A last-gasp Martin Skrtel own goal proved decisive as in-form Scotland kept their World Cup hopes alive with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Slovakia.
Skrtel deflected a cross from Scotland substitute Ikechi Anya into his own net with one minute remaining to settle a dramatic contest at Hampden Park.
Scotland were earlier handed a huge boost after only 23 minutes when Slovakia’s Robert Mak was sent off, receiving a second yellow card for diving.
Chris Martin and Leigh Griffiths both hit the crossbar in the second half, while away goalkeeper Martin Dubravka produced a magnificent performance.
But just as it looked like Slovakia would hold firm to remain in pole position to finish second in Group F, Scotland struck in the final moments, courtesy of former Liverpool defender Skrtel’s mistake.
Scotland, who now have four wins and a draw from their last five games, move up to second in the table with one matchday left.
They have 17 points – two more than Slovakia – and will finish in that position if they can win away to Slovenia, who themselves are still in with a faint chance, on Sunday.
Slovakia, despite this crushing loss, are not out of the running either, as they host bottom-of-the-group Malta and could overtake Scotland if Gordon Strachan’s side fail to win their final game.
— #WCQ (@FIFAWorldCup) October 5, 2017
Amid a vociferous atmosphere at Hampden, the hosts had an early penalty claim turned down when Kieran Tierney, playing at right-back, went down under a challenge from Mak, referee Milorad Mazic adjudging there had not been enough contact.
Scotland were on top and only an unbelievable save from Dubravka prevented them from going in front midway through the first half, the keeper stretching to his right to claw away Christophe Berra’s header from Griffiths’ cross.
The match then took a huge turn in Scotland’s favour, Mak punished for going to ground despite not being touched by Craig Gordon as he raced into the penalty area, receiving his second yellow card for diving just six minutes after being booked for a foul on James Forrest.
Slovakia initially steadied the ship well after going down to 10, although they still needed Dubravka to keep out Griffiths’ curling attempt as the first half ended level.
The visitors threatened for the first time after the break when Stanislav Lobotka shot straight at Gordon, before the Celtic goalkeeper, who was earning his 50th international cap, had to make a better stop from Jan Gregus.
Strachan brought Martin off the substitutes’ bench in place of Forrest to add a strike partner for Griffiths on the hour mark.
Griffiths then forced Dubravka to punch away a powerful, swerving drive as Scotland sought to recapture the momentum.
Scotland must have thought their luck was out when Martin collected James Morrison’s pass and saw his brilliant 25-yard effort cannon off the crossbar.
Amazingly, a trademark Griffiths free-kick a few moments later had the same result, crashing against the woodwork, while Dubravka made a sensational close-range save from Morrison’s half volley from the home side’s next attack.
Andrew Robertson was the next to be denied by the inspired Dubravka and Scotland continued to throw bodies forward, but did not find a way through until the 89th minute.
Griffiths did well to help the ball on to Anya, who had just come off the bench, down the right and when he squared towards an onrushing Martin, Skrtel could only divert the delivery into his own net, with the home crowd erupting.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!