Scotland 1-1 Israel: Disappointment for Scots as Lyndon Dykes makes solid debut
Hampden Park’s emptiness reflected Scotland’s own disappointment at being held to a draw against Israel in their opening Nations League tie.
Echoes around the national stadium made for an uninspiring atmosphere as Ryan Christie’s first-half penalty was cancelled out by Eran Zahavi’s clinical equaliser.
A 1-1 scoreline wasn’t what national coach Steve Clarke wanted, although there was an encouraging international debut for Queens Park Rangers striker Lyndon Dykes to reflect on.
Scotland earned promotion from League C to League B of the Nations League after winning their section last year. Israel went with them and will return to Glasgow with a fair amount of confidence next month for a European Championship play-off semi-final.
They deserved their draw overall and Scotland, trialling a new three-man defensive system, still have plenty to ponder ahead of Monday’s trip to face Czech Republic. Too many players playing out of position appeared to hinder them.
A busy autumn period has begun with potentially eight international fixtures to be crammed in before the end of November. Dykes’ emergence as a target man who can hold the ball up is much needed, but so is more width and creativity in the final third to unlock opponents.
The famous old Mount Florida bowl has witnessed many a unique evening hosting international football down the years. From Real Madrid demolishing Eintracht Frankfurt, to a teenage Diego Maradona, to Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor flicking V-signs. This was something different altogether.
This ground holds European football’s attendance record for a Scotland-England match in 1937 which was watched by 147,365 people. Fast forward to 2020 and there was not a single fan on the deep Hampden slopes.
The Tartan Army are normally an ever-present vocal companion for the national team and were sadly missed. Flower of Scotland played through the stadium’s PA system pre-match without an accompanying chant. Even if that is sometimes out of sync, you still miss it.
Clarke attempted to solve the Andy Robertson-Kieran Tierney dilemma by fielding a three-man defence. The biggest surprise was Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay on the right of it. James Forrest and Robertson were wing-backs with McGinn and Christie supporting debutant striker Lyndon Dykes.
Israel also chose a back three. They named Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano plus Celtic defenders Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed in their line-up and began proceedings conservatively.
Coach Willibauld Ruttensteiner was doubtless mindful that a first Nations League tie will be very different to next month's Euro play-off semi-final against the same opponents.
There was no lack of aggression from the visitors. After some notable early hold-up play, Dykes was flattened by Dor Peretz on 28 minutes but Scotland sprung forward and were denied an obvious penalty-kick.
McGinn drove into the penalty area with the ball and was barged over by Taleb Tawatha. Inexplicably, the Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic saw fit to award Israel a foul.
Peretz dispatched the game’s first shot on target six minutes later but David Marshall, retaining his place in goal for the Scots, enjoyed an easy catch. Callum McGregor tried an effort from distance at the opposite end moments later which rolled wide.
Marshall was responsible for keeping Scotland level with an instinctive save four minutes from the interval. Eli Dasa’s right-sided cross beat McTominay and the powerful Israeli forward Munas Dabbur powered a header goalwards which the keeper stopped.
It was a crucial intervention given the hosts opened the scoring seconds later. Christie’s cross from the left was nodded down by Dykes and McGinn got a touch ahead of Eytan Tibi, who fouled the Aston Villa midfielder to concede a penalty.
Despite unceremonious booing and jeering from the Israel substitutes in the stand, Christie strode forward to plant the spot-kick high to Marciano’s right. He rightly celebrated what was a calm and important finish.
Scotland had looked slightly disjoined at times during the first 45 minutes, particularly down their right where the opposition looked most dangerous. In an attacking sense, Dykes, McGinn and Christie seemed to have an understanding of how to link play and work together.
The ploy was to control possession as much as possible. Balls were frequently played into forwards’ feet to be worked through the Israeli defence, and that continued in the second period.
However, it did not translate into the desired two-goal cushion. Israel patiently waited for an opportunity and took it ruthlessly on 71 minutes.
Zahavi played an intelligent one-two with Dabbur and scampered in behind the Scottish defence. Once inside the area, he promptly dispatched the return ball high beyond Marshall to equalise.
Dykes then made way for Oliver Burke after a decent international debut and will certainly have a role to play against the Czechs.
Both teams made subtle attempts to win this tie before the end but, at the same time, prioritised not losing it at the death. The final whistle sounded with the Israelis leaving Hampden far happier than the Scots.
Scotland (3-4-2-1): Marshall; McTominay, McKenna, Tierney; Forrest, Jack, McGregor, Robertson; McGinn (Armstrong 78), Christie; Dykes (Burke 73).
Unused subs: McLaughlin, McCrorie, Paterson, Fleck, Gallagher, Cooper, McLean, O’Donnell, Palmer, Taylor.
Israel (3-5-2): Marciano; Bitton, Tibi, Elhamed; Dasa, Peretz (Cohen 71), Natcho, Solomon (Glazer 90), Tawatha; Zahavi, Dabbur (Weissman 78).
Unused subs: Harush, Nitzan, Glazer, Dgani, Yeini, Arad, Almog, Elmkies, Hanna, Rikan.
Referee: lavko Vincic (Slovenia).
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