Thursday, October 19, 2017

Slovenia 2-2 Scotland: Five things we learned as the Tartan Army fail to clinch a playoff spot

Benjamin Darvill in Editorial, World Cup 8 Oct 2017

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In a game that could have seen Scotland clinch a World Cup play-off spot, many thought that Gordon Strachan’s men would come out swinging, preferring to go down fighting rather than in a limp defeat in which they offered little. Unfortunately for the Tartan Army, it was the latter up until the final few minutes, with their late surge not enough.

Leigh Griffiths squeezed a volley past Jan Oblak to put Scotland in the lead, but his effort was cancelled out by Roman Bezjak who actually scored twice. Robert Snodgrass’ late effort was enough to make things nervy for their hosts, but, ultimately, Strachan’s men were leapfrogged by Slovakia who grabbed a play-off place.

It wasn’t quite the night that Scottish fans had envisaged with their team failing to inspire for much of the game as their hosts dominated. With the Scots needing a strong performance, the team struggled to assert themselves and it was another failure, albeit a close one.

From Scotland’s defeat, what five things did we learn?

Scotland fail to qualify again

In Euro 2016, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all battled hard to force their way out of their groups and, for the most part, they were a credit to their countries, with every side bar England exceeding expectations.

For Scotland, it was a tournament that was enjoyed from home, with their team unable to make it to France. The entire squad would have been chomping at the bit to make sure the pain and ignominy of failing to qualify would not be felt again, and yet a similar story unfolded on Sunday.

Scotland were brave in the closing stages of the game but failed to ever really recreate their performances that had meant a win would get them their much-coveted play-off place. Yet another failure to qualify should see the Scottish FA take action. Strachan has been leading the team forward in recent games, but he and his team left themselves too much to do in the final games.

It was the same old story for Scotland who must now look to start a new book if they are to avoid similar disappointment in the future.

Josip Ilicic shines yet again

Before the game, every single player in the pink of Scotland was desperate to make their mark in the match, be it with a goal, a big tackle or a save. While they did battle hard in the game and found some rhythm in the closing stages, their entire team was shown up by one man, and that was Slovenian Josip Ilicic.

Slovenia’s star man was in good touch early on as he forced Craig Gordan into a good save before he lost his way in the game somewhat. While his performance did dip, it shows the level he was able to reach in the second-half that he eclipsed every other player on the pitch.

His touch, passing range and vision kept Scotland on the back-foot for much of the game as he displayed his class, while his free-kick for Roman Bezjak’s first goal was sublime. With Scotland pressing for a winner late on too, he was a calming influence on his side as he kept the ball well and used it intelligently.

Ilicic’s performances for his country coincide with his impressive club form with Atalanta, and his displays against England and Scotland will have had a number of big teams taking notice.

Leigh Griffith’s scores some big goals

When Leigh Griffiths opened the scoring in the 32 minute, it was very much against the run of play, but it put Scotland in with a massive chance of clinching a playoff spot. His volley, which he squeezed past Jan Oblak from a very tight angle, sent the Scottish fans delirious.

While the goal proved not enough, it was yet another display of a big goal at a big time from the Scottish forward. Perhaps his sweetest goal of this qualifying campaign came against England in a 2-2 draw with their rivals, as he struck two sublime freekicks to first equalise, and then take the lead.

It seemed for all the world that he had won three points for his nation only for England to equalise, while his opener in Slovenia could have been the one that gave Scotland a shot at a playoff spot.

While on both occasions his delirium was cut short, Griffiths is becoming a player that consistently scores big goals on big occasions.

Scotland let the occasion get to them

Scotland needed to win, it was as simple as that. The visitors went to Slovenia following a 1-0 win over Slovakia in which they dominated their opponents, while Slovenia fell to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of England. Momentum-wise, Strachan’s team had the upper hand.

Incredibly though, they were completely dominated throughout the game. Slovenia kept the ball intelligently, used it well and kept Scotland under pressure constantly. What was particularly interesting was the fact that this continued even when the visitors needed a goal. While most sides would become slightly more reserved upon taking the lead, Slovenia continued in exactly the same vein as Scotland struggled to get a foothold in the game.

It was as though Scotland lacked a plan and playing identity as they seemed bereft of ideas when they were trailing. While Strachan’s side did score an equaliser, it was entirely against the run of play and was undeserved judging on their display. Of course, it shows the character of the players to find a way through, but it will worry the management that when they were trailing they couldn’t get out of their own half.

Scotland’s late show is not enough

Every single neutral fan wanted to see Scotland score a second goal to make things incredibly nervy in their final qualification game. Being the kings of late goals then, it seemed apt that Strachan’s men dragged themselves back into the match with a goal in the closing stages, but their late show was not enough.

Strachan’s men left themselves too much to do in both the game and in their qualification campaign. No side had scored more late goals than the Scots, but Robert Snodgrass’ sublime touch and strike was too little too late in the end.

It is very telling that Strachan’s men have scored so many late goals as they have been seemingly reliant on frantic late play to get goals. A lot of things have to change for Scotland to clinch a place at the next major tournament, and one of the most important of those is getting rid of their reliance on scoring late goals.

Slovenia: Oblak 7 – Struna 6 (Skubic 6), Mevlja 6, Cesar 4, Jokic 6 – Kurtic 7, Rotman 6, Repas 6.5 (Bezjak 8) – Ilicic 8.5 – Matavz 6 (Vetrih 6), Verbic 6.

Unused subs: Viler, Sirok, Sporar, Belec, Milnar Delamea, Koprivec.

Scotland: Gordon 7 – Tierney 6 (Fletcher 6), Mulgrew 6, Berra 6, Robertson 6 – D. Fletcher 7, McArthur 6 (Snodgrass 7), Bannan 6 – Phillips 6, Martin 5 (Anya 5), Griffiths 6.5.

Unused subs: McGregor, McGinn, Whittaker, Hanley, Forrest, Cooper, Archer, McGregor.

Referee: Jonas Eriksson.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Benjamin Darvill


Ben is an English and creative writing graduate that is now working his way up in the world of sports journalism. Having been writing for the last four years, Ben has written for a number of websites specialising in sport, with football a particular passion. He is a long-suffering England fan and eternal optimist when it comes to the Three Lions.

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