BRIAN MARJORIBANKS: Scotland’s World Cup hopes were ended in dismal fashion amid emotional scenes against Ukraine – Sportsmail dissects what went wrong on a sobering night at Hampden
- Scotland’s hopes to reach Qatar came to a halt at the play-off semi-final stages
- Steve Clarke’s side were well beaten 3-1 by Ukraine at Hampden on Wednesday
- And Sportsmail dissects how Scotland’s World Cup dreams were swiftly ended
- Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates
In emotional scenes at Hampden on Wednesday night, Scotland’s World Cup dreams were ended by a dismal but deserved 3-1 loss to Ukraine.
Amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, it was the hosts who looked overawed by the occasion and failed to deliver a performance of any real quality with a place at the Qatar World Cup later this year on the line.
Here, Sportsmail dissects a night to forget for Steve Clarke’s men and asks why the bid to reach Qatar 2022 came to such a shuddering halt at the play-off semi-final stage.
Scotland’s hopes to reach Qatar came to a halt at the play-off semi-final stages on Wednesday
Steve Clarke (centre) and his side were comprehensively beaten 3-1 by Ukraine at Hampden
It was a night to forget for the home support, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (centre)
NO CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
Clarke settled on a back three to solve the specific problem of trying to shoehorn Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney and Liverpool’s Andy Robertson into the same starting XI.
Hindsight, of course, provides 20-20 vision and Clarke knows the game inside out.
But the system failure that unfolded at Hampden against Ukraine suggests a back four may have made more sense when it was confirmed the injured Tierney wouldn’t make the game.
Clarke stuck to the tried and trusted defensive shape and it backfired. The Scots badly missed Tierney’s marauding runs up the left flank, his dangerous deliveries and dogged defending.
Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay, playing on the right of a back three, looked ill-at-ease defensively.
Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay, in a back three, looked ill-at-ease defensively
THE DIFFERENCE WAS STRIKING
As recently as November, Scotland dispatched high-flying Denmark 2-0 at Hampden by imposing an attractive, attacking style of play on an opponent ranked in the world’s top 10.
It was the finest national team performance in many a year, and Clarke’s team looked not only capable of going to a World Cup but potentially making their mark on the finals once they got there.
Against Denmark, Che Adams played the lone frontman role superbly and was ably supported by John McGinn and Ryan Christie in a 3-4-2-1 formation.
But Clarke reverted to two strikers against Ukraine and the Scots were a shadow of the stylish outfit that blew away the Danes, reverted to shelling long balls up towards Lyndon Dykes.
The home side were often reduced to lumping long balls up to striker Lyndon Dykes (right)
It was a depressing throwback to the tactics in the dismal Hampden losses against Czech Republic and Croatia at Euro 2020 that saw Graeme Souness label Scotland ‘a team from another era’.
Playing from back to front, Scotland’s ball-players Billy Gilmour and Callum McGregor were largely bypassed while the team badly missed injured Rangers enforcer Ryan Jack in the engine room.
FAILURE TO TURN UP THE HEAT ON ‘THE PUDDING’
Ukraine’s goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan was so much of a liability that former Scotland captain Souness, on duty for Sky Sports, amusingly described the Dynamo Kiev man as ‘an absolute pudding’.
Bushchan gave Scotland false hope by flapping a McGregor shot into his own net to make it 2-1 with 11 minutes left.
But Scotland failed to put enough pressure on the jittery keeper from set-pieces, which were all too often poor despite the input of specialist coach Austin MacPhee.
Scotland also failed to put pressure on nervy Ukraine goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan (left)
TOO MANY ‘BAD DAYS AT THE OFFICE’
It’s not Clarke’s fault that John McGinn missed a sitter to make it 2-1 with half an hour left.
McGinn has been Scotland’s talisman in recent years but the Aston Villa man was not at his best. He was far from alone, with sub-par showings all over the pitch.
The normally unflappable Billy Gilmour looked like a player whose confidence has been shot by a tough season on loan at relegated Norwich City.
Gilmour rarely wastes a single pass in the Scotland midfield, but under no pressure he uncharacteristically sprayed the ball wildly out for a throw-in on the right as the Scots chased the game in the second half.
Crucially Aston Villa star John McGinn (left) missed a sitter to make it 2-1 with half an hour to go
THE ANDY ROBERTSON OPTICS
Sipping a beer on Liverpool’s open-top bus parade on Sunday, 72 hours before Scotland’s biggest match in a generation, was a poor decision by the national team captain.
Clarke gave his skipper his full backing but, even if the criticism was overblown, it was not a great look from the full-back.
If Scotland had won, it wouldn’t have mattered a jot, but Robertson’s below-par performance on an off-night for the national team gave his critics ammunition.
Would Robertson, they asked again at full time, dare have risked being spotted drinking alcohol three days before LIverpool’s Champions League final against Real Madrid?
The optics of Andy Robertson (centre) drinking a beer three days before were not good at all
THE END OF THE WORLD FOR GORDON
While admitting Scotland must ‘suffer together,’ Clarke was correct to stress the progress the national team have made over the past three years.
They reached the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year, ending a 23-year wait to grace a major finals, even if they did ultimately disappoint hugely on the big stage.
This was another huge blow but a young Scotland squad have the talent to be back at a major finals in the immediate future.
‘Keeper Craig Gordon, 39, played well but this is surely his last chance to reach a World Cup
All thoughts turn now to the Nations League campaign that starts at home to Armenia on Wednesday as Clarke and his players aim to secure a play-off for Euro 2024 before the regular qualifying process starts.
In terms of the World Cup, however, the ship has probably sailed for the outstanding Craig Gordon, who can hold his head up high amid this latest qualification failure in an international career stretching back to 2004.
Clarke had the 39-year-old Hearts goalkeeper to thank for preventing Wednesday’s damaging defeat becoming an utter humiliation.
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