Tuesday 19 September 2017

Scotland 3 Lithuania 1

Thanks to the good offices of the departing Scottish press officer Andy Mitchell, who helped me with information on my grandfather’s career, I was lucky enough to get a press pass to the Scotland versus Lithuania European Championship qualifying match in Glasgow on Saturday 8 September.

A sell-out crowd of 52,000 was there to cheer on the Scots ahead of another tough match against World Cup finalists France on Wednesday.

Since the World Champion, Italy, is also in Scotland’s group the magnitude of the task of the Scots is easily seen.

Over the years Scotland has had a good series of results against Lithuania, with the exception of the dire period when Berti Vogts was coach of the Scottish team.

As expected Scotland lined up in 4-4-2 with Kris Boyd and Gary O’Connor leading the attack.

The early signs were good for the home team as Gary Teale of Derby County teased the Lithuanian defenders down the left wing but nothing came of a series of attacks and the visitors led by skipper Tomas Danilevicius who plays with Bologna in Italy began to threaten.

On the half-hour Scotland made the breakthrough when Darren Fletcher, standing in as captain for the suspended Barry Ferguson, took a very quick free kick across the edge of the goal area and quicksilver Kris Boyd headed past the stranded keeper Zydrunas Karcemarskas.

The crowd raised the decibel level at that and Hampden was  set to party, but the Scots could not add to their lead in the first half.

The Lithuanian keeper was booked for a foul outside his area, and Teale’s subsequent shot rebounded off him but no attacker could take advantage.

The first 15 minutes of the second half saw Lithuania come more into the game, but their equalising goal came as a surprise.

Scots skipper Fletcher was judged to have fouled Saulius Mikoliunas who plays with Hearts in the Scottish Premier League and Slovenian referee Damir Skomina awarded a penalty kick.

Danilevicius ignored the cacophony from the Scots fans and buried the spot-kick.

For a while the Scots looked rocky and might have conceded another goal after the first Scottish change when James McFadden replaced Gary Teale.

Spaces opened up on the left invaded by Lithuania, while Fletcher and McEveley could not do any damage from a series of free-kicks in good positions.

Then in 76 minutes, Scots coach Alex Mcleish made an inspired double substitution, taking off O’Connor and midfielder Lee McCulloch and sending on Craig Beattie and Shaun Maloney.

Maloney cut across to the left and put in a teasing ball which defender Stephen McManus netted from two metres out.

In the next Scottish attack there were three forwards facing two defenders but offside prevented an addition to the score.

Then McFadden, a great favourite with the fans, came in from the right, took on and beat two defenders and lobbed the ball over the keeper in the 82nd minute.

So Scotland could coast home to an excellent victory which set up a vital clash with France in midweek.

In that game a moment of sheer genius by McFadden resulted in a one-nil away win for the Scots.

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