Given the straightforward nature of Scotland’s qualifying campaign, it was strange to see it end in such unorthodox fashion.
The sharing of six goals with Norway brought the curtain down on Group A, which Scotland had successfully negotiated with two matches to spare. Seventeen points from a possible 24 was their ultimate haul.
The evening’s main event involved a lap of honour for Steve Clarke and his players, who have reached successive European Championships. The ins and outs of this fixture didn’t seem to matter at all.
“It was a strange game,” Clarke said. “It was a night for the supporters to thank the staff and the team, for everyone else to thank the supporters. We are in the draw, we have a lot to look forward to next summer but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Norway’s attitude to this fixture was supposedly illustrated by their willingness to let Erling Haaland sit out. The prolific Manchester City striker took a bang to a foot during last Thursday’s friendly win over the Faroe Islands, with Norway staff insisting the injury was not serious. He was spared this evening in Glasgow, presumably to focus on upcoming club matters.
Yet Norway had a point to prove. Scotland’s smash-and-grab victory in Oslo in June was hugely significant in determining the qualification fate of these teams. Scotland held their nerve thereafter to emerge from the section alongside Spain.
The visitors opened in a manner which implied the righting of wrongs was uppermost in their thoughts. Scotland were woefully sluggish in defending a cross from the Norway right, as typified by Nathan Patterson’s failure to appropriately close down Aron Dønnum as the ball broke back to the Toulouse forward. Dønnum flicked the ball beyond Zander Clark, with the aid of a Patterson deflection.
The goal roused Scotland. Positivity from John McGinn drew a desperate foul from Kristoffer Ajer, with Scott McTominay’s free-kick breaking back into the path of Callum McGregor. The Celtic captain’s shot was blocked by the high arm of Dønnum. McGinn did the rest from the penalty spot for his 18th Scotland goal.
Norway edged in front again before the first quarter had played out. Scotland’s left flank – minus the injured Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney – was again exposed, Julian Ryerson this time supplying a low cross. Clark will feel he should have done better with Jørgen Strand Larsen’s close-range flick, which spun across the line. Clarke looked on aghast at the level of his team’s generosity.
In a game that had a strange, end-of-season feel, Scotland responded once more. Kenny McLean rose to meet a McTominay corner, with the midfielder’s header finding Norway’s net via the unfortunate Leo Østigård. Scotland were not particularly worthy of half-time parity but they were quite right to accept it. Only a terrific Patterson block prevented Dønnum from notching a third for Norway, two minutes before the interval.
By the time Scotland reach the finals, Clarke will hope Tierney and Robertson are fit and flying. Angus Gunn, recently established as the first-choice goalkeeper, also missed this international camp. That position will be strengthened further if Craig Gordon re-establishes himself at Hearts after long-term injury.
Che Adams, Clarke’s go-to striker, was another absentee as Scotland faced Georgia and Norway. In short, there were mitigating circumstances for shortcomings here.
Minus Adams, Clarke handed a rare start to Jacob Brown. The Luton Town forward should have justified his manager’s faith but failed to connect with the ball right in front of goal, seconds before the hosts took the lead for the first time. Brown’s blushes were spared. This owed everything to the tenacity of Stuart Armstrong, who chased a lost cause to win back possession. Armstrong played a one-two with McGinn before beating Egil Selvik at his near post.
Clark saved well from Sander Berge as Norway chased a third. Scotland’s second-half showing, though, was an improvement on the first. A fourth goal would have boosted chances of Clarke’s men taking their place in pot two of the finals draw. It never really looked like arriving. Pot three is arguably the friendlier in any case.
Norway extended Scotland’s winless run to five matches. Ryerson rampaged down the right before evading the stranded Clark with his cross. Mohamed Elyounoussi, once of Celtic, headed into the unguarded net.
“I thought we were the better team,” said the Norway manager, Ståle Solbakken. “The last Scotland game will always be the story of this campaign for us.”