Scotland ended an otherwise dismal World Cup qualification campaign on a high note with a comfortable 2-0 win over group runners-up Croatia.
With Croatia assured of their play-off place, Igor Stimac’s side arrived in Glasgow to partake in what he described as a “training session”. The lack of impetuous was telling as goals from Robert Snodgrass and Steven Naismith made sure Gordon Strachan’s team avoided the unwanted record of becoming the first Scotland side to go an entire qualification campaign without a home win.
The result means Scotland also avoid finishing at the foot of Group A, giving the Tartan Army hope ahead of the upcoming qualification campaign for the 2016 European Championships. Croatia will now wait in anticipation of the play-off draw, with just two games standing between them and the World Cup finals.
Croatia looked more comfortable on the ball in the early stages of the contest, but struggled to create any genuine goalscoring opportunities, with Mario Mandzukic proving wasteful in the box.
Scotland grew into the game and took the lead after minutes when Snodgrass rose highest from Mulgrew’s lofted cross into the box, heading past Stipe Pletikosa from close range.
And the Norwich City attacker came close to doubling his side’s lead just minutes later, with the Croatia keeper tipping Snodgrass’s low drive across goal onto the woodwork after neat exchange play with Scott Brown.
Scotland doubled their lead with just less than 20 minutes remaining, winning a penalty after Domagoj Vida brought down Ikechi Anya in the box. Pletikosa saved Barry Bannan’s initial penalty kick but Naismith powered into the net from the rebound.
Nikica Jelavic, returning to Glasgow for the first time since leaving Rangers two years ago, was introduced as a final throw of the dice by Stimac but the Everton striker failed to make an impact as Scotland saw out an impressive victory.
22’ CHANCE – Grant Hanley flicked a header over the top of his own defence, gifting an unmarked Mario Mandzukic the ball at the back post. However, the Bayern Munich striker couldn’t round Allan McGregor.
27’ GOAL – Robert Snodgrass rose highest from Charlie Mulgrew’s cross into the six-yard box to head home the opener for Scotland.
30’ WOODWORK – Snodgrass came close to doubling Scotland’s lead after breaking through the Croatia backline, but his shot was tipped on to the post by Stipe Pletikosa.
39’ CHANCE – Mandzukic was presented with another good opportunity but this time volleyed into the turf and over the bar.
66’ BIG MISS – Substitute Eduardo latched on to Krancjar’s through ball before rounding McGregor in the Scotland. However, the Arsenal forward couldn’t squeeze his shot on target from a tight angle, finding the side netting.
73’ GOAL – Scotland were awarded a penalty when Ikechi Anya was fouled in the box by Domagoj Vida, only for Pletikosa to save Barry Bannan’s effort from the spot. But Steven Naismith smashed home the rebound.
Gordon Strachan’s side avoided becoming the first Scotland side since 1953 to go an entire qualification campaign without recording a home win.
Victory over Belgium gave Scotland their first competitive win at Hampden Park in over two years (the last win came against Liechtenstein in October 2011).
If Croatia progress past the playoffs they will have qualified for four of the last five World Cup finals.
TALKING POINT – Are Croatia in crisis under Igor Stimac?
Scotland inflicted Croatia’s first home competitive defeat in five years when the two sides met in June. That defeat marked the start of a slump for Igor Stimac’s team, with further defeats to Belgium and Scotland destroyed any chance of Croatia finishing top of the group. Players fought amongst themselves when Scotland scored their second goal tonight and Stimac offered his resignation at full-time.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ikechi Anya (Scotland): The Watford winger provided Scotland with pace on the flanks, giving his side a constant outlet on the break. The 25-year-old forced opposition defender Domagoj Vida into vulnerable positions, eventually winning a penalty from the full-back.
Scotland – McGregor 5, Hutton 6, Martin 6, Hanley 7, Mulgrew 7, Bannan 7, Brown 8, Morrison 6, Anya 9, Snodgrass 9, Naismith 8.
Croatia – Pletikosa 7, Strinic 5, Corluka 5, Lovren 6, Vida 4, Srna 7, Modric 4, Vukojevic 5, Krancjar 7, Kalinic 5, Mandzukic.