Scotland Under-21s kept their Euro 2023 qualification hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Kazakhstan at Tannadice.
Goals from Manchester City kid Lewis Fiorini and St Johnstone star Glenn Middleton were enough for Scot Gemmill’s side to see off their opponents, who capitalised on a misjudgement by goalkeeper Archie Mair to net a consolation through Maxim Samorodov.
In truth, Scotland’s kids could have been toasting a much more comfortable win on the same night Scotland’s men clinched their place in the World Cup play-offs.
Courier Sport was at Tannadice to watch Scotland’s next generation further their Euro 2023 qualification bid.
A roll of the Tanna’dice’
The squeeze on hotels brought about by COP26 saw the SFA seek a venue outside the central belt for this qualification double header – and Scotland’s kids seemed to enjoy it against Kazakhstan.
On a surface that remained slick despite a daytime deluge, Scot Gemmill’s side dominated possession for most of the game.
With Rangers’ Stephen Kelly dropping deep from midfield and controlling play centrally, Scotland looked completely composed.
With star turns from St Johnstone star Glenn Middleton and Manchester City kid (on loan at Lincoln City) Lewis Fiorini, the Kazakhs were up against it.
Gers hopeful Dapo Mebude was another lively presence, particularly with Scotland shooting down the famous Tannadice slope in the second half.
With Kazakhstan pushing for a point, it became nervy towards the end, but Scotland were worthy winners.
It was a performance that kept their Euro qualification hopes well and truly alive – but will also have given them a feel for Dundee United’s home ground ahead of Tuesday’s trickier clash with Belgium.
Middleton front and centre
St Johnstone fans will feel they haven’t yet seen the best of Glenn Middleton this season.
In a truly astonishing display of refereeing ineptitude, he was denied a stonewall penalty in the 27th minute after being well and truly clattered by Arman Kenessov.
But Saints’ on-loan Ranger was straight up and at ’em, drawing Kazakh defenders with the decoy run that allowed Fiorini time to curl in a truly superb opening goal.
Wonderful 1st U21 goal for @LewisFiorini
A beautiful nutmeg and what is becoming, a very routine ability to score goals from outside the box.
The Man City loanee is in sparkling club form just now and it's showing tonight 🔥 pic.twitter.com/GyAZS5jyyh
— ScotsAbroadPod (@ScotsAbroadPod) November 12, 2021
At this level, Middleton looks a confident, game-changing, 90-minute player.
His goal – an unstoppable touch and strike after a superb Fiorini ball over the top – was top drawer stuff.
If he is to transcend “impact man” status with St Johnstone, a few performances like this one at Premiership level would make the world of difference.
With the men’s national side inching closer to a second major tournament appearance on the spin, it’s worth putting the Under-21s’ Finals drought under the microscope.
The young Scots haven’t reached a real deal tournament since the 1996 European Championships, when Tommy Craig’s side secured a fourth placed finish.
That team featured future stars like Christian Dailly, Steven Pressley (whose son Aaron started on the bench against Kazakhstan), Jackie McNamara, Charlie Miller, Simon Donnelly and Jim Hamilton.
Whether any of Scot Gemmill’s current crop are destined for the very top of the game remains to be seen.
But Gemmill has now had five years in charge of Scotland’s “next in line” stars – and has led failed qualification campaigns for the 2019 and 2021 Euros.
Success at the third time of asking would be a clear sign of progress.
Victory against the Kazakhs certainly keeps the young Scots on the right track, with four points to their name after three games, but there are tougher tests to come – not least on Tuesday at Tannadice.
Here come the Belgians
No seasoned watcher of international football will be surprised to see the young Belgians topping Scotland’s qualifying group.
Their record before kick-off in Friday’s games read: played four, won four, drawn zero, lost zero.
Scotland’s now says: played three, won one, drawn one, lost one.
So far so predictable – or so it would seem.
In truth, while Roberto Martinez’s senior side top the FIFA world rankings, their youngsters have no great history in tournaments.
Roberto Martinez has taken Belgium to No.1 in the world with the greatest generation of individuals they will ever have. Does it matter they haven’t won anything? Will he be a failure if they don’t? Probably not: a piece on why here 👇 https://t.co/5w5aFxyNcc
— Nick Miller (@NickMiller79) November 12, 2021
Like Scotland, they failed to qualify for this year’s Euros, and before a group stage appearance in 2019, they hadn’t been to a Finals since 2007, when they reached the semis.
But the young Belgians’ record this year isn’t just suggestive of a good side – it’s hard evidence of one.
Scotland will face some serious questions on Tuesday night.
The Tannadice crowd will hope they have the answers – and the wherewithal to ask some of their own.