Scotland 2 Iceland 1
Ross McCormack and Steven Fletcher both claimed their first international goals to keep Scotland’s World Cup dream alive with a crucial win over Iceland at Hampden.
Indridi Sigurdsson had levelled for the visitors but George Burley’s men managed to claim the three points which allows them to put distance between them and their nearest rivals in second place in Group Nine.
Just hours earlier it emerged that captain Barry Ferguson and goalkeeper Allan McGregor – who had made his competitive debut in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat in Holland – were dropped from the team for a breach of discipline.
The Rangers pair had indulged in a lengthy drinking session at the team’s Loch Lomond base following their return from Amsterdam at the weekend, costing them their place in the starting XI for the crunch clash.
However, both were named on the bench and were loudly booed by the Hampden crowd as the team was read about before the game.
Craig Gordon was recalled between the sticks, while the skipper’s armband went to Celtic captain Stephen McManus, who had missed the last game through injury.
There were also starting roles for Alan Hutton, James Morrison and Steven Fletcher as Burley opted for a positive approach against a team who had lost to the Scots in all five of their previous meetings.
Scotland started well and attempted to pile on the pressure in the opening spell, with Steven Fletcher seeing a shot deflected just wide of target.
At the other end, Gordon comfortably dealt with Iceland’s first corner, sparking cheers of encouragement and a chorus of ’There’s only one Craig Gordon’ from the crowd – the message to McGregor loud and clear.
Kenny Miller – who squandered a great opportunity to give the Scots an early lead in Amsterdam – tried his luck with a low, swerving drive but the effort was easily smothered by goalkeeper Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson.
Steven Fletcher – earning his fourth cap – was keen to make the most of his opportunity and was threatening again when he threw himself in front of a McCormack corner only to nod over.
Morrison then played through Miller in front of goal but he hesitated and teed up the shot for Darren Fletcher instead but the goalkeeper was able to gather comfortably.
The breakthrough eventually came six minutes before the break when excellent play saw Hutton race down the right flank and skip past Bjarni Eiriksson before finding McCormack to rifle high into the net.
McManus could have doubled the advantage on the stroke of half-time but sent a header glancing over from McCormack’s free-kick.
Hutton had been the architect of the opening goal and had a couple of decent chances to add his own name to the scoresheet after the restart.
He lashed wide of the upright after Iceland’s attempts to clear a Morrison cut-back landed at his feet. The Tottenham full-back then drew a decent save from Gunnleifsson with a well-struck shot.
But it was Iceland who had the net bulging with 54 minutes on the clock. Palmi Palmason raced past McManus before smacking the post with a long-distance shot and the rebound fell kindly for Sigurdsson to drive home.
Scotland recovered from the setback and were back in front with 65 minutes on the clock.
McCormack’s corner found McManus who delivered a header into the six-yard box where Steven Fletcher was waiting to nod into the back of the net.
Scotland were forced to deal with a period of pressure from Iceland as they searched for the goal that would keep their own qualification hopes alive.
Darren Fletcher could then all but have killed off any hope of another comeback when he chased a Morrison pass but Gunnleifsson was first to the ball.
The Iceland goalkeeper then did well to block a thunderous free-kick from Morrison before the West Brom midfielder slotted agonisingly wide from a tight angle.
Gordon prevented a late catastrophe when he blocked from both Eggert Jonsson and Hermann Hreidarsson as Scotland managed to hold on for the win which means South Africa in 2010 remains a possibility for now.