THREE young Hearts defenders won’t receive a more ruthless lesson than the one issued in Paisley last night.
The Netherlands’ rampant under-21s left Kevin McHattie, Callum Paterson, Jordan McGhee and their Scottish team-mates distraught with a display of scintillating pace, ball skill and brilliant finishing.
This resounding 6-1 defeat leaves Scotland’s chances of qualifying for the European Under-21 Championship all but dead with two games left to play. Left-back McHattie suffered more than anyone at the hands of right winger Quincy Promes, a member of the Netherlands’ provisional World Cup squad, who scored an emphatic hat-trick inside 16 first-half minutes. On the opposite flank, Paterson was up against another of the Dutch squad for Brazil, Jean-Paul Boetius. In between them for good measure was £4million striker Luc Castaignos. His CV already details spells at Inter Milan and Feyenoord despite the fact he is just 21.
The Netherands’ class was clear from the first whistle but the manner of this defeat will have left Scotland coach Billy Stark concerned. His players were younger on average but looked slower and simply poorer in quality compared with their lightning quick opponents, who zipped the ball around with ease. McHattie, Paterson and McGhee won’t encounter players of this ilk in the SPFL Championship with Hearts next season.
“We’ve had some sore ones this season – losing to the Netherlands twice and England. Physically we’re well behind,” admitted Stark. “Secondly, the Dutch have been working on the way they play for 30 or 40 years. We’re trying to embrace that but when we go behind we don’t try to pass.
“I’m talking particularly about centre-halfs and we’ve got young centre-halfs. We have a youngish side, especially defensively, and they had a poor night against absolute top-quality opposition. That can happen. The Netherands’ quality of finishing stands out. Their goals went in off the underside of the bar and into the top corner and in right at the post as well. Their quality of finishing is the big thing.
“Pressing the ball is something we’ve worked on but the Netherlands showed us how it’s done. They were swarming round us and putting us under pressure. We do it in a fashion and then we step off. That’s a confidence thing. Confidence drained when we lost a couple of goals. The message they got at half-time was not to feel sorry for themselves. The game was beyond us because we were against a team that is quicker, stronger, better and hungry.”
Stark insisted this isn’t the end of the road for him as Scotland Under-21 coach. “No, not at all. It’s the end of the road in terms of qualification,” he said. “This group has had a very up and down campaign. This is the first qualifier I’ve lost at home in six years and it’s a sore one. We’ve already introduced a lot of younger ones and I think blooding younger ones gives us the chance to see if they can benefit from the experience they’re getting. Some of it has been hard experience but you have to learn from it.”
Scotland twice went close during the early stages of the game through Paterson and Stuart Armstrong. They were breaking forward when possible but the Dutch were playing the more cohesive and flowing football. On 26 minutes, Promes’ quick feet dragged the ball past two opponents on the edge of the Scotland penalty areaand his precise left-footed finish left the Scotland goalkeeper Jordan Archer helpless. Moments later, John McGinn struck a post as Scotland attempted a quick comeback. Five minutes from half-time they were undone again by Promes. He turned McHattie inside out whilst running at pace and drove the ball home off the underside of the crossbar from around 12 yards.
His phenomenal hat-trick was complete two minutes later. A lightning turn of pace took him in behind the Scotland defence, who attempted to play offside, and his finish resembled another bullet into the net. Half-time arrived with the young Scots grateful for some mercy, although that didn’t last long.
Four minutes after the restart, Karim Rekik struck the fourth Dutch goal after Kenny McLean had cleared a Marco van Ginkel header off the goal line from a corner. Substitute Hakim Ziyech scored the sixth from 30 yards after getting too much time as he meandered forward. St Johnstone’s Stevie May scored a consolation for Scotland with five minutes left.
Scotland U21 (4-2-3-1): Archer; Paterson, McGhee, Findlay; McHattie; McGinn (Slater 87), Armstrong; McGregor (McKenzie 61), McLean, R Fraser (Scougall 75); May. Subs: Kettings, M Fraser, Kelly, Holt.
The Netherlands U21 (4-2-3-1): Hahn; Te Wierik, Van Beek, Rekik, Ake; Ebecilio, De Vilhena (Ziyech 75); Promes, Van Ginkel (Maher 81), Boetius (John 75); Castaignos. Subs: Van der Hart, Van der Hoorn, Denswil, De Sa.
Referee: Christian Dingert (Germany)