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Scotland v Croatia – October 2013

Scotland v Croatia – October 2013

Scotland ended another unsuccessful qualification campaign with a tremendous victory over Croatia.

Robert Snodgrass, who became a father at the end of last week, celebrated in style with a headed opener, to add to his winner in Zagreb in June.

The tireless Steven Naismith grabbed the second on his 25th international appearance, following up as Barry Bannan’s penalty was saved.

Scotland’s first home win in Group A lifts them above Wales, into fourth.

Fifa 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group A

Played Won Points
Belgium 10 8 26
Croatia 10 5 17
Serbia 10 4 14
Scotland 10 3 11
Wales 10 3 10
Macedonia 10 2 7

The performance, above all, leaves Scotland with good reason for optimism as far as Euro 2016 qualification is concerned.

They have recorded three wins since Gordon Strachan took over from Craig Levein – two against Croatia and one in Macedonia.

But supporters leaving Hampden on Tuesday night may wonder what might have been had Strachan been in place from the beginning.

The Scots’ opening goal was a delicious blend of graft and craft – in many ways typifying Strachan’s Scotland.

Charlie Mulgrew did brilliantly to win possession on the half-way line before setting Naismith haring down the left.

Mulgrew continued his run, picked up on Naismith’s perfectly-weighted return pass to send a high, hanging cross to the back post where Snodgrass showed greater desire than Dejan Lovren to head down past Stipe Pletikosa.

Scotland’s half-time lead could have been greater, but for a fingertip save by Pletikosa from another Snodgrass effort minutes later.

It was the culmination of a wonderful, flowing move involving Mulgrew, James Morrison and Scott Brown as the Scots’ confidence flourished.

Scotland continued to cope fairly comfortably as Croatia probed for an equaliser, with a counter-attacking game suiting the home side.

But with the game still very much in the balance, Scotland were awarded a penalty as Ikechi Anya tumbled under the challenge of Domagoj Vida.

And though Pletikosa saved superbly from Bannan’s spot kick, Naismith reacted quickest to slot the rebound past the despairing keeper.

For all of Croatia’s ability on the ball, they failed to make Allan McGregor work to any great degree.

There was a moment of panic when substitute Eduardo rounded the Hull City goalkeeper, having escaped the attentions of Grant Hanley, but he was forced wide and managed only to shoot into the side-netting.

McGregor was similarly untroubled in the first half, with Mario Mandzukic passing up the visitors’ best opportunities.

He looked likely to score when he took advantage of a breakdown in communication between Hanley and Mulgrew, only for Anya to make a crucial intervention as Mandzukic prepared to shoot.

And when he did manage a shot at goal shortly afterwards, his volley bounced into the ground and up over the bar.

The Croatians flattered to deceive at times and if they are to reach the World Cup via the play-offs, their performance will have to significantly improve.

As for the Scots, they will be waiting impatiently for the next qualifying campaign to begin.

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