Even an ill-fated Faroe Islands team’s upcoming visit to Hampden Park shouldn’t bring much comfort to Steve Clarke. Two points in as many games to open the World Cup qualifier means Scotland are already in the kind of awkward position that has fatally undermined the campaigns of the recent past.
In Israel, a slow first half undermined a quest for valuable three points. Clarke hoped for – and most likely needed – more.
The Scottish manager admitted the ‘disappointment’ was his post-match emotion. “We didn’t start the game well,” said Clarke. “As always, this group showed good character. They had a very good second half and with a bit of luck they could have come away with more. That’s what it is, we take the point and move on.
Three close games between these teams in just 2020 meant the potential for surprise elements seemed far away. Scotland, however, gave Southampton striker Che Adams a first start. The fact that Clarke could convince Adams to pledge allegiance to the Scots – he qualifies through a grandparent – was seen as a coup. Scotland have not enjoyed the services of a prolific striker in decades, perhaps making the competing international struggles a coincidence. In theory, Adams is a significant upgrade from those already available to Clarke.
The progress towards the European Championships this summer has boosted the morale of a footballing nation. It seems reasonable to infer that this feat played a role in Adams, a former youth international with England, being so receptive to Clarke’s advances.
Israel’s 2-0 loss to Denmark to open Group F meant the hosts’ enthusiastic opening was understandable. Perhaps the appearance of 5,000 spectators in Tel Aviv gave new impetus to Israel’s competitive spirit. Scotland spent the first half hour defensive, in a manner reminiscent of the 2-2 draw with Austria on Thursday.
Manor Solomon should have done better when he was allowed to see David Marshall’s goal clearly, with the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder shooting widely. In response, Scott McTominay missed the mark after meeting a corner from Andy Robertson.
Solomon’s next attempt, after a disturbing separation from the Scottish defense after 24 minutes, saw Marshall perform a reaction stoppage. In Scotland’s best offensive shot of the first half, 10 minutes later, Ryan Fraser struck a pass as Adams charged on goal.
Israel was soon more ruthless, though Marshall will think he should have saved Dor Peretz’s strike from 25 yards. Peretz had too much space and time to align his efforts; a level of generosity which rather summed up the first Scottish period. Marshall was now at least partly guilty of conceding two goals in as many international games.
Recognition for the Scots’ dismal first 45 minutes was delivered by Clarke. Ryan Christie’s introduction for Jack Hendry means the system has gone from 3-4-3 to 4-2-3-1. Kieran Tierney has now found himself in the unusual position of left center-half in a back four.
The change quickly paid off. Adams showed rhythm and power on the counterattack before playing the ball into the field to Fraser. The Newcastle man stabilized before slamming past Ofir Marciano from 18 meters. Adams pricked Marciano’s palms as Scotland approved of his newfound confidence. Tierney was next to test the goalkeeper, this time with a fierce long-range attempt.
The fact that a draw wasn’t particularly helpful to either team, even at such an early stage in qualifying, made for an entertaining finish to the game.
McTominay lacked conviction with a shot that was easily blocked as Scotland pushed on again. Peretz received a reservation after his desperation to secure victory for Israel manifested in a dive, as Robertson disputed. At the end of Israel’s more endearing attack phase, Stephen O’Donnell cleverly blocked Solomon.
Robertson dismissed Scotland’s best hope of securing victory during the stoppage time. Clarke and his men can reach Qatar from here, but their path was quickly filled with obstacles. “Let’s see what happens later in the group,” said Clarke, still stoic. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.” The words more or less masked his frustration.