Scotland 2 Croatia 0

15 October 2013 10:26
Scotland managed to get a win at home in there last qualifying group game. Too little too late

Hampden Park was offered fireworks to kick off the final tie of Scotland’s FIFA 2014 world cup qualifying campaign, against Croatia and with the tartan army in full voice, Croatian fans, small in number but large in noise, kept the pressure on the home fans to keep up the Hampden Roar, as did the Croatia team upon the Scotland defence passing short to build pressure in the early stages of the game. Within five minutes, Croatia had a couple of opportunities in the Scotland box, fortunately coming to nothing. Scotland manager Gordon Strachan urged his players to stay calm in the face of pressure.

Scotland line up ahead of the game (c) Ross Eaglesham |

Solid as captain, Scott Brown conducted his midfield, looking stalwart as Scotland tried to keep possession of the ball, Romanian Referee Ovidiu Hategan penalising every foul with quick response and keen eye. The early stages of the match played in as one might have expected, with Croatia retaining most of the possession and Scotland anxious to show the skill with which Gordon Strachan has coached them to bring to the world stage.It may have taken 10 minutes or so for Scotland to settle into the match but when they did, they showed every sign of being a hungry, strong and powerful attacking team. Working a formation which seen Charlie Mulgrew push up from the left back position, feeding Ikechi Anya with passes and Alan Hutton in a similar role on the right to make plays for Steven Naismith in the lone striker role up front.Croatia, with a ream of top ranking players such as the broad shouldered Vedran Corluka of Lokomotiv Moskow and Luka Modric of Real Madrid, were always going to make the task difficult for Scotland to break them down but their strength and skill did not phase the Scottish players as they retained possession and held the ball to bide their time. Continually the Mulgrew - Anya partnership on the left looked explosive and dangerous upon the Croatia defence.Scotland were fortunate not to have gone one behind in the 22nd minute when a defensive blunder left Croatia with only Allan McGregor to beat. Thankfully, some quick tackling in defence by Russell Martin denied the attack as McGregor had been outwitted by a somewhat lack-lustre shuffle on the ball by Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic.

Robert Snodgrass wheels away to celebrate the opening goal (c) Stephen Lawson |

On 28 mins the ball fell sweetly on the left side to Steven Naismith after a Croatia blunder, and he steamed forwards, slipping the ball to Charlie Mulgrew who whipped in a great cross for Robert Snodgrass to get his head on the end and put into the back of the net. Scotland were here to show the future of world class football and the fact that even a slight break can prove a deadly finish. Hampden erupted and Scotland hushed the Croatian travelling support. Only a minute later, Scotland were on the offensive again down the left middle of the field, a sweet pass into Snodgrass on the edge of the box and a great shot was unlucky to see Stipe Pletokosa get his hand to the ball and it hit the post. Scotland had begun to take the upper hand and Croatia knew it as they seemed dazed by the counter-attacks of the Scottish team. Defending continued though, for the rest of the half in the midfield area, Scotland denying Croatia at every turn, forcing them to pass backwards on numerous occasions and taking the possession calmly when the ball was held.The visitors remained stunned for the remainder of the first half as Scotland played to and fro with the ball on the edge of the Croatia box, looking intently for openings. Matching strength for strength and skill for skill, Scotland put on an impressive show in the first half, marking well and closing down Croatian attacks to hold the score.Even with a few minor early hiccups in defence, the Scotland midfield continued to hold possession and every chance of a loose ball on the edge of the Croatian box, Scotland had Barry Bannan or Ikechi Anya there to collect the ball and make plays for goal. When Croatia did find space to attack, the opportunities were often squandered with long shots or mistimed passes, largely thanks to progressively encouraging defending in the Scotland camp. An admirable first half performance from the Scottish team showed signs that the second half was going to be tough.In the first minute of the second half, a handball on the edge of the Croatia box was almost like mana from heaven for Barry Bannan, 25 yards from the goal, he curled the free kick just over the bar. Croatia pressed, trying to play Scotland at their own game, releasing players down the left wing, only to be thwarted by a, by now, solid Scotland defence, marking tightly and closing down every ball played forward by their counterparts.AS the second half progressed, Anya moved to a slightly more central role, finding himself closed down for a few plays in the first half, the tactical manoevre shows great forethought and cunning by the Scotland managerial team, still allowing Anya to roam wide when the need occurred. The previously mentioned zealousness of the referee came into play on the 54th minute when James Morrison was booked for what the referee Hatigan seen as a foul, even when Morrison’s toe poke tackle made the ball, Croatian players were falling down easily at every opportunity, appealing for fouls to push the ball up the field. Even so, Scotland continued to defend well and hold the defensive line. The international stage and it’s punitive discipline always tricky for Scottish-based players who are used to the tussle of league football.58 minutes in and the Croatia manager began to look slightly uneasy on the sidelines, bringing on Shaktar Donetsk’ Eduardo and substituting Nikola Kalinic from midfield. It went unnoticed by Scotland who continued to attack on the Croatia goal with some bad sports in the Croatia fanzone, throwing flares towards the pitch. The extra light didn’t help their players in the slightest as Scotland built a wall against their opponents forward plays and pushed forwards themselves, when in possession. Even the best of Croatia’s chances went begging in a smoke-filled national stadium.Time after time, Croatia piled on the pressure and time after time Hanley and Martin kept calm in the face of adversity, defending impeccably, keeping goalside and ensuring first touch of the ball. And time after time Ikechi Anya proved too much of a handful for left back Domagoj Vida who had been given the unfortunate task of trying to keep up with the little winger, favouring every opportunity to commit continual fouls on the attacking Scot, on occaision being fortunate to hold his line and see Anya in an offside position. Vida’s consistent frustration finally got the better of him as he brought down Anya in the box on 71 mins, Barry Bannan forcing a great save from goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa with the penalty, which fell cooly to Steven Naismith, piling forward, and slotted in the rebound to make it 2-0 for Scotland. Scotland playing like serious contenders in a major international tournament, rather than a team who failed to qualify, brings a tear of joy to mine eye. Ikechi Anya was replaced by Graham Dorrans and received a standing ovation from the tartan army on 77 mins as he jogged off the pitch. Another well-deserved cap for the young Watford winger and having been instrumental in much of the attacking play, I cannot help but feel we have a lot more good international football to see from him in the future. A few minutes later, Croatia resort to a desperate attacking strategy, bringing on Everton’s Nikica Jelavic and the same nonchalance is given to the tactical switch by the minds of Scotland players, pushing forwards again as Scott Brown found himself in the opponents box, with only the goalkeeper to beat, but somehow stumbling over the ball, much to his dismay.Robert Snodgrass, subbed on 82 mins, also jogged off to a standing ovation from the Scotland support, replaced by James McArthur. Minutes later, a fine save from Allan McGregor denied one of the few on-target shots taken by Croatia. The main reason for Croatia not finding the target, again being, the professionalism of the Scotland defence, pegging back their attacks and perpetually being first to the ball to clear any danger. With only 3 minutes remaining in the match, Scotland Captain, Scott Brown, not content with his team being only 2 goals up, pushed away down the right middle, running with the ball two thirds of the pitch and was fouled to win a Scotland free kick. Yet more tidy passing ensued from the kick as Scotland pushed forwards, giving the substitutes a chance to run their legs and show their stuff to observing manager Gordon Strachan.In all, I wouldn’t say this was just a good win for Scotland, but a great win against a Croatia team who fielded a strong line up, and certainly came to Hampden looking for the points which would put them in the play-offs of this qualifying campaign. Unfortunately for Scotland, the win came too late in the schedule but showing real skill, promise and stamina for future campaigns under Gordon Strachan.Full time: Scotland 2 - 0 Croatia.Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Martin, Hanley, Mulgrew, Morrison, Bannan, Brown, Anya, Snodgrass, NaismithSubs: Marshall, Gilks, Hammell, McArthur, Burke, Adam, Dorrans, Griffiths, McCormack, Boyd, Greer, Bryson. Croatia: Pletikosa, Vida, Corluka, Lovren, Strinic, Kranjcar, Vukojevic, Modric, Srna, Kalinic, MandzukicSubs: Vargic, Kresic, Pivaric, Perisic, Jelavic, Schildenfeld, Ademi, Olic, Eduardo, Maloca. Referee: Ovidiu Alin Hategan (Romania)Attendance: 33,000 +Man of the match:  Steven Naismith.

Source: ScottishFitba