five World Cups, manager Oscar Ramirez named a side he claimed would not be too far from the team that will begin their first game in Russia this summer against Serbia.

Their hosts, in contrast, are in an experimental phase. Monday 10 September is the real D-Day for McLeish, when Albania are the visitors in a maiden Nations League fixture. McLeish will have a raft of regular back by then and whether he persists with a three-man defence remains to be seen. Skipper Charlie Mulgrew, Grant Hanley and Scott McKenna made up this backline.

Anyone would have made a lot of money predicting this would be Scotland’s defensive cast list a few weeks ago.

Scotland improved in the second half, with Matt Ritchie frustrated by a fine block from Keylor Navas after substitute Callum McGregor’s precise through ball. Ritchie also failed to get the necessary purchase on a fine cross from Andy Robertson, Scotland’s best player on the night. But McLeish did not need to learn of his qualities, since they are already well established. What he wanted to see was evidence others could make the step up.

Oli McBurnie, unkempt and unpredictable, led the line with industry and came close to scoring on a couple of occasions. With his socks falling down his calves, he seems like a throwback to another era. The 21 year-old does not, however, look the answer to Scotland’s age-old problem of goalscoring – not yet at least.

The chance to avenge that defeat from 28 years earlier had clearly not caught the imagination – Hampden was not even half-full. But those inside saw McTominay and fellow debutant Kevin McDonald add some ballast to the Scotland midfield, with the former replaced by Stuart Armstrong after 57 minutes. Too often Scotland have looked physically inferior in this department so this, at least, was pleasing to observe.

There were some promising passages of slick passing as McLeish’s side appeared to heed his instructions to unsettle Costa Rica from the start.

But the opposition’s opener was a worryingly straightforward move down the left. Bryan Oviedo’s cutback found an isolated Urena, who needed no invitation to stroke a side-footed effort into the far corner past the diving, and unsighted, Allan McGregor.

The circumstances were very different to when McLeish last took charge of Scotland on a wet and boisterous night against Italy 11 years ago. The rain stayed away last night, like a lot of fans.

Ten players from the English leagues and just one from Scotland, Aberdeen’s McKenna, signalled the start of a new era for Scotland. More significantly, perhaps, there was not one player from Celtic in the starting XI. Injury helped account for that. Leigh Griffiths and Kieran Tierney, two certain starters, are currently out. But there were still four players from the champions left on the bench at the start. This represented a huge swing from the days when Gordon Strachan would include as many as six Celtic players.

Costa Rica had a greater representation from Brendan Rodgers’ side, initially at least, as Christian Gamboa, a bit-part player at Celtic, started on the right of midfield.

Costa Rica contained Scotland without exerting themselves too much. There were some flashes of danger from the hosts, mostly provided by Robertson and McBurnie, or a combination of the two.

It’s not often a Barnsley player gets the chance to test a Real Madrid goalkeeper. McBurnie made sure he stung Navas’ hands with a shot from just inside the box just before the half-hour mark.

A dangerous Robertson cross, meanwhile, was cleared by Oviedo with McBurnie claiming a push in the box as he sought to connect with it. Callum Paterson came closest to replying for Scotland when his header from Matt Ritchie’s corner flashed past Navas’ far post before a header from Robertson at the end was almost as close.