Gordon Strachan expressed his satisfaction at Scotland retaining control of their World Cup qualification prospects after a 2-0 win over Malta at Hampden.
Goals from Christophe Berra and Leigh Griffiths earned the victory which allowed the Scots to close within a point of second-placed Slovakia in Group F. If Strachan’s men can win their remaining two fixtures – at home to the Slovaks on October 5 and away to Slovenia three days later – they can anticipate securing a slot in the play-offs to reach next year’s finals in Russia.
Scotland actually dropped to fourth place in the group on the night, overtaken on goal difference by Slovenia who defeated Lithuania 4-0, but the equation required for qualification remains the same. The critical result from a Scottish perspective was likely group winners England coming from behind to beat Slovakia 2-1 at Wembley.
“I’m alright with that,” said Strachan. “When you get to the stage when you your fate is in your own hands in a tournament that’s all you can ask. You can look back and say we could have done better there, there and there but we have tried to make up for bad performances or low-key performances by doing the best we can.”
There was a sour note on a positive evening for Scotland as captain Scott Brown accused Malta’s Steve Borg of spitting on him during the match. The Celtic midfielder was incensed.
“He did spit on me, he is a horrible b*****d,” said Brown, who avoided retaliation which could have earned him a booking and a suspension.
“He put his hand up to apologise but I managed to keep my head. The main thing was getting the three points. It was about the team, not about one person or bookings or anything like that.”
Strachan was simply gratified by a hugely encouraging international double header which saw his players follow up Friday night’s 3-0 win in Lithuania.
Berra eased any early nerves for the Scots when he headed home his fourth goal for his country after just nine minutes from a Griffiths corner, before the points were secured four minutes into the second half when the Celtic striker netted from close range.
Strachan added: “Twenty five attempts at goal tonight says it all, 48 for the last two games. That’s good enough to win games of football, if you make that amount of chances. You don’t make that amount of chances all the time at international level. The work they put in, the running off the ball, the bravery. We could have scored more goals tonight but were maybe a wee bit tired after Friday.
“That was more than enough tonight. It got to the point where the boys just wanted to kill the game off and make sure we kept the ball.
“When we kept the ball better in the last 10 minutes, we made another couple of chances. So it’s been a good eight days for the players.
“We have to keep an eye on the players for the next four or five weeks, make sure they are all on top form. By the time it comes round again, there might be other guys ready to go or some guys injured. That’s what we will be doing for the next month.”
Malta head coach Pietro Ghedin was satisfied with his team’s efforts but had no complaints about the outcome against opponents he fully expects to go on and claim second place in the group.
“Scotland played really well,” said Ghedin. “They pushed for the whole 90 minutes. But I’m very happy with our performance. The commitment of our players was beautiful. We tried to get something more but it was difficult.
“Scotland can achieve second place. If they play like this, I think they can become runners-up in the group. They probably deserved to score at least one more goal. For me, their first goal was maybe a foul by the player (Berra) who scored with a header but Scotland deserved the result.”