Match ends, Scotland 0(5), Israel 0(3).
Scotland are one game away from their first major finals since 1998 after a nerve-shredding win on penalties against Israel at Hampden.
Kenny McLean scored the pivotal spot-kick in the depleted Scots’ first ever shootout, with only a victory in Serbia on 12 November now separating Steve Clarke’s men from Euro 2020.
It was a turgid affair at an empty national stadium between two below-par teams, but five perfect penalties from the hosts have a nation daring to dream of reaching a long-awaited tournament.
Scotland, without a clutch of players after call-offs due to Covid-19 protocols and injury, are now on a six-game unbeaten run.
Serbia now lie in wait after they defeated Norway 2-1 in extra time in Oslo.
Hoping for the best, fearing the worst. The mantra of every Scotland fan following the match across the land. Was it now, or would it continue to be never?
As the Tartan Army dared to whisper of the former, the preamble silenced much of the chatter.
Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney, Ryan Christie, Scott McKenna, Liam Palmer, James Forrest and Oliver Burke all ruled out – the first three amid Covid controversy.
What followed in the fledgling moments of this encounter would have offered modest reassurance. While seeing plenty of the ball, Scotland struggled to serve the front two of Oli McBurnie and Lyndon Dykes.
Instead, the hosts’ best efforts came from set-pieces. Andy Robertson arced a free-kick wide in a half chance before Scott McTominay missed a jaw-dropping chance, steering a header wide from six yards when left all alone.
The noise of the Manchester United man – playing again in a back three – chastising himself for the miss walking off at the break the only thing cutting through the Hampden silence.
Scotland captain Robertson was four years old the last time the country graced a major tournament, and the pressure seemed to suffocate him and his team-mates.
While the back three looked steady, there was little intensity going forward, minimal width and nothing for Ofir Marciano to do in the Israel goal.
Instead, the side team ranked 93rd in the world were the ones to get the only shot of the 90 minutes on target, Eran Zahavi’s zinger from distance being dealt with by Marshall.
The game limped over the line into extra time – Scotland’s first added half hour since 1961 – with what was likely to have been a unified sigh of resignation across the country.
Substitute Ryan Fraser brought intent and conviction to the side, the Newcastle winger sparking flickers of intent, but again Marciano’s gloves remained immaculate. Twenty two years of hurt down, 15 minutes to play.
The agonising torture of Scotland’s first penalty shootout seemed inevitable, but Israel offered one huge heart-in-mouth moment.
Celtic’s Hatem Elhamed’s cross was missed by Liam Cooper. Lurking behind was Shon Weissman, but the Real Valladolid striker’s outstretched leg missed it too. The cracks in the fingers contracted tighter.
Then the nerves were shredded further. A last-gasp Robertson corner found the head of Cooper. His connection was true, but the ball crashed off an outright and out of play to signal penalties.
Scotland were now into uncharted waters. Nothing up until this point suggested how plain sailing it would be.
John McGinn, Callum McGregor, McTominay, Lawrence Shankland and McLean all scored, with Zehavi’s opening spot kick miss enough to trigger delirium on the pitch, at homes everywhere, and no doubt on streets outside of pubs that closed – or were supposed to, at least – halfway through extra time.
It’s safe to come out from the back of the sofa, but best keep the spot warm for next month.
Not as much what did we learn, but what were we reminded of? Watching Scotland should come with a health warning.
This is a national team that for so long has threatened to be consumed by the beast of a two-decade burden of of regret, angst and humiliation. While Israel didn’t threat for the most part, the group of players in dark blue struggled to find their rhythm.
But, it wouldn’t be Scotland unless it was done the hard way. While Clarke will say Slovakia and Czech Republic in the Nations League in coming days will get due respect, the focus internally will surely be on preparing for Serbia. With an influx of players returning, you just never know…
Scotland’s focus now falls to Sunday’s visit of Slovakia to Hampden in the Nations League, then the arrival of the Czechs on Wednesday. Honestly…
Match ends, Scotland 0(5), Israel 0(3).