Scotland QUALIFY for Euro 2020 – their first tournament since 1998 – after nerve jangling penalty shootout win over Serbia with David Marshall the shootout hero after Luka Jovic cancelled out Ryan Christie’s opener in Belgrade
After 23 years of watching from home and, frankly, not being good enough, Scotland will be back at a major tournament next summer, where England await.
All that can deny them now is Covid-19, but that is a worry for another day. For now, the boys of Belgrade will rightly bask in the glory of this playoff triumph, secured following a penalty-shootout victory in which Derby goalkeeper David Marshall was the hero and Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic was the fall guy.
It means a first appearance at a major finals since France 98. To give the passage of time some context, their goalkeeper from that World Cup, Jim Leighton, is now in his sixties, while manager Craig Brown in his eighties.
Scotland have qualified for Euro 2020 after beating Serbia with a dramatic penalty shoot-out
And how those old boys would have cursed at the familiar sight of Scotland squandering what would have been a deserved victory inside normal time.
Leading 1-0 thanks to Ryan Christie’s 52nd-minute strike, Steve Clarke’s side looked comfortable as the fourth official readied the board for the injury-time minutes.
But having defended so admirably on a sodden night at the Red Star Stadium, they switched off at the death and paid the price.
Steve Clarke’s men were forced to go the distance but had sparked delirium right at the death
The concession was careless, and Manchester United’s Scott McTominay was culpable. Not only did he needlessly give away the corner from which Serbia equalised, it was McTominay’s man – the unmarked Luka Jovic – who headed home.
But how McTominay will be relieved that his errors matter not and he redeemed himself by converting in the shootout.
Kenny McLean tucked in Scotland’s fifth spot-kick meaning Mitrovic had to score. But Marshall was equal to it with a magnificent flying save.
An away fixture it may have been but at least the bouncing rain felt homely for the Scots. And they certainly looked the cosier of the sides early on, even if their superiority extended only to possession and not chances.
On that front it was Serbia who should have taken the lead against the run of play when Sasa Lukic licked the base of the post from 20 yards.
Ryan Christie netted the opener for Scotland after fizzling a low drive into the bottom corner
The Celtic man was mobbed by his team-mates with Scotland’s hard work paying off superbly
But Scotland’s control of the contest was always likely to produce an opening and, of all players, they would have wanted it to come the way of John McGinn, with six goals in his last four Euro 2020 qualifiers.
The Aston Villa midfielder had a first-minute goal chalked off during Saturday’s 3-0 win at Arsenal when he hammered first-time into the roof of the net.
So why he opted to take a touch when played in by Ryan Christie on 32 minutes is a mystery. It was begging for an early smash but McGinn’s caution was costly and his eventual shot wore the sorry look of a back-pass.
Still, though, it was an encouraging opening period for Clarke and, entering the break, you would have had his side as favourites to progress.
Luka Jovic headed home unmarked inside second half added time to break Scotland’s hearts
And you would have backed Liverpool’s Andy Robertson to score when QPR striker Lyndon Dykes held off two Serb defenders and rolled invitingly to his skipper arriving on the edge of the area.
Robertson, unlike McGinn, did not waste any time in dispatching towards goal. On reflection, maybe he should have taken a touch, for his effort was as wild as the weather.
But amid the storm Christie was a picture of calm as he received a clever reverse pass from Celtic team-mate Callum McGregor and, from 20 yards, duly produced a reverse pass of his own as he guided in via the inside of the post.
It was a goal good enough to win the tie but Scotland won’t mind how they did it, they are back on the big stage, and that is all that matters to them.