Scotland left the Westfalenstadion tonight a beaten team but the scare they gave world champions Germany offers them real encouragement for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Outplayed and a goal behind at half-time, Gordon Strachan’s men regrouped impressively and claimed a deserved equaliser through Ikechi Anya, only to succumb to a scrappy Thomas Müller goal – his second of the night – four minutes later.
To rub salt into the wounds, they lost Charlie Mulgrew to a late red card, which was harsh on a Scotland side who had arrived in Dortmund on the back of a six-game unbeaten run. They have genuine optimism of ending the wait to qualify for a major tournament – stretching back to France 98 – and that optimism is intact after the way they confronted what, on paper, is their biggest test of their Group D campaign. The right result? No. The right performance? Definitely a yes.
Germany had begun with six of the players who started the World Cup final eight weeks earlier. Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker have retired. Bastian Schweinsteiger was injured. There was talk of a German World Cup hangover after their 4-2 home defeat by Argentina last Wednesday but the giant golden star formed by the fan mosaic in the vast Kop end as the teams came out was a reminder of the size of Scotland’s challenge.
So too the German front four facing them – World Cup final hero Mario Götze, Andre Shürrle, Mario Reus and Müller, who gave them the biggest headache with his movement. He drifted infield and missed a free header early on with Steven Whitaker appealing in vain for offside.
It was the Bayern Munich man who opened the scoring after 18 minutes as he found the space between Russell Martin and Alan Hutton to meet a Sebastian Rudy cross and divert the ball over goaleeper David Marshall with a looping header. Anya was guilty of not closing down Rudy before his delivery but upfield he troubled the Hoffenheim player with his pace. Indeed with the game goalless he hared away from Jerome Boateng down by the left corner flag and pulled the ball back for James Morrison, who laid it across to Barry Bannan, whose shot was deflected behind. When Germany half cleared the ensuing corner, Mulgrew smashed a shot against the woodwork but was offside.
Steven Naismith was typically tireless in his efforts as the lone forward up front and the Everton man set up Anya for the Scots’ other opportunity of the half just before the break. Naismith’s crossfield pass found Anya running in behind Rudy but unfortunately he could not summon the power to trouble Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer with his shot.
In between, though, Scotland could not keep hold of the ball and it took some last-ditch defending to keep the world champions out. Marshall’s save from a Reus shot carried the ball only as far as Schürrle beyond the far post but Martin made the block. Another close call originated with Neuer racing 35 yards out of his goal and sliding a pass up the wing; seconds later Schürrle’s cross deflected off Grant Hanley and forced Marshall to scramble the ball away at the back post.
And yet, there was a defensive vulnerability in the home ranks and Scotland exploited it in the second half. Just two minutes after the restart, Hutton broke upfield and fed Naismith, who moved nimbly away from first Boateng and then Benedikt Howedes inside the box before grazing the far post with a low shot.
Naismith then miscued horribly when Anya’s cross from the left found him unmarked in the box. By that stage, Strachan had sent on James McArthur and Steven Fletcher in place of Darren Fletcher and Bannan. It was Fletcher who threatened next when Naismith picked him out with a cross but Rudy blocked the substitute’s header.
Although Marshall saved well from Reus, Scotland’s threat was growing and they had their reward after 66 minutes as Fletcher played in Anya to race 40 yards and finish coolly past Neuer. It was a fairytale moment for a player who went to Glenn Hoddle’s Spanish academy to kickstart his career after being released by Wycombe Wanderers.
Up in the gods the Tartan Army celebrated but the euphoria did not last long as Germany grabbed a scruffy winner. From a Reus corner, the ball bounced back to goal off McArthur, Howedes got a touch ahead of Hanley to the ball and Müller – who else? – was in the right place to finish. He could have had a hat-trick but hit the post yet Scotland kept going. Naismith, running clear, was tugged back by Erik Durm, who was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card. Instead it was Scotland who finished with 10 men as Mulgrew earned a second yellow for kicking the ball away.Reuse content