Malta 1-5 Scotland: Lucky, But Made Most of It

تم نشره في Mon 5 September / Sep 2016. 12:00 AM
  • Strachan praised his side for showing 'mental strength' to recover from Malta's equaliser - (BBC)

The ghosts of failures past must have been swirling around Gordon Strachan's ears at half-time in Malta on Sunday night.

Scotland's early lead had gone, the sides were level at 1-1 and the frailties at the heart of their defence were evident again. "It was a crisis," said the Scotland manager, earnestly.

Crisis was a strong word to use, but it was Strachan's word and it was a revealing one. It spoke not just to the predicament his team were in against a nation ranked 176th in the world but also to Scotland's previous opening days in major championship qualification.

The 0-0 draw against Lithuania that got the Euro 2000 campaign off to a grim start. The 2-2 draw against the Faroes in the first round of matches for Euro 2004. The 0-0 draw with Slovenia in week one of the qualifiers for World Cup 2006.

The loss to Macedonia on the first day of the campaign to make the World Cup in 2010. The draw with Lithuania that put Scotland on the back foot straight away in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. The draw with Serbia that did the same for World Cup 2014.

Scotland failed to qualify for all those tournaments, as if anybody needs reminding.

"Everybody was concerned," said Strachan, about half-time in Malta. "But we had a bunch of lads who could deal with the stress."

Scotland had enjoyed 72.5% possession in that opening half and their dominance of the ball wasn't reflected in a dominance on the scoreboard.

This is not unusual when teams play Malta, but it's still unsettling at the time. Lots of possession doesn't always mean lots of goals. Malta can be slapstick but, on their very best days, they can also be stuffy.

Strachan would have known that. Maybe that's where the mention of a "crisis" came from, a realisation that while the minnows don't win matches, they do have the capacity, from time to time, to frustrate.

In the qualifiers for Euro 2016, Italy had 71% possession (and a one-man advantage for 46 minutes) against Malta and yet only scored once against them. In the return match, they had 70% possession and again they broke down their opponents only once.

In the same group, Croatia had their issues with the Maltese. They, like Italy, had a one-man advantage, for 59 minutes, and enjoyed 70% of the ball but only scored twice, the second coming nine minutes from the end. In their second game with Malta, they had 64% possession and only won 1-0. Strachan had mentioned their stuffiness in the preamble. At half-time, that fear wouldn't have been far from his mind.

In fairness to them, Scotland picked up the banana skin and flung it out of their road. At 2-1, they had retaken control of the game, then they benefited from a horrific refereeing error that gave them a penalty they didn't deserve, a decision that also unjustly reduced Malta to 10 men with half-an-hour left.

In the Euro qualifiers, 10-man Malta managed to batten down the hatches against the 11 men of Italy and Croatia but they couldn't repeat the trick against Scotland. Strachan's team got seriously lucky with the penalty and the red card, but they made the most of it. Five goals is a hell of a return when so many would have settled for one, as long as it was decisive.