SERBIA 1 SCOTLAND 1 AET; Scots win 5-4 on penalty-kicks
GALLANT goalkeeper David Marshall was the spot-kick hero in Belgrade tonight as Scotland won through to the Euro Championship Finals next summer.
As the former Celtic star swooped to his left to push away an effort from Aleksander Mitkovic, he ended 22 years in the international wilderness.
Marshall, who saved the decisive kick in the shoot-out against Israel in the semi-final, repeated the feat against Serbia in a nerve-wracking Play-Off Final.
After drawing 1-1 following extra-time, Steve Clarke’s men were 5-4 ahead on pens when Mitkovic stepped up to take his country’s fifth. He struck it well towards the corner, but the Scots star read it superbly and catapulted across his line to push the effort to safety.
And in a fleeting moment Scotland knew they would be in the Euros in June where they will face England, Croatia and the Czech Republic.
Leigh Griffiths, Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay, Ollie McBurnie and Kenny McLean all fired in their efforts in the shoot-out before Marshall’s unbelievable heroics.
However, once again, it looked as though the Scots had blown in it. They were leading through a masterful Ryan Christie goal in the 53nd minute after some good play from McGregor, but, with only seconds to play in the regulation 90 minutes, Luka Jovic levelled with a header from a left-wing corner-kick.
Marshall produced another world-class flying save to thwart the Serbs in the extra period before it went to penalty-kicks. And once again the ex-Celt answered the call for his country.
The Scots looked confident and composed in the opening 45 minutes as the rain lashed down incessantly.
They looked in control for a large percentage, but were wary of opponents who were dangerous on the break and there was a wake-up call midway through the half when a drive from outside the box slithered past Marshall’s left-hand post with the keeper breathing a sigh of relief.
Earlier in the encounter, Christie had tested Pedrag Rajkovic with a long-range free-kick, but the Serb No.1 held on well to his left. On a treacherous surface, it was well worth the Celtic playmaker trying his luck.
John McGinn also tested the home shotstopper when he broke inside the box on the left, but on this occasion Rajkovic stunned the shot before diving on the rebound as the Aston Villa midfielder followed in.
McGregor, winning his 25th cap, was busy in the engine room and was linking up well with Kieran Tierney and skipper Andy Robertson on the left.
Lyndon Dykes was lively in the middle of the attack and the Queens Park Rangers striker was causing mayhem with his aerial ability. Most of Marshall’s deliveries were aimed at the Rangers frontman with McGinn and Christie looking for knock-ons.
Declan Gallagher was coping well in the heart of the defence, but was booked by the fussy Spanish official for a trivial offence after a mid-air clash. It didn’t even look as though it merited a word in his ear.
The breakthrough came for the visitors seven minutes after the interval when McGregor intercepted a ball and fed a pass to Christie on the edge of the box.
The midfielder cleverly brought the ball inside before turning swiftly and abruptly to send in a low drive that eluded Rajkovic low down to his left.
And it remained that way until Jovic’s last-gasp leveller that set up 30 minutes of stamina-sapping action.
When it came to penalty-kicks, Marshall was once again the man to deliver with a breathtaking save to his left.
Euro Championships, here we come!