A campaign that began in March with a swell of optimism has ended with the nation looking to December’s Euro 2024 draw with feverish anticipation after Steve Clarke and his Scotland players delivered on qualification with style.
The national team have finished second in Group A, six points clear of third-placed Norway and assured of a place at next year’s finals. And a memorable qualifying campaign that delivered some famous victories has the Tartan Army planning for Germany in confident mood.
Scotland boss Clarke masterminded a run of five consecutive victories, including a win over top seeds Spain, to take command of the group and though there was a disappointing (and controversial) defeat in Seville when qualification was in touching distance, qualification was soon secured. Hard-fought draws were earned in the last two games when Scotland were in the unfamiliar position of playing without a desperate need for points.
Few would have predicted a journey anything like the one the team has been on in the last eight months, and supporters up and down the country are thrilled by the prospect of what’s to come.
We’ve taken a look at the qualifiers game-by-game, and how Scotland reached the Euros.
Scotland 3-0 Cyprus
With challenges against bigger names to come, it was imperative that Scotland made the most of a home match against the lowest seeds in the group.
Cyprus proved a stubborn opponent but John McGinn opened the scoring midway through the first half when he got on the end of Andy Robertson’s deflected cross to bag his 16th Scotland goal.
Though in control of the game, the result was far from secure until a quick-fire double from Scott McTominay in the closing minutes. His 87th minute half-volley and 93rd minute strike made sure of three points and Steve Clarke later reflected on a “good start” to the campaign.
Scotland 2-0 Spain
Three days after beating Cyprus, Scotland had another home match but this time the opposition was a lot tougher, with Spain travelling to Glasgow in high spirit after seeing off Norway with a 3-0 win in their opening game.
The top seeds were expected to assert their dominance but instead found themselves stunned by a disciplined and hard-working Scotland side who took their chances when they came.
Scot McTominay took the headlines again after scoring early in each half but the team was the star, with the big names in the Spain side finding themselves with little time on the ball and few options despite a lot of passes.
“The players were outstanding from first minute to last,” Clarke said. “The dynamic, enthusiasm and quality of the team didn’t change. It’s a big night – it feels like a step forward – but it’s only six points and you don’t qualify with six points.”
Norway 1-2 Scotland
When the qualifying group draw was made, most assumed Spain would be hot favourites to win the group, leaving a fight for the second qualification spot.
That heaped extra importance on the away match against the second seeds and with Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard in their ranks, nobody underestimated Norway, especially on home ground.
Scotland had plenty to be pleased about in the first half, having limited Norway’s chances, but just after the hour mark Ryan Porteous fouled Haaland in the box and the Manchester City striker did what he does best, snapping up the chance to make it 1-0 from the spot.
Opportunities to get on the scoresheet had been few and far between and as the clock ticked down it looked like a first defeat was on the cards but in the final minutes Scotland not only drew level but grabbed a winner to take a major step towards qualification.
Lyndon Dykes capitalised on some hesitancy in the Norwegian defence to nudge the ball home after John McGinn’s attempted through ball had been intercepted. And in the 89th minute, Dykes laid McGinn’s pass back to substitute Kenny McLean, who curled a low shot just inside the far post.
Scotland 2-0 Georgia
The 50,000 fans who turned up at Hampden to see Scotland face Georgia would experience a night that will live long in the memory.
Yes, it was an opportunity to see a Scotland side in terrific form take another step towards a major finals, but what made this one stick out was the torrential rain that caused the game to be suspended for over an hour and a half.
Mount Florida had already suffered a downpour in the build-up to the match, with a week’s worth of rain falling in an hour, and the playing surface had visible puddles on it but play was allowed to start.
Scotland took the lead after six minutes. A corner from John McGinn wasn’t cleared properly and McGregor pounced at the edge of the box, striking a firm shot that Giorgi Mamardashvili couldn’t keep out.
Play then stopped for what most thought was a VAR review but turned out to be referee Istvan Vad calling the game to a halt. Ground staff swept away surface water and 95 minutes later, after two further pitch inspections and protests from Georgia that they didn’t want to play, the game was restarted.
Moments after play resumed Scotland doubled their lead when Scott McTominay slid in to score from Andy Robertson’s cross. That proved to be enough to sink the Georgians and Scotland reached the half-way point of the campaign with maximum points accrued.
Cyprus 0-3 Scotland
The momentum continued on a hot night in Larnaca as Scotland made it five wins from five in the group.
Though it has been three months since the last match, Scotland picked up where they left off, taking the lead within six minutes.
Andy Robertson provided a trademark cross from the left, John McGinn flicked it on at the near post and Scott McTominay nodded in for his sixth goal of the campaign so far.
Cyprus pushed for an equaliser but ten minutes later, Scotland doubled their lead. Jack Hendry nodded the ball down from a Robertson free kick and Ryan Porteous pounced to strike into the back of the net.
With just over half an hour played, John McGinn collected the ball on the edge of the box and then curled a powerful shot past Joel Mall and put Scotland in complete control.
Another win earned, and the Tartan Army had calculators out to figure out just when qualification could be achieved, with the more confident already booking flight and accommodation in Germany.
Spain 2-0 Scotland
After the stunning start to the campaign, the Tartan Army travelled to Seville knowing that a point would guarantee a place at Euro 2024, but also aware that there were fewer more difficult places to earn one.
Having already frustrated and then stunned Spain at Hampden, Scotland looked to put on a repeat performance and the game plan saw the hosts shut out in the first half.
After the break, Spain continued to press but a mixture of wastefulness, Scottish stubbornness and an increasing confidence from the visitors kept the game goalless, with a moment of magic needed to break the deadlock.
Scotland thought they had just that moment. Scott McTominay stood over a free kick at a tight angle from goal and smacked a perfectly placed shot high into the far corner of the goal, sparking wild celebrations from the travelling support and every fan watching at home.
The joy was short-lived, with McTominay’s strike disallowed after a lengthy, confusing and frankly unconvincing VAR process that saw the decision initially given as a Jack Hendry foul on the keeper, then later explained as an offside.
Feelings of injustice simmered as the game continued and there was another decisive moment on 73 minutes. Alvaro Morato gave his marker the slip, found space in the box and there he met Jesus Navas’ cross to head past a helpless Angus Gunn. There was further pain when Aaron Hickey’s slip gave Spain another opportunity in the dying minutes and Ryan Porteous slid the ball into his own net as he attempted to clear the danger.
Spain moved to the top of the group and Scotland had to wait to be sure of their place at the finals.
That wait was thankfully short-lived, as Spain travelled to Norway three days later. Gavi’s free-kick earned his side a 1-0 victory in the Ullevall Stadium, put Spain in the Euros finals and ensure that Scotland had qualified for back-to-back European Championships.
Georgia 2-2 Scotland
Scotland’s place at next summer’s finals in Germany was already assured but nobody in the camp was minded to treat the remaining two fixtures as dead rubbers.
With seeding for the finals to be decided, not to mention the (very) slim possibility of topping the group, and competition for places, there was plenty to play for in Tbilisi.
Georgia had their own motivation, with the play-offs offering them their own route to the finals, not to mention their belief that they should have given a better account of themselves in Glasgow.
Scotland fell a goal behind after just 15 minutes when an incisive attack saw Georgia talisman Kvicha Kvaratskhelia sweep the ball into the net at the end of an incisive attack.
In the second half, substitute Kenny McLean played the ball into the path of McTominay, who lashed in a powerful shot from outside the box to equalise.
Georgia quickly regained the lead, with Kvaratskhelia cutting inside Nathan Patterson before firing a shot past Zander Clark into the opposite corner.
But with the game in injury time and Scotland seemingly heading for a second loss of the campaign, substitute Lawrence Shankland rose high to head home from a Stuart Armstrong cross and a point was grabbed from the jaws of defeat.
Scotland 3-3 Norway
The visit of Norway for the final group game gave the Tartan Army a chance to celebrate qualification in style.
With Spain always expected to complete the job and top the group, Scotland’s focus was on their own performance and developing ahead of the finals, while Norway were looking for revenge after the defeat in Oslo that had proven pivotal in the group.
Steve Clarke made four changes to the team that started in Georgia, which was already missing key players through injury. They didn’t get off to the best of starts with Aron Dennum putting Norway ahead just three minutes in.
The party atmosphere in Hampden was soon restored when John McGinn netted a penalty after a Norway handball but the visitors regained the lead when Jorgen Larsen met a low cross at the near post and Zander Clark couldn’t stop the ball from crossing the line.
Scotland drew level again when Norway defender Leo Ostigard turned a cross into his own net and the sides were level at the break.
Steve Clarke’s team talk at the break appeared to have an impact and Scotland came out on the front foot and eventually took the lead for the first time when Stuart Armstrong smacked in a perfectly placed low shot after a one-two with McGinn but Scotland couldn’t hold on to the lead, allowing Mo Elyounoussi to head in a late equaliser.
Disappointment at letting a win slip away was soon forgotten as the players returned to the pitch after the full time whistle, decked out in “We’re off to Germany” t-shirts to celebrate with the Tartan Army.
All eyes now turn to the Euro 2024 draw on December 2.
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