Scotland Under-21 coach Billy Stark is convinced that two victories from his side’s final two qualifiers could take them into the European Championship play-offs despite the blow of a last-gasp equaliser in Bulgaria last night.
Huddersfield striker Jordan Rhodes took his goal tally for the season to 48 for club and country when he netted his second of the match with less than a minute left of normal time.
However, Bulgaria substitute Georgi Kostadinov forced home an equaliser three minutes into injury time. The 2-2 draw in Lovech sent unbeaten Scotland top of Group 10 courtesy of their better head-to-head record against the Netherlands but they expect to fall three points behind the Dutch tonight after drawing their fourth game in six matches.
Only the four best runners-up join the ten group winners in the play-offs but Stark is optimistic Scotland, who featured Hibs duo Paul Hanlon and david Wotherspoon plus Hearts goalkeeper Mark Ridgers in their starting line-up, can still qualify for next year’s finals in Israel.
“Holland play Luxembourg and you would expect them to win and move three points above us,” Stark said. “But they play Bulgaria on Tuesday night and who knows what will happen. We play Luxembourg in September and need to win to make sure we go to Austria needing to win so it’s all to play for. Sixteen points could do it and we’ll try to work on our goal difference against Luxembourg. We need two wins and if we can get them we will be well in it.”
Scotland had a great chance to open the scoring in the 13th minute when a long ball bounced over home goalkeeper Stefan Kunchev for Johnny Russell to run on to. The Dundee United player stayed on his feet despite being pulled back by the keeper but he could not get enough power on his shot and it was cleared off the line.
Georgi Milanov fired Bulgaria ahead in the 33rd minute with a 20-yard drive following a smart one-two but Scotland dominated after the restart and Rhodes glanced home Liam Kelly’s cross in the 69th minute following a short corner. The in-demand forward turned and fired home in the 90th minute after substitute Stuart Armstrong’s square ball but Scotland failed to clear a corner and the hosts worked the ball to Kostadinov to net.