Scotland 1, Denmark 0: John McGinn excels on Scots debut
Hibs John McGinn was voted man of the match as Scotland clinched a second win in five days as they followed up their victory over the Czech Republic with an equally narrow triumph against Denmark.
The Easter Road kid played the entire 90 minutes – plus the additional four added by Norwegian referee Sveinn Oddvar Moen – as he made the step up from captaining the Scots Under-21 side to make his full international debut.
Matt Ritchie’s seventh-minute strike was enough to earn Gordon Strachan’s side their win, the Bournemouth winger cashing in on a blunder by Denmark skipper Daniel Agger to slip the ball beyond the stranded Kasper Schmeichel.
But the Scots owed their win to a fantastic double save from Craig Gordon, the ex-Hearts goalkeeper bringing off a terrific stop from Christian Eriksen and then somehow regaining his feet to prevent substitute Martin Braithwaite heading home the rebound.
McGinn’s heart, however, must have sunk like a stone if he’d happened to see the first draft of Strachan’s team sheet distributed, but hastily withdrawn about an hour before kick-off, the midfielder listed among the substitutes, the starting line-up numbered one through to 11.
But by the time replacements arrived, the 21-year-old was in the side as was Shaun Maloney, the Hibs player wearing No.18 jersey and the Hull City veteran No.14, the explanation apparently being that having named his team, Strachan had undergone a change of mind.
However, that message wasn’t conveyed to officials at Hampden and kit staff at the stadium didn’t have time to re-number the shirts.
Nevertheless, McGinn became the first Hibs player to be capped for Scotland since Leigh Griffiths faced Luxembourg in 2012, although he was technically on loan from Wolves at the time, so for the purists the last Easter Rod player to pull on the dark blue of his country was Steven Fletcher against Croatia eight years ago.
Fletcher was back in the side, wearing the No.9 shirt but playing in the No.10 role he is currently enjoying while on loan at Marseille, behind the Scottish Premiership’s leading scorer Griffiths who had yet to find the net for the Scots.
And with captain Scott Brown making his 50th appearance for Scotland and Steven Whittaker at right back, there was as distinct “made at Easter Road” feel to Strachan’s line-up.
The bar, however, had been set high for this the second of two friendlies, the first producing a 1-0 win against the Czech Republic, bound for this summer’s European Championships, in Prague five days earlier.
Like Scotland, Denmark will only look on as events unfold in France although they got to within a whisker of being there, beaten in the play-offs by near neighbours Sweden, leaving new coach Age Hareide in the same boat as Strachan, building towards the start of the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Danes had also made a promising start to that process, with a 2-1 victory over another Euro qualifier Iceland, Group A runners-up behind the Czechs.
But they found themselves behind in just seven minutes thanks to a horrific error by Agger. Brown’s ball forward was missed by Simon Kjaer but Agger opted to try to shepherd it back to Schmeichel, only for Ritchie to spot the potential, the Bournemouth winger brushing off the former Liverpool defender to score, an action which prompted a furious row between defender and goalkeeper although the Leicester City No 1 looked far less culpable.
However, a slip by Grant Hanley presented Yussuf Poulsen with a terrific opportunity to equalise, but as he prepared to pull the trigger Celtic teenager Kieran Tierney, like McGinn making his full international debut, came from nowhere to prod the ball to safety.
Fletcher attempted to test Schmeichel with a speculative effort, lofting Whittaker’s throw-in over the head of Andreas Christensen and taking the ball on the volley only to send it a couple of feet wide before Gordon was called into action three times in quick succession, blocking an effort from Jorgensen, scorer of Denmark’s two goals against Iceland, holding an effort from Thomas Delaney and then finger tipping a low shot from Jorgensen, which was destined for the far corner of his net, aside.
The Hibs connection almost produced a second goal for the Scots three minutes before the interval, McGinn spraying the ball wide right to Whittaker who delivered an inviting cross which found Fletcher diving across Agger to send in a header which Schmeichel did well to turn wide low at his left hand post.
Strachan, however, had made clear his feelings at his side’s tendency to surrender possession far too cheaply, kicking a water bottle in anger as Fletcher, having done all the hard work simply gave the ball away in attempting to find Griffiths.
Fletcher, who had missed the trip to Prague through illness, was replaced by Ikechi Anya, that night’s match-winner at the start of the second half while Charlie Mulgrew came on for Tierney.
Denmark replaced Schmeichel with Jonas Lossi and the substitute was immediately called into action, tipping over Maloney’s effort before Hanley brought off a terrific block to prevent Pierre Hojbjerg turning Jorgensen’s cross home.
Denmark had actually shaded possession in the first half and they continued to enjoy plenty of the ball, Delaney robbing Whittaker only for Spurs Eriksen, normally so lethal when presented with a clear sight of goal, to shoot wildly over.
With Hampden far from half-full, there was a muted atmosphere around the national stadium, the game competitive but not fiercely so as was only to be expected, particularly as the expected substitutions began to mount up.
McGinn hadn’t looked out of place and was clearly not overawed by the occasion, earning himself a word of warning from Norwegian whistler Moen for leaving Hojbjerg, of Bundesliga outfit Schalke 04 sitting on the seat of his pants twice in as many minutes.
But it took the brilliance of Gordon to keep the Scots level, the Celtic No.1 beating down a vicious shot from Eriksen but then getting to his feet to dumfound Braithwaite.
McGinn may have caught the attention of Moen, but the referee saw nothing wrong as the Hibs midfielder put in a crunching tackle on Eriksen, the ball running for Anya to hit the byline before cutting it back into the path of Ritchie who was left shaking his head in disbelief as Christensen threw himself into the path of his netbound shot.
Scotland substitute Liam Bridcutt was left thanking his lucky stars it was a friendly, Moen opting for the easy option of a yellow card when the midfielder, on loan from Sunderland to Leeds United, launched himself at Erik Sviatchenko, to leave the Celtic defender in a crumpled heap.
Strachan’s side almost grabbed a match-clinching second at the death, Oliver Burke’s low cross squirming under the body of Lossi with a desperate clearance crashing off Chris Martin and spinning inches wide.
Scotland (4-4-1-1): Gordon; Whittaker, Greer, Hanley, Tierney (Mulgrew 46); Ritchie (Burke 82), Brown, McGinn, Maloney (Bridcutt 68); S Fletcher (Anya 46); Griffiths (C Martin 59).
Substitutes not used: Bain, Caddis, Forrest, Cooper, Murphy.
Denmark (4-3-1-2): Schmeichel; Dalsgaard, Kjaer, Agger (Sviatchenko 64), Durmisi; Christensen, Hojbjerg, Delaney; Eriksen (Schone 80); Jorgensen, Poulsen (Braithwaite 46).
Substitutes not used: Lindegaard, Lossi, Wass, Kvist, Thomsen. Vestergaard, Okore, Knudsen, Vibe.
Referee: S Moen (Norway).