Scotland 2-0 Albania
UEFA Nations League
Monday, 10 September, 7.45pm kick off
Hampden Park, Glasgow
Scotland: Berat Xhimshiti o.g. (47), Steven Naismith (68)
Scotland opened their UEFA Nations League account with a convincing 2-0 victory over Albania at Hampden Park, with a man-of-the-match performance from Steven Naismith headlining an impressive display from the hosts.
Head coach Alex McLeish made four changes from the side that lost to Belgium on Friday night, with Allan McGregor, Stephen O’Donnell, Johnny Russell and Naismith all promoted to the starting line-up.
In torrid conditions, the home side almost made the ideal start to the new campaign, as Callum McGregor’s fierce free-kick was tipped over the bar after just three minutes.
Scotland were enjoying the early exchanges, with another free-kick – this time from Charlie Mulgrew – almost evading the clutches of Thomas Strakosha in the Albania goal in the tenth minute.
All of the early running was being made by the men in blue, with McLeish’s side bossing the midfield battle. A free-kick from John McGinn on 24 minutes saw Naismith presented with a great chance, with only the post denying the Hearts striker the game’s opening goal.
With five minutes to go until the break, the Hampden faithful thought that their team had found a way through the Albanian defence, as Naismith diverted a Callum McGregor shot into the back of the visitors’ net. The assistant referee’s flag was raised, however, with Scotland denied once more as the half drew to a close.
The Tartan Army sensed a goal was coming and it arrived a minute into the second half. A superb cross from Andy Robertson found the head of Naismith three yards out, with the frontman’s header deflecting off Berat Xhimshiti and into the back of the net.
However, Albania served a reminder as to their pedigree just moments later, as Bekim Balaj drew a smart save from Allan McGregor on 50 minutes.
Scotland were continuing to press, with Callum McGregor and Robertson both seeing shots blocked by dogged Albanian defence.
Balaj once again reminded the Scotland supporters of the danger that the visitors posed on 64 minutes, with the striker’s half-volley just sailing over the Scotland crossbar.
Yet to the delight of the majority at Hampden, it was the home side that scored the night’s second goal on 67 minutes. A corner from McGinn wasn’t dealt with by Strakosha, allowing Naismith to nod home unchallenged.
It was almost three moments later, as O’Donnell’s lay-off saw Callum McGregor presented with a glorious chance. The Celtic midfielder’s shot was diverted over the bar by a sliding Albanian challenge however, and the score remained 2-0.
A lively cameo from the bench from Scott McTominay gave Scotland fresh impetus as the game entered its closing stages, with the Manchester United man’s strong running from midfield causing Albania’s defenders all manner of problems. One such run led to a late chance for O’Donnell, but his shot was well saved by Strakosha with three minutes remaining.
There was to be no doubt about the result, however, as Scotland recorded a confidence-boosting victory as they set out on the road to UEFA Euro 2020.
Alex McLeish’s squad will now turn their attentions towards their next UEFA Nations League fixture, which sees them travel to face Israel on Thursday, 11 October, before returning home to face Portugal at Hampden Park three days later.
Scotland: Allan McGregor, O’Donnell, Robertson (captain), Souttar, Mulgrew, Tierney, McGinn, McDonald (Armstrong 45), Naismith, Callum McGregor (McTominay 78), Russell (Griffiths 70).
Unused substitutes: Gordon, Archer, Paterson, Forrest, Snodgrass, Jack, Shinnie.
Albania: Strakosha, Binaku, Hysaj (captain), Veseli (Mihaj 90+1), Xhimshiti, Memushaj, Ndoj, Lilaj (Manaj 66), Xhaka, Balaj, Gavazaj (Prenga 45).
Unused substitutes: Berisha, Hoxha, Agolli, Basha, Mavraj, Lika, Kace, Guri, Hyka.
Man of the Match: Steven Naismith