Scotland salvaged some pride from this week with a 6-0 win over San Marino at Hampden.
McGinn’s first-half treble
A first-half John McGinn hat-trick and further strikes from Lawrence Shankland, Stuart Findlay and Stuart Armstrong gave the Scots an emphatic win tonight.
After Thursday’s demoralising 4-0 defeat to Russia in Moscow, the three points were never in doubt from the kick-off, with Scotland forcing a series of corners and good saves from Aldo Junior Simoncini before McGinn provided a final flick on Ryan Christie’s 12th minute shot to open the scoring.
McGinn doubled the lead on 27 minutes after good work from the impressive Scott McTominay and a weak parry from Simoncini teed up the midfielder. The hat-trick came on the stroke of half-time when Findlay met a corner with his head for McGinn to turn and finish at the near post.
Lashing rain can’t stop Scots scoring
Up against officially the worst side in the world, the win was surely assured, but the Glasgow weather began to give cause for concern.
Relentless rain made the playing surface increasingly precarious, leading to fears that the match might be abandoned. Referee Jerome Brisard appeared unconcerned, however, with Scotland continuing to dominate.
McTominay’s superb curler in the 65th minute crashed off the crossbar, allowing Shankland a rebound tap in for his first international goal, which was followed two minutes later by another first Scotland goal for debutant Findlay.
The Kilmarnock’s defender’s obvious delight at his headed finish from a corner was perhaps the brightest moment of a challenging week for the national side. A brilliant free-kick from Armstrong four minutes from time capped off the scoring.
So a decent, or at the very least acceptable end to the week from Scotland. Failure to beat San Marino would have been a disaster, and they will receive little to no credit for putting six past such an abject international side.
However, Scotland had a job to do tonight, and they accomplished it with ease. Scotland fans will no doubt take any positives on offer at this point.
Takeaways from the match
Hugely important dead rubbers to come
While Scotland were technically eliminated from contention for automatic qualification for Euro 2020 in Moscow, this did not relegate tonight’s game and upcoming fixtures against Cyprus and Kazakhstan to dead rubbers.
March’s play-offs, courtesy of Nations League victory, saw to that. Scotland desperately need confidence and momentum. With the first of three winnable fixtures in the bag, Steve Clarke will surely see the next two games as an opportunity to build a team to go into the play-offs with a degree of positivity.
Four points or more in November could see the Scots going into two vital knock-out games with their tails up, and high hopes of qualifying. With places in a major tournament potentially offer in March, don’t expect too many withdrawals from next month’s squad. These games are anything but meaningless.
Can Clarke mould talent into a team?
This could be a decent Scotland team. Despite obvious deficiencies in certain key areas - centre-back and striker being the most obvious - there is genuine talent in this side.
McGregor and Christie go from strength to strength, while McTominay and McGinn have impressed hugely for their clubs this term. Ryan Fraser will surely have a host of top half EPL clubs vying for his signature soon, while a place will surely be found in the defence for a fully fit Kieran Tierney. Andy Robertson is world-class.
When last did Scotland boast players from Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa, as well as three or four players from the SPFL champions? This is all only on paper though.
Too often recently the midfield has been timid and ineffective, the defence playing like they’ve never met before. Steve Clarke still has a massive job on his hands.
One thing he will almost certainly have in his favour though is time. Even if the play-offs don’t bring qualification, Clarke will surely be given at least one more tournament to prove his worth. Whether he can succeed where so many other have failed is another matter, but the basis of a decent team is surely there.