With a seeded position in 2022 World Cup qualifying now confirmed huge credit can be given to the Scotland players and management for their colossal improvement over the last couple of years.
But as ever in football it can be the finest of margins that ultimately make a difference and sperate success from failure – here are three we thought were crucial in the qualifying campaign:
Ryan Fraser’s leveller in Israel
In the second game of the campaign Scotland travelled to face common foes Israel just three days after drawing 2-2 with Austria at an empty Hampden Park.
Spirits weren’t deflated but more so underwhelmed – The Tartan Army were split as to whether the opening result was positive or if it was two points dropped, but when Scotland fell behind in Tel Aviv just about everyone’s hopes seemed to disappear.
Had Ryan Fraser not levelled the scores just after half-time the situation would’ve been an uphill climb to say the least. If Israel had held on they would have found themselves in that driving seat for second, which whilst wouldn’t have been out of reach to catch by any means, would have no doubt had a huge morale impact on the Scotland squad.
He might not be in the best books of manager Steve Clarke as of now – but Ryan Fraser’s equaliser in Israel was crucial to prevent a disastrous start to the group.
Dykes’ Vienna spot-kick
The hard-fought victory in Austria’s Olympic Stadium could be seen as the turning point of the campaign.
A brief post-Euro hangover saw Scotland’s return to World Cup qualifying begin with a 2-0 defeat in Denmark, who whilst everyone knows the quality of now, had still somewhat flown under the radar leaving some Scots fan upset with the result.
A Lyndon Dykes goal against the Moldovans three days later did mean Steve Clarke’s side bounced back with a win – but an overhanging shadow of a slim scoreline against a much smaller nation meant confidence hadn’t exactly flown back to a support who hadn’t seen a competitive win in six months.
But the most important game of that break’s trio was always going to be the finale – Scotland travelled to Austria to face a side just one point behind in the table, and looking to bounce back after a 5-2 hammering in Israel the game previous.
Aussie-born striker Dykes scored a deciding penalty on the night in what could be described as a tight affair to say the least. His second in two games, and arguably the most important goal so far of his Scotland career. With a victory, Steve Clarke’s side moved into second as a result, and would ultimately never drop back down again.
Pandemonium at Hampden
It was never going to be anything else was it? Scott McTominay’s 94th minute winner at Hampden is no doubt the most important moment of not just this qualifying campaign – but possibly alongside Serbia as one of the most in recent Scottish history. Opening up a four-point gap with Israel with only three group games to play all but secured a spot in the all-important playoffs, and it possibly couldn’t have come in much more dramatic fashion either.
Scotland has fell behind twice on the day – with goals from Eran Zahavi and Munas Dabbur being cancelled out by John McGinn and Lyndon Dykes respectively.
An xG score of 3.53-1.14 shows just how many chances were created – so as the clock ran down it felt just like one of the typically Scottish performances that’ve been seen all too many times before.
But up stepped Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay in the dying seconds, bundling in a John McGinn corner that had been redirected by Jack Hendry toward the back post. ‘McSauce’s first Scotland goal was far from a traditionally finished, but not that it mattered, his goal will no doubt be watched back for many years to come.