Exhausted Scotland battles Ukraine for promotion to the Nations League

The nature of the cruelty towards Scottish fans showed how far their team has come. With a point needed from that game to seal promotion from Nations League B, overtake England and jump into pot two for the forthcoming Euro 2024 draw, Steve Clarke’s makeshift team retired in a way that deserves the highest praise.

Not so long ago, the Army of Tartans constantly watched the equivalent of a lost cause in international football. In Clarke, Scottish Football Association have landed on a manager who has raised standards and goals.

Yes Scotland have ridden their luck and yes Ukraine will have plenty of reason to claim they deserved a win but luck favored the brave. These are exciting times for Scottish fans; which they appreciate when the shattered nerves have subsided. Even Clarke, normally so stoic, was absorbed in the post-game celebrations.

“It was a big night, we wanted to win that segment,” Clarke said. “These players really want to do good for their country. I asked the players to take the next step to show that we’re improving. We don’t want to stop. We always want to get better.”

Ukraine coach Oleksandr Petrakov refused to discuss his future after the game as his contract is now close to expiring. Petrakov was excited throughout the post-game media work. That felt bad.

The third meeting of Ukraine and Scotland since June had a different background than before. Gone was the vociferous home support Scotland had enjoyed in consecutive games at Hampden Park. An estimated 150,000 Ukrainian refugees live in Kraków; They performed with great voice and color in support of a team that has made their country proud since the Russian invasion. Fans of both nations met in the city on Tuesday afternoon, made contacts and showed what football can do well in difficult times. Oleksandr Usyk was pictured here in the stands.

Scotland’s build-up had been marred by injuries, suspensions and a virus. With precious few alternatives, Hibernian manager Ryan Porteous made his debut as a centre-back. Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean, who have recently been marginalized on the Scottish scene, joined Callum McGregor in a three-man midfield.

The Scots opened positively. Only a superb save from Andriy Lunin prevented them from taking the lead within two minutes after John McGinn found Che Adams with a nice lay-off.

Ukraine responded with Mykhalio Mudryk, whose cross found Andriy Yarmolenko unmarked. The West Ham ex-man fired a volley wildly over Craig Gordon’s bar. Continue to play. Artem Dovbyk was the next to threaten Gordon. The keeper stood his ground and even saved the striker’s shot after a pass from Yarmolenko that split the defence.

Scotland briefly believed they were being presented with the ideal opportunity to provide a valuable lead. Tasos Sidiropoulos, the Greek referee, pointed to the spot, thinking Taras Stepanenko had blocked a cross. In fact, the ball hit Stepanenko in the head. The intervention of the VAR was correct.

Jack, not known for his ability in front of goal, made the move after Ukraine failed to clear a corner. Stepanenko headed wide of the goal from six yards out. The first half was played at a wonderful, dizzying pace. Scotland cared little for artistic merit; They reached the break halfway to the evening finish. Ukraine had been the better team but lacked ruthlessness.

A Scottish success in the first period was keeping Mudryk, one of the biggest rising talents in world football, relatively quiet. The Shakhtar Donestk man recalled his threat within three minutes of the restart.

Acrobatics by Gordon, up and to his left, kept the goal line clear. Mudryk’s battle with Aaron Hickey was a crucial and intriguing element of that game. It remains possible that the pair will soon be team-mates at Brentford.

Scotland didn’t create anything meaningful at all straight after the break. Could Clarke’s side really be denied a single goal in consecutive games by Ukraine?

Mudryk’s removal, 15 minutes from time, gave Scotland a temporary respite, but only that. Stepanenko slammed a shot wide of Gordon’s left post.

Porteous, who had a stellar debut, made a tackle in the final gap to thwart Illia Zabarnyi. From the second of two consecutive corners, Stepanenko loosened up his lines again. The longest of all evenings in Scotland duly ended with scenes of euphoria. A team has been restarted.

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