Scotland 3-2 Israel
UEFA Nations League
Tuesday 20 November
Hampden Park, Glasgow
Scotland: Forrest (34, 43, 63) Israel: Kayal (9), Zahavi (74)
Scotland ended a 15-year wait for a playoff spot in style at Hampden Park, with a James Forrest hat-trick enough to see the hosts overcome Israel to top UEFA Nations League group C1.
In doing so, Alex McLeish’s side secured a place in the playoffs for UEFA Euro 2020 and sealed promotion to League B, on a night where the Tartan Army was sent home singing in the rain.
On a night where the stakes could not have been higher for both sides, it was the visitors that made the dream start. Beram Kayal was given too much space on the edge of the area and the midfielder duly took full advantage, curling a shot past Allan McGregor into the top corner from 25 yards for the opening goal of the game.
A bad start almost got worse for the hosts on 18 minutes, with only a well-timed intervention from Scott McKenna preventing a clear-cut chance for Dor Peretz.
It took until the 22nd minute for Scotland to record their first shot on goal, yet it almost resulted in a spectacular equaliser. Stuart Armstrong’s run caused problems in the Israeli defence, before Callum McGregor’s rasping half-volley from 30 yards was met with a diving save by Ariel Harush in the Israeli goal.
As the half-hour mark approached, the pressure was becoming relentless from Alex McLeish’s side. McKenna and Armstrong both saw efforts blocked inside the six-yard box, as the home support grew in volume.
Yet the visitors were more than happy to remind their hosts of the threat they possessed, with a whipped ball in from Eran Zahavi just inches from being diverted into the net by Moanes Dabour.
Then, on 34 minutes, McLeish’s men found the breakthrough they were looking for. Once again it was Armstrong that created the opportunity by driving into the Israel box, before his shot was blocked into the path of James Forrest. The Celtic winger duly dispatched the chance for his third goal in two matches, to the delight of the Hampden faithful.
Knowing that only a win would do in the final standings, Scotland continued to pile on the pressure and earned their just reward on 43 minutes. McKenna’s long ball was flicked on by Steven Fletcher into the path of the onrushing Ryan Christie, whose ball across the box allowed Forrest to coolly slide the ball into the bottom corner for his – and his country’s -second of the night. Scotland had the lead, one they kept as the teams headed into the changing rooms at the break.
There was no let-up from the home side at the start of the second period, with Harush doing well to cut out a driven cross from Ryan Fraser before it reached the feet of Fletcher just moments after the restart.
Fletcher was proving a handful for Israel’s defenders, with the Sheffield Wednesday striker’s aerial prowess and deft touches creating a series of half-chances in the early exchanges of the second half.
With the Hampden crowd looking for some breathing space as the hour mark passed, there was only one man to provide it. Andy Robertson’s flick freed Fraser on the wing, with the Bournemouth man cutting back inside to find Forrest. With the defence closing in, Scotland’s number seven provided the finishing touch once more to wrap up a superb hat-trick in front of the Tartan Army.
The goal-scorer then nearly turned provider on 70 minutes, as Fletcher was just unable to direct a header goalwards from Forrest’s cross.
Yet Israel knew that a draw would see them progress at Scotland’s expense, and struck on 74 minutes to narrow the deficit to a single goal, as Zahavi’s deflected shot beat Allan McGregor to find the bottom corner.
McLeish’s men continued to attack, with Forrest again the catalyst. His ball over the top found the rampaging Fraser, but the ensuing shot cleared the crossbar.
A free-flowing game was reaching a frenetic conclusion, with both sides searching for a late goal as the Glasgow rain. As the tension increased, Tomer Hemed thought he had found the crucial equaliser for Israel with two minutes to play, only for Allan McGregor to produce a tremendous one-handed save to preserve his side’s advantage.
Israel were throwing everything at Scotland as the game entered added time, yet – roared on by the Hampden crowd – the home side was not to be denied. It was Scotland’s night.
Scotland: A.McGregor; Robertson (capt), McKenna, Bates, Paterson; C.McGregor, Armstrong (Shinnie 75); Forrest, Christie (Phillips 75), Fraser; Fletcher (McTominay 86).
Subs not used: Bain, McDonald, Fleck, Hendry, Mackay-Steven, McBurnie, Russell.
Israel: Harush; Dasa, Yeini, Taha (Cohen 66), Ben Harush, Tawatha (Hemed 84); Peretz (Saba 73), Natcho (capt), Kayal; Dabour, Zahavi.
Subs not used: Haimov, Amos, Glazer, Habashi, Tzedek, Sahar, Micha, Solomon, Bitton.
Man of the Match: James Forrest