Israel’s Manor Solomon offered further evidence of his burgeoning talent as Scotland’s hopes of winning Nations League group B2 evaporated by the shores of the Mediterranean.
A defeat with possibly unfortunate ramifications for World Cup qualifying left Steve Clarke downbeat six days after he had celebrated reaching next summer’s delayed Euro 2020. “We’re all disappointed,” he said.”The effort can’t be questioned but if we want to keep improving, we have to be more clinical. There was a little bit of lack of quality in the final third.”
Even though it was approaching 10pm local time at kick-off, temperatures still hovered around the 20C mark on a balmy November night in Netanya. Willi Ruttensteiner, Israel’s Austrian coach, probably found the atmosphere appreciably warmer after accepting he faces the sack in the wake of his side’s failure to qualify for Euro 2020 following their penalty shootout defeat against Scotland last month. The revenge assured by Solomon’s winner must have felt more bitter than sweet.
Clarke’s side proceeded to prevail in another shootout, against Serbia, last Thursday to secure their own place at the European Championship party but it seemed the battle in Belgrade had taken its toll ahead of a fixture Scotland’s manager regarded as a potentially vital staging post towards Qatar 2022.
If conventional World Cup qualifiers do not clear a path towards Doha, Clark knew Nations Cup success might have offered a back-door route. It all meant quite a lot hinged on his side’s fifth meeting with Israel in just over two years.
Although Shakhtar Donetsk’s Solomon caught the eye, Scotland initially exuded confidence, conjuring a couple of half chances before John McGinn forced a former Easter Road teammate into a brilliant save.
When the Aston Villa midfielder met Scott McTominay’s fine cross with his head, a goal seemed inevitable but Ofir Marciano, the Hibs goalkeeper, preserved parity courtesy of some wonderful acrobatics to claw the ball from beneath the crossbar.
Shortly before half-time, Solomon left David Marshall no hope of performing similar heroics. Having met Eran Zahavi’s delivery, the 21-year-old forward slalomed his way through Scotland’s defence, apparently taking particular delight in deceiving and dodging McTominay before shooting unerringly beyond the goalkeeper.
McGinn, Declan Gallagher, Stephen O’Donnell, Leigh Griffiths and Scott McKenna all spurned second-half chances as Israel sat deep and revelled in frustrating their increasingly desperate guests before almost scoring on the break, when Marshall saved superbly to deny Eyal Golasa.
By the final whistle, the Czech Republic were top of B2 and Clarke was doubtless casting covetous eyes in Solomon’s direction. “It’s an opportunity missed,” acknowledged Scotland’s manager. “But we’ve still got a lot to look forward to.”