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Scotland take positives from a night to forget



Hampden’s most memorable tournament send-off has not changed. It remains Ally MacLeod’s capers in 1978, with the open top bus, the manager walking through a guard of honour, girls waving pom-poms and 25,000 fans turning up to watch all of that rather than an actual match. Scotland sharing four goals with Finland nearly half a century later has no prospect of being remembered with the same fascination.

A send-off it was, though, the final warm-up game before Scotland head to Euro 2024 on Sunday. “We’re the famous Tartan Army and we’re going to Germany” sang a crowd of over 40,000, repeatedly. The performance had energy and moments of quality, and fears of where the goals will come from were eased a little when Andy Robertson forced Benjamin Kallman into an own goal and then Lawrence Shankland buried a finish he and almost everyone in the stadium enjoyed. Tommy Conway had a lively late cameo on his debut too.

There were defensive lapses, though, which allowed Finland to recover from two down, but crucially no injuries. Robertson momentarily held his shin after an early tackle by Ilmari Niskanen and Anthony Ralston looked in pain when he landed heavily trying to attack a cross in a Scotland attack and got back up holding his hip. But both recovered. The only mild concern was Scott McTominay not coming off the bench.

The team which started looked like it might have nine of the side which will line up against the Germans. Add McTominay — hopefully — for Ryan Christie, and Che Adams for Lawrence Shankland – maybe — and it was as strong as Clarke has available to him now. Ralston at right wingback suggested that he will be preferred to Ross McCrorie. The defence which will be asked to cope in Munich needed some game time together for the first time, and this looked to be it.

Grant Hanley, winning his 50th cap, lost the flight of a through ball from Robin Lod and Teemu Pukki, once of Celtic, stole in to loft a shot over the bar. Jack Hendry was careless with a header which Pukki picked up too. When Finland broke up one attack they flooded forward, overloading Scotland three-on-two. Angus Gunn was grateful that Casper Terho struck a watery shot, easily saved. Earlier Kieran Tierney did well to block a Terho shot before Pukki headed into Gunn’s hands.

When Finland mounted these attacks they had more space than they allowed Scotland at the other end. Some of the possession was crisp and impressive from Scotland, with tight, one-touch passing and nice patterns among the midfielders. Robertson flung over some inviting crosses from the left, as always. There was much more energy than there had been in the sterile, near-empty Estadio Algarve against Gibraltar on Monday.

Clearly it was a far stronger team, too, with the additional charge from a large Hampden crowd. There was finally a threat after 15 minutes when John McGinn chipped one over the top from a Christie pass. Shankland was desperate for a goal, desperate to impress, but had to wait for the impact he wanted. From just outside the box he jabbed a shot over the top. One neat move had John McGinn and Christie connecting and releasing a through ball for Billy Gilmour. Defender Arttu Hoskonen got there first but almost knocked the ball beyond his own goalkeeper.

There was no panic, no alarm, but Hampden did grow restless. There were loud groans when Gilmour passed instead of shooting at the edge of the box, where so many of Scotland’s goals came from last year, after strong play from McGinn. Christie did at least force a save from one Finnish goalkeeper, Jesse Joronen, before Gilmour brought one from another, Viljami Sinisalo, who had replaced him at half-time. Scotland took their strongest grip of the game at the start of the second half and it soon yielded a couple of goals.

If the opening goalscorer was unusual – Finland’s Hoskonen – its genesis was entirely familiar. Tierney played a pass for Robertson and from his low, driven cross Hoskonen stuck out a leg which deflected the ball past the helpless Sinisalo. The second, four minutes later, came via the captain again. Ralston had recovered from his injury scare and did well to keep the ball in play down the right and fling over a cross which Finland headed clear but only to Robertson. His delivery was perfect for Shankland to run in and convert a close range header after doing well to hold off Nilo Maenpaa.

A weight lifted. When Shankland went off minutes later there was a warm ovation and he applauded back to all the stands. On came Bristol City’s Tommy Conway for his debut. The start of one Scotland career was soon followed by the end of another one. On came Craig Gordon for Angus Gunn, the 41-year-old earning a symbolic 75th cap but, it is assumed, his last. What an ovation he got from fans who chanted his name. They cheered when he quickly made a sharp reaction save to deny Kallman at the near post. Oliver Antman threw in a cross and Scotland’s defence completely lost Kallman, who headed their goal.

Gordon’s night was eventful. He came to punch a Finnish through ball but cleaned out Tomas Galvez too, enough for the Polish referee to award a penalty. VAR upheld that and Antman took the penalty, sitting Gordon down to score. Gordon got booked too.

Another notable introduction was Lewis Morgan, the New York Red Bulls winger who snuck into the squad at the eleventh hour. Conway almost snatched the headlines with a late winner but Sinisalo got to his header. On this evidence, his time will come, soon.

Clarke has ‘tough conversation’ with Souttar and Gordon

The Scotland manager, Steve Clarke, revealed his talks with Craig Gordon and John Souttar became emotional as he told the pair they had been cut from the squad which will go to Euro 2024 (writes Michael Grant).

Gordon was given a 75th cap in the 2-2 draw with Finland and the 41-year-old — Scotland’s sixth most-capped player — received a loud ovation at Hampden. But he had already been given the devastating news that Clarke had decided to go to Germany with three goalkeepers — Angus Gunn, Zander Clark and Liam Kelly — rather than four. The Rangers defender Souttar, 27, was the other player to be sacrificed as the provisional squad of 28 was reduced to the 26 names submitted to Uefa by the 11pm Friday deadline.

“It was a tough conversation with Craig, emotional to be honest,” Clarke said. “But it’s a mark of the man that he’s here tonight. I would have understood if he didn’t want to but I wanted to give him the 75th cap. Within one hour of telling him the news he was down having dinner with the lads, in the meetings.

“At the end of the game we gave him a little award signed by all the lads, with ‘75’ on the back of his jersey. I said I know Craig will throw this back in my face and say that 76, 77, 78, 79, 80 are coming.

“With John, again, it was emotional. It’s really difficult to imagine how difficult it is to sit down with people who have given their best, always, and tell them that they’ve just missed out. The conversations were face to face this time. I got the chance to look the boys in the eye, they could look me in the eye. They understand how difficult it is for me and I understand how difficult it is for them.

“I think the team is in a good place. We know what we have within our group. We know in the build-up games we had difficult friendlies, we picked them so they understand how good they have to be in this tournament. We’ll have a day off [on Saturday] and prepare for Germany.” The squad flies out on Sunday afternoon to its tournament base at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, south of Munich.

Andy Robertson broke a 67-year record by playing as Scotland captain for the 49th time, putting him one ahead of Rangers legend George Young. Robertson first had the armband at home to Belgium in 2018.

“We have all come through it,” said the Liverpool left wingback after his two assists for the Scotland goals. “You have something so big so close now and you have to play a game to prepare it. I think the lads were really good, all things considered. We go onto that plane on Sunday full of dreams and let’s go for it. There is a lot of emotion. We are going there to achieve our lifelong dreams. It feels so long we have been talking about it, now it’s on the horizon. We can look forward to it, our families can look forward to it and The Tartan Army can look forward to it.”

The debutant Tommy Conway joked that it was easy to dismiss his missed late chance because he was saving his goals for Germany. “It’s surreal, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I know my grandad [Conway qualifies for Scotland through his bloodline] will be looking down proud. My family are here as well, so it is a really proud day. I did think it was in for a split second. Scott McTominay was asking me why I hadn’t scored but I said I’m saving them for next week. I’ll be ready when called upon. To be going there is a big honour and when I get the opportunity I’m going to take it with both hands.”

Scotland (3-4-2-1): A Gunn 6 (C Gordon 69 5) – J Hendry 5, G Hanley 6 (S McKenna 79), K Tierney 7 – A Ralston 7, B Gilmour 8 (R Jack 69 5), C McGregor 7, A Robertson 8 (G Taylor 63 5) – J McGinn 8, R Christie 6 (L Morgan 79) – L Shankland 7 (T Conway 63). Booked Gordon.
Finland (4-4-2): J Joronen 6 (V Sinisalo 46 7) — I Niskanen 6, A Hoskonen 6, L Vaisanen 6, T Ollila 6 (T Galvez 68 5) — C Terho 6 (J Talvitie 68), R Lod 7, M Peltola 6, N Maenpaa 6 (L Walta 80) — J Pohjanpalo 5 (B Kallman 68 6), T Pukki 6 (O Antman 57 6). Booked Maenpaa.
Referee L Kuzma (Poland). Attendance 40, 159.

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