Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Antman completes Finland fightback as Scotland draw final Euro 2024 friendly

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The sharing of four goals preceded Doris Day blaring from the Tannoy at Hampden Park. What will be, will be.

Steve Clarke and Scotland must hope this flat ending to their Euro 2024 buildup counts for nothing. They need only glance towards Wembley for solace on that score.

The hosts were two goals to the good against Finland and apparently comfortable before defensive aberrations allowed the visitors a path back into the game. Substitutions, which disrupted Scotland’s flow, were the key explanation but this proved no rousing send-off. “It was a good exercise up until the head coach started to make changes for no apparent reason,” said Clarke.

The manager used his post-match media duties to confirm the veteran Craig Gordon and John Souttar are the final players cut from his Euro 2024 squad. Gordon was one of four goalkeepers initially named. Souttar, the Rangers centre-back, missed the end of the domestic season through injury. Clarke described conversations with both players as “emotional.”

Clarke stuck with his promise to name a team along familiar lines. Up to nine of the starters for this friendly could again be deployed from the outset against the three-time European champions, Germany. Jack Hendry, Grant Hanley and Kieran Tierney have looked Clarke’s preferred central defence for some time. Tierney demonstrated his worth with a fine block on a goalbound Casper Terho shot inside 10 minutes. Finland will watch the Euros from afar after Wales extinguished their hopes at the qualification phase. A Scotland run of one win in eight outings meant there was little chance of the opposition being taken for granted.

Scotland’s tournament buildup has been hectic. Aaron Hickey, Nathan Patterson, Lewis Ferguson, Jacob Brown and Lyndon Dykes had already been denied their place on Sunday’s flight to Germany before Ben Doak was deemed unable to travel. Yet – for now at least – the core of Clarke’s team remains intact. If Scotland can rely on Callum McGregor, Billy Gilmour, John McGinn and Scott McTominay swarming around midfield for the majority of three group games then they have cause for optimism.

Scotland’s play over the opening half hour was sharp and tidy. What it lacked was cutting edge. The fear of this becoming a Euro 2024 theme feels impossible to ignore. This is hardly the fault of Clarke; the Scots simply lack final third gamechangers. Terho should have punished this in the 35th minute, instead shooting tamely at Angus Gunn after Finland capitalised on sloppiness in the Scottish midfield. Clarke, who spent the entirety of Monday’s win over Gibraltar in the stand, was back in familiar domain patrolling the touchline.

Lawrence Shankland heads Scotland into a two-goal lead at Hampden Park. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images/Reuters

The impressive Gilmour stung the palms of Viljami Sinisalo, Finland’s substitute goalkeeper, within 120 seconds of the restart. The hosts soon appealed in vain for a penalty after Anthony Ralston was bundled over by Niilo Mäenpää. In a match of greater – or even some – significance, Scotland would have complained vociferously.

The most obvious route for a Scottish goal seemed via the left flank, where Tierney and Andy Robertson attacked from deep. Tierney duly fed his captain, with the Liverpool full-back’s low cross flicking off the boot of Arttu Hoskonen and over the stranded Sinisalo. Scotland’s level of tempo alone at the start of the second half meant that they were worthy of that lead.

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It was doubled in quick time. Ryan Christie is due credit for starting a move which saw the Bournemouth man play a crossfield pass to the marauding Ralston. Things looked to have petered out before the ball found Robertson. From his cross, Lawrence Shankland headed home from close range. The scale of celebration from Shankland’s teammates suggested they know the striker has been battling hard to make an impact at international level. Shankland’s goal was the cue for Clarke to understandably replace him with Bristol City’s Tommy Conway, who won his first full cap after receiving a late Euros call-up.

One of Clarke’s next substitutions brought the house down. Word had already emanated that Gordon would be among those to depart the squad pre-finals. He was introduced here to win his 75th cap and, at 41, possibly wave goodbye to the Tartan Army. Gordon’s debut came in 2004. “It is a mark of the man that he was here tonight,” said Clarke of Gordon.

As if to prove football can trample on fairytales, one of Gordon’s first acts was to pick the ball out of his net after Benjamin Källman connected with a terrific Oliver Antman cross. Gordon then conceded a penalty after trying to punch clear from Tomas Galvez. Antman calmly did the rest from 12 yards.

If Scotland are so generous from now on, they have no chance of creating history by emerging from Group A. Conway almost won the match in stoppage time, Sinisalo instead denying him in spectacular style. “I’m saving them for next week,” said Conway with a smile. Que Sera, Sera.

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