One down, two to go. The tantalising prospect of the Euro 2008 finals remains very much on Scotland's horizon after they negotiated their way past the formidable obstacle of Ukraine yesterday to stay top of Group B with just two matches left.
Those who felt Alex McLeish's side might plunge from the peak they scaled a month ago in Paris were wrong. Andriy Shevchenko punctured the initial optimism supplied by the early goals from Kenny Miller and Lee McCulloch, but cometh the hour, cometh James McFadden; the man dubbed "the King of Scotland" after his remarkable winner against France killed off Ukraine in equally stylish fashion.
Now McLeish's side head to Georgia on Wednesday and meet Italy in Glasgow on 17 November to close out the group. France remain two points behind after handing out a 6-0 thrashing to the Faroe Islands while Italy are still hot on Scotland's heels after seeing off Georgia 2-0. "This is the first time we had such expectation to deliver," reflected McFadden later. "However, the job is not even half-done yet. It is in our own hands. If we get through the next two games, we will be in the finals. When Italy come here, it will be incredible."
If the success in Paris four weeks ago had created an almost mythical status about Alex McLeish's side, then the opening 10 minutes of this encounter simply added to that perception.
The first goal, after just four minutes, owed much to Scott Brown's tenacity and skill, which bemused Andriy Nesmachny so much that the Ukraine defenderwas booked for scything the midfielder down. McFadden delivered the free-kick from the right touchline, bending the ball in towards the near post, where it was met by Miller to plant a diving header beyond the goal-keeper, Oleksandr Shovkovsky.
An explosion of noise acclaimed Miller's 10th goal for his country. The player who revealed last week that he moved from Celtic to Derby County simply to keep his dreams alive of playing in the Euro 2008finals, because he feared a bench role with the Scottish champions would blunt his threat, had vividly proved his case.
Scotland found the net once more, six minutes later. Yet another set-piece supplied the potency. Barry Ferguson eschewed a deep delivery to the tall men and instead clipped a clever reverse ball to McCulloch, who had peeled away into empty space at the back of the box.
The Rangers midfielder displayed fine control to kill the ball and then a sublime finish, curling his shot beyond Shovkovsky for his first Scotland goal.
However, a cold shower of reality descended upon Scotland when Shevchenko halved the deficit. Gary Naysmith failed to clear the initial threat which allowed Nesmachny to whip in a cross that struck Naysmith's arm before bouncing to Shevchenko, who rifled a shot in to the roof of the net.
Scotland endured a nervous period before half-time, particularly when Shevchenko dropped to his knees after miskicking, seeking a penalty. That claim was ignored by the referee but sadly the Dutch official then turned down two Scotland claims, the second inexplicably when McFadden burst away from Anatoliy Tymoschuk, who cut the striker down from behind.
That injustice permeated the start of the second half as Ukraine streamed forward. But gradually the tide turned. McFadden twice hinted at his threat, with a run into the box before setting up Miller. Then he brought the house down. Alan Hutton's pass allowed McFadden to gather the ball in stride and drill a shot past Shovkovsky from 18 yards before Oleksandr Kucher lunged in.Reuse content