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Scotland into Euro play-off final after penalty shoot-out win against Israel

Scott McTominay should have scored with this first half header.
Scott McTominay should have scored with this first half header.

None of us know what the delayed finals of Euro 2020 will eventually look like next summer or indeed, whisper it, if they will actually take place at all.

But suspend your disbelief for the next few weeks and cast aside your fears that empty grounds and fan-free capital cities will be the back-drop for a soulless tournament as opposed to a joyous sporting festival.

Scotland are now one match away from them.

That one match – against Serbia on November 12 – at the end of the longest-running of all qualification campaigns is the last hurdle to be negotiated after Israel were seen off at Hampden Park.

Predicting a winner-takes-all game of football with the highest of stakes is foolish at the best of times but when which squad can best weather the latest wave of Covid-19 also gets thrown into the mix as a significant factor, next month’s play-off final becomes even harder to call.

From Aleksandar Mitrovic to Andy Robertson, nobody is guaranteed to be there.

After doing the most un-Scottish thing ever – winning a penalty shoot-out – Steve Clarke’s men will believe anything is possible.

The 90 minutes and extra-time were a slog but frankly, nobody in the Tartan Army will care at the moment, even less so if there is a repeat of result outweighing performance in Belgrade.

The Scots were faultless when it really mattered – from the spot.

Every one of the five takers scored, with late substitute Kenny McLean dispatching the last of them.

The 5-3-2 formation Clarke opted for had Scott McTominay getting another go as the right-sided central defender of a three and Stephen O’Donnell outside him at right wing-back.

That part of the pitch looked like the area of greatest concern and Manor Solomon skipping past the Motherwell man at the first opportunity he got didn’t ease those worries. Thankfully, his cross was headed away on the six-yard box.

In general, though, the hosts made the stronger start and created the better early chances.

Callum McGregor played a diagonal ball on to the chest of Lyndon Dykes, whose lay-off to John McGinn ended up with the Aston Villa man lashing a wild chance over the bar. A few days ago at Villa Park that would have found the net (probably via a deflection).

Dykes made his Scotland debut against Israel last month and was impressive. You could tell his opponents thought so as he was on the end of some rough challenges, one of which by Sheran Yeini yielded a free-kick in a very promising position around 22 yards out.

Captain Robertson pulled rank and took it, curling his shot over the wall but about a foot wide of Ofir Marciano’s left-hand post.

By midway through the first half you would have said Scotland were gaining some sort of control but Israel were able to counter-attack with alarming ease on occasion.

Hatem Elhamed charged forward down the left and O’Donnell committed himself to a sliding tackle in the box which thankfully didn’t connect with a standing leg. It took a timely McGregor block to stop Elhamed’s shot hitting the target.

Counter-attacks were turning into something a bit more concerted for Israel and, conversely, getting up the pitch was becoming a problem for Scotland.

They could thank McGinn for doing that single-handedly by rolling his marker in midfield, driving forward and seeing his 25-yard shot take a touch off an Israeli boot for a corner.

And what a glorious chance it produced for McTominay when Robertson picked him out unmarked with his dead-ball at the back post. Give him 10 such headers and you’d expect him to score nine of them. Sadly this effort was the one out of the 10 he made a mess of and it scraped the outside of the post on its way past the goal.

Set-pieces were looking Scotland’s best bet for a goal and there was another one that caused problems for the away side’s defence five minutes after the break.

Oli McBurnie had been fouled out wide on the right, Robertson sent over an in-swinger and McTominay again got his head to it. There was little danger of him scoring this time but he helped the ball into the six-yard box where Marciano was adjudged to have been impeded as he attempted to collect.

Moments later Israel’s next effort was from distance – a dipping Solomon shot that had David Marshall beaten but didn’t come down in time to find the top corner.

There hadn’t been many opportunities for Robertson to cross from the byeline but when he did get one across goal before the hour mark it travelled all the way to Ryan Jack, who scuffed his shot.

Israel couldn’t clear effectively, though. And when the ball bounced off Eytan Tibi’s arm in the box the Scots were left frustrated by the referee’s decision not to point to the spot and the VAR official backing him up.

In a cagey game we were starting to get close to first goal the winner territory and only a last-ditch, full-stretch interception stopped McBurnie from scoring it off a Dykes knockdown.

It proved to be the Sheffield United striker’s last chance to be the Scotland hero as he was replaced by Lawrence Shankland on 73 minutes. Shankland was soon joined by Ryan Fraser, who came on for Jack.

With five minutes left Gallagher connected with a Robertson corner but his glancing header drifted wide.

Into extra-time we went – the first time the national team had been in that territory since 1961.

Very little happened in the first 15 of it until Fraser put a good ball into the box and McGregor’s shot was charged down.

There was an agonising moment five minutes from the end when Shon Weissman got the slightest of touches to a cross into the six-yard box that wasn’t enough to guide it into the corner of the net.

Scotland came even closer in injury-time of extra-time, though, when Liam Cooper headed a Robertson corner on to the post.

So penalties it would have to be.

Israel missed their first spot-kick and the Scots were a perfect five from five with McGinn, McGregor, McTominay, Shankland and McLean completing a nail-biting victory to secure their place in the play-off final.