Scotland came within a couple of minutes of beating the Netherlands but this was still a hugely encouraging night for Steve Clarke’s men as the European Championships loom large.
Eric Nicolson picks out four talking points following the 2-2 draw in the Algarve.
1. The Covid-19 ordeal isn’t over – just ask St Johnstone fans
At least four of the seven were (still are, hopefully) likely starters in game one of Euro 2020.
Even those of a glass half-full disposition will accept this is far removed from ideal preparation for these championships.
This friendly against the Netherlands was the one best-suited to fine-tune defensive shape and attacking patterns with a line-up close to the one Clarke would have had in mind to face the Czech Republic on June 14.
That opportunity has now been denied him and, with the greatest respect to the 96th-ranked football nation in the world, Luxembourg, Sunday will be a far less meaningful rehearsal.
Scotland’s first choice team won’t be quite as prepared as the manager would like them to be when the competition gets underway.
This performance and result against the Netherlands has proved to be an unexpected fillip at the end of a day that started somewhat ominously but fingers will need to stay crossed.
Scotland lead the Netherlands once again! 💥
Kevin Nisbet scores his first goal after a superb cross from Andy Robertson! 🎁
Watch live on Sky Sports Main Event! pic.twitter.com/OIpRqEQzh1
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) June 2, 2021
The possibility of further tests revealing more positives in the camp is still alive.
As was the case with Saints, every precaution will have been taken by the SFA, and will continue to be taken, but sometimes it all comes down to pure good or bad luck.
In the context of tournament football, Scotland are surely due some of the former.
2. The attacking centre-backs
The benefits of playing three centre-halves from a defensive point of view have long been clear in this Clarke Scotland side.
In the main, the extra man has produced a far less porous backline.
The benefits from an attacking perspective have been less conspicuous.
Within the space of 30 seconds early in the first half the manager saw a passage of play that he can use as his template of the good things that happen when the two wide central defenders show offensive bravery and step into midfield.
Kieran Tierney has actually been doing it pretty regularly in recent matches so it was no surprise to see him further up the pitch than Andy Robertson and letting fly with a 25-yard shot that scraped the post.
Less common has been the right-sided centre-back doing something similar.
Jack Hendry joining Stuart Armstrong for a midfield press and then finding the bottom corner with the shooting opportunity their two-on-one challenge presented was a wonderful conclusion to positional bravery.
What a start for Scotland! 🏴
Centre-back Jack Hendry puts one past Tim Krul from 25-yards out! 🎯
Watch live on Sky Sports Main Event now! pic.twitter.com/U1F4qAMkUl
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) June 2, 2021
More of this, much more, over the next few weeks please.
Oh for Gareth Southgate’s problems in this position.
He’s picked four right-backs in his England squad, every one of them with a weighty claim to start the first game of the Euros.
Conversely, there probably won’t be a nation in the tournament weaker in that area than Scotland.
With Stephen O’Donnell and Nathan Patterson left in Spain, James Forrest had a chance to grab the jersey.
It would be a bit harsh to give him a share of the blame for not getting tighter to Gini Wijnaldum in the build-up to the Netherlands’ first equalising goal but you would imagine a natural right-back or wing-back would have given his centre-half team-mate a better shout to deal with the diagonal ball.
His crossing was a real mixed bag and in general he looked like a player still feeling his way back to match fitness after only starting four times for Celtic towards the end of the season.
4. The young guns won’t start the first group game but…
This was as heartening an occasion as the result suggests.
Of course the Dutch will be much improved when the real stuff begins but Scotland also held back a number of key men, chiefly Scott McTominay, John McGinn and Che Adams.
This was a strong team performance and Clarke’s midfield options – already substantial – have increased in view of David Turnbull’s debut display.
That he grew rather than shrunk after letting Memphis Depay run off him for the first Netherlands goal speaks to his strength of character.
Allied to vision, speed of thought and dynamism, that fortitude is a quality that will see the 21-year-old earn many caps for his country.
Kevin Nisbet probably won’t reach the same numbers over his career but, with Lyndon Dykes and Ryan Christie failing to shine as starters in recent matches, his poacher’s back-post finish will make him a strong contender for first attacking substitute this summer if Scotland are chasing a game.