Scotland 2-0 Denmark: John Souttar goal helps seal seeded status for World Cup play-offs
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The seeded status which Scotland had craved in the play-off draw for Qatar later this month was secured as they completed their Group F campaign with a sixth consecutive victory.
After the nine straight wins which had cemented their status as group winners, Denmark met their match at Hampden as goals from John Souttar and the outstanding Che Adams further enhanced Scotland’s prospects of joining them in next year’s finals.
The first half opener was a fairytale for Hearts defender Souttar, winning his first cap for three years after his horrendous career-threatening injury woes.
Souttar’s sweet moment was the very least Scotland deserved from an opening 45 minutes laced with vigour, purpose and invention. Some of the football they produced was unquestionably the best witnessed so far under Clarke.
With such significance still attached to the outcome, the manager had resisted any temptation to omit the key men on the verge of suspension.
Five of the seven players facing that prospect were named in his starting line-up - Andy Robertson, John McGinn, Billy Gilmour, Adams and Stephen O’Donnell.
There was no inclination from anyone to hold anything back on an evening which, despite that play-off spot having already been secured, still carried the atmosphere of a decisive and momentous contest.
The Scots were determined to set an intense tempo from the start, moving the ball around with both intelligence and intent. Adams led the line with a combination of selflessness and clever movement which allowed those behind him to press the Danes into uncomfortable territory.
That Souttar’s goal came from a corner was no surprise. By the time it arrived, plenty of evidence had already been provided of uncertainty at set pieces in the visitors’ defence.
Kasper Schmeichel, booked for dissent as he contested the award of one corner, made a brilliant save with his outstretched left boot to deny Adams what would have been a fine goal on the end of a lovely move involving McGinn, Gilmour and Ryan Christie.
The Danish goalkeeper didn’t look so sure of himself when he was helped out by Andreas Cornelius at his near post as the big striker cleared a wickedly inswinging McGinn corner off the line.
Scotland’s goal was sparked by a breathtaking length of the field counter-attack which culminated in Robertson setting up Adams with another sight of goal. This time, the Southampton striker’s shot was diverted wide by a superbly timed sliding challenge by Denmark captain Simon Kjaer.
From the resulting corner, again delivered from the right by McGinn, the Danes were breached. Liam Cooper did well to meet the ball at the far post, knocking it back across the six yard box where Souttar nodded it firmly home.
Aside from a dipping 22 yard shot from Andreas Christensen in the early exchanges, Denmark had offered little in the way of a threat to Craig Gordon’s goal.
But the veteran Hearts goalkeeper was grateful for Kieran Tierney’s touch on a shot from Daniel Wass which sent the ball narrowly wide of his right hand post a minute before the interval. It was a warning to Scotland that Denmark wouldn’t be leaving the scene quietly.
Their determination to preserve their perfect record saw them come close again nine minutes into the second half when Gordon made a tremendous one-handed save to keep out Cornelius’ close range header. An offside flag went up against Jacob Larsen for his role in the build-up but that may not have been upheld by VAR had Gordon not managed to keep the ball out.
Gilmour was delivering another masterclass in midfield, both defensively and creatively, on the night he earned his 10th cap. The 20-year-old is the third youngest player to reach double figures for Scotland after former Rangers winger Willie Henderson and ex-Celtic playmaker Paul McStay. Illustrious company indeed but Gilmour looks every inch a Scotland great in the making.
He tested Schmeichel with a powerful 25 yard shot which the ‘keeper clutched confidently as Scotland looked to get back on the front foot. Gilmour expended every ounce of energy he had and perhaps his unfathomable recent lack of game time at Norwich City caught up with him when he was replaced by Kenny McLean for the closing stages. He left the field to yet another standing ovation from the Tartan Army.
Adams looked to have passed up a clear chance to double the lead when he struck Schmeichel’s left hand post from close range but he had strayed marginally offside in any case. The frame of Denmark’s goal was rattled again when Schmeichel was almost caught out by a speculative but imaginative long range effort from Robertson.
Scotland were camped deeper in the final 20 minutes, Gordon having to make sharp saves from Andreas Olsen and substitute Mikael Uhre.
But a truly memorable night for Clarke’s men was sealed by Adams with four minutes of regulation time remaining. Timing his run to perfection to beat the offside trap, he collected a Stuart Armstrong pass and strode on to beat Schmeichel with a classy finish.
Scotland (3-4-2-1): Gordon, Souttar, Cooper, Tierney (Ralston 88); O’Donnell, Gilmour (McLean 74), McGregor, Robertson (McKenna 79); McGinn, Christie (Armstrong 80); Adams. Subs not used: Clark, McLaughlin, Porteous, Turnbull, Nisbet, Ferguson, Brown.
Denmark (3-4-3): Schmeichel, Christensen, Kjaer, Vestergaard; Kristensen (Bah 81), Wass (Dreyer 81), Jonsson (Stage 56), Maehle; Olsen, Cornelius (Uhre 72), Larsen (Sisto 56). Subs not used: Vindahl-Jensen, Ronnow, Maxso, Riis.