It wasn’t quite a full-blown miracle of Estadio Azteca but it was a minor one. Somehow, against all the odds, Scotland left this intimidating venue with dignity intact and their future prospects looking perhaps a little brighter.
The side sent out by Alex McLeish was not just a shadow team. It was the shadow of a shadow team.
While it must be marked down on the ledger as a defeat, the manager’s third in four games since starting a second spell in charge, Scotland retreated from this grand setting with honour following the alarm of conceding after only 13 minutes.
Giovani Dos Santos’s precise finish kissed the inside of debutant Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin’s post before nestling in the net.
It sparked concern that pre-match fears of a humiliation would be realised. But the Scots survived the test of character in this vast, broiling bowl. Everyone involved among the Scots party will be the stronger for it.
The Mexican fans were left disgruntled. They had come to view a mauling while bidding their team farewell prior to the World Cup finals in Russia. What they witnessed was a misfiring side held at bay for the most part by patchwork visitors whose entire starting XI could not muster 30 caps between them. Mexico’s, by contrast, boasted over 500.
The home fans vented their fury at the end. Beer cartons were tossed from the gods and plunged the great distance towards the pitch, splattering those below as they sailed overhead. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio was the focus for much of the displeasure for refusing to send on popular West Ham United player Javier Hernandez, or “The Little Pea”, as substitute.
Mexico’s poor finishing was a major factor in the scoreline remaining so narrow as was Scotland’s stout, often heroic defending. The Scots even showed some adventure of their own as well.
Oli McBurnie is no-one’s idea of the finished article, but he can claim to have worn the No 9 shirt for Scotland in Estadio Azteca and might have bolstered this tale with a goal shortly after the interval. His powerful header from just outside the six-yard box from Johnny Russell’s cross shook goalkeeper Guillermo Ochea’s left-hand post.
Stephen O’Donnell and substitute Charlie Mulgrew cleared efforts off the line at the other end. Skipper Scott McKenna, aged just 21, embodied this Scottish performance. The Aberdeen defender was unfamiliar to most Scotland fans this time last year. But he led out a team including a debutant goalkeeper and three first-time starters. There was not a single international goal in the starting XI. These were some of the starker details giving cause for concern when the team-sheets were delivered to the tribune high up in Estadio Azteca. At the stadium synonymous with “the Hand of God”, Scotland were blessed with fortune when Mexico twice hit the woodwork. A post came to their aid after 27 minutes to keep Miguel Layun’s shot out. Hirving Lozano rattled the bar in the second half, by which time McLeish had switched goalkeepers.
Scott Bain began the season at Stark’s Park with Dundee, he ended it by keeping his own personal clean-sheet in the Azteca. He was forced to beat two efforts away within a couple of minutes of taking his place in goal and looked confident throughout his time on the pitch. McLaughlin, too, looked assured.
Scotland focused on securing minor triumphs. A first shot on target for the tour fits this criteria: Dylan McGeouch found Paterson and the Cardiff City player swivelled and shot, Ochoa saving low to his left after 11 minutes.
Two minutes later Mexico struck. Layun’s attempt at an overhead kick was blocked. The loose ball was picked up by Carlos Vela, who set up Dos Santos for a casual finish off a post into the corner.
Scotland continued to live dangerously at times, no more so than when Mexico bore down on goal with only Graeme Shinnie left at the back for the visitors in a three-against-one scenario. Mexico wasted the chance, cue another frustrated outburst from the steep stands towering above. The hosts also had a goal by substitute Oribe Peralta ruled out for offside.
Scotland inched nearer the final whistle. We report often of glorious failure with Scotland. This was something different; failure that was far from as epic as feared.