On a night when the Mayor of Norwich became the King of Norway, when a Queens Park Rangers man outshone the greatest striker on the planet, Scotland took a mighty leap towards the Euros in Germany next summer.
A Burglars XI couldn’t have pulled off a smash-and-grab to rival Scotland’s caper in Oslo. Lyndon Dykes’ late equaliser set the alarm bells ringing in the Norway camp and, before they knew what was happening, Kenny McLean scored the winner and scarpered. It was stunning and seismic stuff.
Until that dramatic endgame, it looked like Erling Haaland’s night again. He left the pitch in the 84th minute having put his country 1-0 ahead from the penalty spot. Boy, did he look happy.
Home again and scoring again. It wouldn’t have been a surprise had somebody stuck a giant Cuban cigar in his beak and a glass of something sparkling in his hand and told him it was time to start partying again.
After touching the ball eight times in the first half – the fewest touches of anybody on the pitch bar the referee – Haaland suckered Ryan Porteous and put Norway in front from the spot, his 22nd goal in 24 games for his country, his 59th goal since June last year, his 209th goal from 257 games for his clubs and his country. The guy is 22 years old.
He’d been nowhere near his lethal best, but his threat was growing just before the penalty. And Norway celebrated like they’d already won the match.
When Haaland was taken off with six minutes to go, the Norwegians on the bench high-fived him like the hard work had been done, as if what was left of Scotland’s stuffing had been knocked out of them. They could see no response from the visitors, no threat, no hope of a comeback.
They wouldn’t have been the only ones. A goal down and McLean, a defensive midfielder, coming on instead of the attacking Lewis Ferguson? Lawrence Shankland or Kevin Nisbet not appearing for the toiling Dykes?
Across Scotland, tens of thousands of armchair managers would have screamed their tactical wizardry at Steve Clarke. Turns out that the head coach knew better than the rest of us. Fancy that.
Minutes after an epic finale, McLean struggled to explain the madness that had unfolded, the two minutes 45 seconds between Haaland’s triumphant exit and Dykes’ battling equaliser and the one minute 44 seconds between the equaliser and his outstanding winner.
Defeat turned into victory in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.
“It’s hard to put into words,” McLean said with a look of happy befuddlement. Just after he spoke, Martin Odegaard appeared in front of the cameras. The Norway captain repeated McLean’s opening remark verbatim. “It’s hard to put into words.”
And it was and is and probably always will be. Everybody looked stunned, Scots and Norwegians alike. McLean was hugged by each team-mate in turn, the gist of the reaction being something akin to: “What just happened?”
Did Scotland gain some sort of psychological lift when they saw Haaland departing? Did the Norwegians collapse when Dykes made it 1-1? They looked for the big man, but the big man wasn’t there anymore.
The only giant left on the field was the Tattooed Tank rather than the Norse God. It was Dykes’ subtle lay-off to McLean for that gobsmacking winner.
When these games are over, give Dykes a large Cohiba. Damn it, give him a box of El Gigantes. The proper stuff. Put him on a private jet to Ibiza.
Stick him behind the decks and let him party like he’s Haaland. In a handful of minutes, with his goal and his assist, he stole Haaland’s thunder in his own backyard. Nobody saw that one coming.
It was a victory that defied logic because Scotland were way below par for much of it. When Dykes scored, the sense of relief at salvaging a hugely valuable point at the death was seismic.
We got ready to hail Scotland’s character, their never-say-die spirit. How admirable it was to dig out a point when failing to deliver anything like your best stuff. Sign of a good team, that.
When McLean made it 2-1, there was a surreal air. They’ve scored again! They’re ahead! They’ve won! Now the praise turned into superlatives. This was a match played in searing heat, away from home, against an opponent that was better than them for 86 minutes.
McLean had scored one goal all season, away to Rotherham United in November. The only time he’d scored for his country was against San Marino more than four years ago. It would have only been marginally more surprising had it been goalkeeper Angus Gunn who materialised up front and curled in the most perfect finish.
McLean’s goal, though, could prove to be deeply significant. Clarke was fantastically deadpan when asked about the overall significance of the win, but Scotland are still sitting on top of the group with a handsome nine points, seven goals scored with only one conceded, which was that Haaland penalty that we all thought was going to be centre-piece of the post-mortem.
Was it harsh or not? Was Ryan Porteous daft or unlucky? It doesn’t matter now. Scotland can leave that stuff behind in their slipstream as they motor back to Glasgow and a game with the Georgians on Tuesday night.
It cannot come quickly enough now. Scotland beat Cyprus in their first game, as you expected them to do. They thoroughly outplayed Spain, which was a surprise. But Oslo? That was a sensation, nothing less.
An act of escapology that made you rub your eyes in wonder, a footballing marvel that had the Tartan Army floating on air despite the gallons of beer in their bellies.
They will have enjoyed their night in Oslo. You really get the sense now that there’s plenty more of these nights to come and that some of them will be most likely happening at the Euro 2024 finals in Germany next summer.
The masses may not be at the booking-the-flights stage just yet, but they’re close. Routes are being examined, options explored. Bank balances might be creaking before long.