Not content to simply progress to the World Cup play-offs, Scotland decided they may as well secure a home semi-final by virtue of seeding.
This victory over a previously imperious Denmark team on a special evening on Glasgow’s south side proved the fitting conclusion to a successful campaign for Steve Clarke and his team. Scotland have won six competitive games in a row for the first time since 1930. Their only frustration is associated with the wait until March for the first of two games Clarke hopes will return this international side to a World Cup after a wait stretching back to 1998.
On this evidence, Scotland have nothing to fear. They rattled, harassed and outplayed Denmark. “Everything came together,” said Clarke. “We were always on the front foot. It was a really good night for us.
“When I came into this job there was a lot of negativity around. Now there’s a lot of positivity and the players love it. The players like to be loved and they feel the love of the crowd which is great.” Clarke’s team closed just four points behind the Danes in Group F. Seeding will render what comes next slightly easier, with Hampden Park in this raucous form quite the backdrop.
The switch in public attitudes towards the Scotland team was demonstrated by the scarcity of available tickets for this encounter. Under Clarke, the upwardly mobile Scots have broken the mould of failed campaign after failed campaign. Following this team has become fashionable once more.
It was typical of the manager’s approach that this fixture was deemed significant despite the play-off berth being secured days earlier in Moldova. Understandable Clarke focus also fell on officialdom. Five of the starting XI here – Stephen O’Donnell, Billy Gilmour, John McGinn, Che Adams and Andy Robertson – would be suspended for the play-off semi final if collecting a yellow card. No Scotland players were booked as the Danes were swatted aside.
Denmark’s direct progress to Qatar was sealed long ago. They arrived in Glasgow seeking to complete the perfect 10 out of 10 qualifying wins. In the midst of their run was a comprehensive dismissal of Scotland in Copenhagen. After a bright Scottish start, the visitors served notice of their intentions via Daniel Wass. The Valencia midfielder, arriving late in the penalty area, bundled narrowly wide from Rasmus Kristensen’s cross.
Scotland remained hugely competitive. Midway through the opening half, in concluding a sweeping move kept alive by the tenacity of Ryan Christie, Adams forced Kasper Schmeichel to a terrific save with an outstretched foot. The majority of Hampden was already on its feet to acclaim the opening goal.
There began a concerted spell of Scotland pressure. Adams was denied a wonderful goal, following a break as included a spectacular Christie pass, by Simon Kjaer’s despairing block. Denmark were helpless, though, to prevent John Souttar’s opener. The Hearts defender, who has endured a horrible time with serious injury, delivered a moment of huge personal significance by nodding home from six yards. Liam Cooper had earlier headed McGinn’s corner perfectly into Souttar’s path. The 25-year-old’s celebration supplied evidence of his earlier turmoil.
Matters simmered down to a dull roar in the opening stages of the second half. Set pieces appeared Scotland’s best hope of a crucial second, with Schmeichel looking surprisingly ill at ease under cross balls. Not that open play was completely ineffective; Gilmour tested the Leicester City custodian from long range before Adams cracked a post from a narrow angle.
The Southampton forward, who was terrific all evening, was belatedly flagged offside but Tartan Army belief continued to rise. That Robertson, the Scotland captain, limped off with 11 minutes to play placed a minor dampener on the evening for the hosts. Smiles were soon returned to faces. The outstanding Adams stayed onside, ran onto Stuart Armstrong’s through pass and slammed beyond Schmeichel. Hampden erupted.
The Clarke-led revival of this scene deserves the most fulsome of praise.