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Scotland forced to wait for Euro 2024 – but they will not understand how

Spain 2-0 Scotland: Scott McTominay’s disallowed goal was the moment the night turned as Steve Clarke’s side saw their perfect record in qualifying come to an end in Seville

Jamie Braidwood
Thursday 12 October 2023 22:33 BST
Related video: Euro 2024: Home Nations qualifying groups revealed

Spain have their revenge and Rodri has his retribution. Now, though, it is Scotland who have reason to fume – and Steve Clarke’s side surely will over the coming days as the waiting begins. Qualification for Euro 2024 could yet be secured on Sunday, should Spain defeat Norway in Oslo. Thanks to Scotland’s perfect start to Group A, they may yet avoid a nervy November. But, if it was not for the finest of margins on a night of major controversy, they may not have needed to rely on favours from elsewhere.

There is no shame in losing to Spain but Scotland will not quite believe how this unfolded. As expected, Spain were dominant and Scotland had to survive waves of pressure. The visitors would have had no complaints had Luis de la Fuente’s improved side taken a deserved lead but Scotland went into half-time with the match goalless and their plan very much alive. Scotland only needed a chance to turn their rearguard approach into a perfect one and Scott McTominay found it with a moment of magic. Or so it seemed: Clarke and his team will feel the decision to disallow it for a foul on the Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was not the only one that went against them in Seville.

The angle of the free-kick appeared too tight to shoot, but McTominay, a player transformed when he pulls on his national jersey, shot anyway. The result was extraordinary, a free-kick full of whip and curl, flashed into the top corner of Simon’s goal. McTominay wheeled away in disbelief, a seventh goal of Euro 2024 qualifying, and his most stunning yet. But the celebrations were then cut short, and from there, Scotland’s night unravelled.

Referee Serdar Gozubuyuk and Unai Simon after a VAR check to disallow the goal scored by McTominay (Getty Images)

When looking back, Scotland will not find it hard to identify this was where the night started to turn. McTominay’s goal was disallowed following a VAR review, taken away supposedly for the slightest of fouls on Simon by Scotland’s Jack Hendry, who barely backed into him. That, at least, was the initial explanation provided by Uefa. A subsequent replay showed Hendry had been ruled offside, although still barely. Whether the defender was doing enough to interfere with play and block Simon is another question in this mystery. Scotland and the SFA will undoubtedly be asking for immediate answers.

With an hour played, Scotland still had the result they needed, but with the game returning to its goalless state, the momentum swung back in Spain’s direction. The hosts, unbeaten at home in Euro qualifiers since 2003, were dominant throughout, apart from the occasional Scotland spell, but they had grown frustrated with Clarke’s deep defence. Spain then thought they were behind, but the McTominay reprieve revived them.

Still, it required a veteran substitute in the 37-year-old Jesus Navas to provide the breakthrough moment. Navas found Alvaro Morata with a sublime cross that took the Scotland defence out of the equation; Morata’s glance was just enough to take the ball past Angus Gunn. From there, Spain pounced on Aaron Hickey’s slip, with Ryan Porteous helping the cross over the line as he tried to clear. It was the latest cruel blow: both Hickey and Porteous had been outstanding.

Clarke’s side responded well to going behind, just as they had shown bravery with the way they had taken to their task at La Cartuja. There was a chance in between the two Spain goals, with Che Adams unable to prod past Simon following a dribble from Hickey into the box. Ultimately, Spain deserved to win on the balance of play but Scotland will be furious that certain moments did not go their way. Another came when captain Andy Roberton was forced off before half time with what looked to be a dislocated shoulder. The contact from goalkeeper Simon when coming out to collect a cross was significant, on this occasion.

Andy Robertson clashes with Simon before sustaining an injury (Reuters)

“The big moments went against us,” said Scotland’s John McGinn. “We knew at least a point tonight would get us there, so that’s a really tough one to take. It’s a sore blow losing Robbo early, then thinking we’re ahead, we regroup and then they score. We competed for long spells. It’s very difficult to win here and, under the circumstances, it was near enough impossible.”

Clarke’s plan was not far away from coming off, however. Spain were always going to have the majority of the ball but Scotland managed to do as they did at Hampden and restricted La Roja to few scoring chances. Clarke’s approach would have been in tatters had Ferran Torres, inside two minutes, converted a clear opening when Morata split the Scotland’s defence open with a precise through pass. Yet the visitors tightened the barricades and survived the opening waves of Spain pressure; for all Spain looked far sharper than they were at Hampden, with Gavi and Mikel Merino classy operators in midfield, Gunn remained untroubled in goal.

And the longer it remained goalless, the edgier La Cartuja became. There was always going to be tension between these teams, with any ill-feeling that remained from Scotland’s victory at Hampden increased following Rodri’s comments after the game. That travelling Tartan Army booed the Manchester City midfielder’s every touch. The home supporters jeered and whistled any time a Scotland player stood over a free-kick, a clear result of Rodri’s accusations of time-wasting and gamesmanship. Lyndon Dykes then went into the book as the referee looked to clamp down on his aerial duels with Aymeric Laporte.

Scotland, though, were up against it. They did not have a shot in the first half but Spain goalkeeper Simon’s only involvement was to make their task significantly more difficult: crashing into captain Robertson and leaving the Liverpool left back flattened on the turf. Already without Kieran Tierney, the Scotland captain left the field with his arm in his shirt as a makeshift sling. Scotland also had some good fortune to make it into half-time level, particularly when Merino’s shot struck the inside of the post but somehow stayed out.

Scotland would argue their good fortune did not last for long. They had managed to survive before offering Spain some problems, the Euros within reach as McTominay’s shot crashed inside the far post, only for it to be taken away. And so, as the waiting now begins and all eyes turn to Oslo, it is the moments that went against them that will linger in their minds in the coming days.

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