12162017

Scotland keep World Cup hopes alive with dramatic win

Scotland score against Slovakia

Scotland striker Chris Martin put Martin Skrtel under pressure as the Slovakia defender turned the ball into his own net

Scotland kept their World Cup qualifying hopes alive in dramatic fashion as a late Martin Skrtel own goal gave them victory over 10-man Slovakia.

It had looked as though the hosts would be denied a potentially decisive win by a combination of the woodwork and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

Leigh Griffiths and Chris Martin hit the crossbar, and Dubravka made an outstanding save from Christophe Berra and also kept out Griffiths and James Morrison.

But Skrtel turned home Ikechi Anya’s right-wing cross to give Gordon Strachan’s side a win that moved them up to second in Group F.

While a draw would not have ended their hopes, the fact Slovakia finish their campaign against Malta – who have taken just a point from nine matches – meant they would have been all but out.

But victory over Slovenia on Sunday will now secure Scotland second place, and the chance of reaching the play-offs.

The Scots started the game brightly and, playing at high intensity, took the game to their opponents.

Their rhythm was disrupted, though, when Slovakia midfielder Robert Mak was shown a second yellow card, after diving in the penalty area.

Mak had already been a significant figure, his block on Kieran Tierney inside the area judged not to be a penalty by referee Milorad Mazic.

Slovakia midfielder Robert Mak<!–

Slovakia midfielder Robert Mak escaped conceding a penalty early on, but was soon sent off for two bookings

Elsewhere in the group, Harry Kane’s injury-time winner secured England’s qualification for next summer’s World Cup with a 1-0 victory against Slovenia.

Some games of this magnitude take a while to get going as an occasion. This was not one. Inside 10 minutes, Hampden was howling for a penalty when the doomed Mak collided with Tierney, the Celtic defender going down against a deafening backdrop of the Tartan Army in high dudgeon.

Mazic was having none of it, but when the next major call was demanded of him he was emphatic. Mak had been booked for a lunge on James Forrest in the 17th minute, then he was given a second yellow for attempting to con Mazic into thinking Craig Gordon had brought him down in the penalty area. He had not. Mak, who scored twice against Scotland last year, deservedly, but reluctantly, walked.

World Cup qualifying Group F<!–

How things stand in Group F with one match to go

This was manna from heaven for Scotland. What it did, of course, was make things very clear in Slovakian minds. They said they were coming here to win. Now a draw became the prime goal. One point would have all but secured them a place in the play-offs.

Scotland pressed and harried Slovakia for much of that first half. The visitors were ragged in possession, a shadow of the slick side that dismantled the Scots a year ago. Strachan’s team had mountains of possession. Their chances were limited, but the ones they created were good ones.

The first of them came when Berra came steaming in to thunder down a header that was seemingly goalbound, only for Dubravka to make a magnificent diving save. Then, just after half an hour, a curling shot from Griffiths brought another fine intervention from the Slovakia goalkeeper.

Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka<!–

Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka made an outstanding save from Christophe Berra’s header

Some angst had set in by then among the home fans. A frisson of nerves. A touch of horror at the thought of not being able to make the most of their numerical advantage and exiting the World Cup as a consequence. Scotland were dominant, but goalless. The longer it stayed locked in stalemate, the more tense it grew.

There were clear signs towards the end of the opening half that Slovakia were beginning to settle after the tumult of the red card. There were further signs at the start of the second half, when Jan Gregus forced a save from Gordon. It was a little reminder of how desperately precarious Scotland’s situation was.

They came again. A Griffiths shot from outside the box moved slightly in the air but, still, Dubravka, managed to beat it away. Martin was on the field then as a replacement for Forrest. Eight minutes after he came on, he curled a gorgeous shot up and over Dubravka, and here began the cruelty for Scotland.

Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths<!–

Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths saw his second-half free-kick smack off the crossbar

Martin’s shot came slapping off the crossbar. Five minutes later, Griffiths stood over a free-kick and the atmosphere in the stadium was so expectant you could have reached out and touched it. Griffiths produced another beauty from his dead-ball repertoire. Like Martin’s shot, Dubravka was a beaten man. Like Martin’s shot again, it came back off the woodwork.

This was already too much – far too much – for the Scotland supporters but, of course, there was more torture to pile on top of the misery mountain. Seconds after Griffiths rattled the bar, Martin back-heeled to Morrison, who was through one on one with Dubravka. He had to score. He did not.

Dubravka won again and won once more soon after when Andy Robertson went through to no avail. The history of this group told us that Scotland have the capacity to score late. They did so in a draw against Lithuania, they did it in a win against Slovenia and again when Griffiths almost brought England to their knees.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan sends on striker Chris Martin<!–

Two of Gordon Strachan’s substitutes – Ikechi Anya and Chris Martin – combined for the winning goal

Needing a goal, Strachan brought on James McArthur for the bandaged Darren Fletcher. Then Anya appeared. Watching through the cracks in their fingers, the home crowd suffered. My, how they suffered.

Then, in one momentous leap, they were free. Griffiths did wonderfully to win possession and set Anya away down the right. Anya drove his cross low to where Martin and Skrtel were running. The two Martins slid in, but only one of them came up smiling.

The Slovakian dramatically diverted the ball into his own net to send Hampden into raptures. Irony of glorious ironies, the only man who could beat Dubravka was his own captain.

Now Scotland go to Slovenia, with hope, momentum and reasons to believe.

Live Text

Match ends, Scotland 1, Slovakia 0.

Second Half ends, Scotland 1, Slovakia 0.

Barry Bannan (Scotland) is shown the yellow card.

Martin Skrtel (Slovakia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by James McArthur (Scotland).

Foul by Martin Skrtel (Slovakia).

Christophe Berra (Scotland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Stanislav Lobotka (Slovakia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Leigh Griffiths (Scotland).

Stanislav Lobotka (Slovakia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Chris Martin (Scotland).

Own Goal by Martin Skrtel, Slovakia. Scotland 1, Slovakia 0.

Attempt blocked. Barry Bannan (Scotland) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

Corner, Scotland. Conceded by Martin Skrtel.

Foul by Ondrej Duda (Slovakia).

Christophe Berra (Scotland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution, Scotland. Ikechi Anya replaces Kieran Tierney.

Substitution, Slovakia. Norbert Gyömbér replaces Juraj Kucka.

Substitution, Slovakia. Ondrej Duda replaces Marek Hamsik.

Substitution, Scotland. James McArthur replaces Darren Fletcher.

Substitution, Slovakia. Vladimir Weiss replaces Adam Nemec.

Attempt missed. Darren Fletcher (Scotland) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right.

Attempt saved. Andrew Robertson (Scotland) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by James Morrison.

Attempt blocked. Jan Gregus (Slovakia) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Marek Hamsik.

Corner, Scotland. Conceded by Martin Dubravka.

Attempt saved. James Morrison (Scotland) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Chris Martin.

Leigh Griffiths (Scotland) hits the bar with a left footed shot from outside the box from a direct free kick.

Chris Martin (Scotland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Martin Skrtel (Slovakia).

Attempt blocked. Leigh Griffiths (Scotland) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Kieran Tierney.

Attempt missed. Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) right footed shot from more than 35 yards is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Adam Nemec.

James Morrison (Scotland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Foul by James Morrison (Scotland).

Peter Pekarík (Slovakia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Chris Martin (Scotland) hits the bar with a right footed shot from outside the box. Assisted by James Morrison.

Attempt blocked. Barry Bannan (Scotland) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Chris Martin.

Corner, Scotland. Conceded by Peter Pekarík.

Attempt missed. Jan Gregus (Slovakia) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Adam Nemec.

Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Christophe Berra (Scotland).

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