Scotland 2 Germany 3: Scotland would probably have settled for two goals against the world champions before this Euro 2016 Group D qualifier kicked off but, crucially, the three they conceded leaves them behind Ireland in the playoff hunt.
A gallant display from the Scots at Hampden Park last night saw them twice peg Joachim Low’s outfit back to parity in a scintillating first-half but Ilkay Gundogan, the one change from the starting team which beat Poland, kept the Germans atop of Group D with the winner on 53 minutes.
After Friday’s defeat in Georgia, further signals of concern emerged from the Scotland camp at lunchtime yesterday as Gordon Strachan’s starting team which had just been announced to the players was leaked online.
One of the three newcomers to the side, Grant Hanley, endured a torrid opening period as intricate passing movements between Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil, and Thomas Muller had the Blackburn Rovers centre-back caught out of position at number times..
Strachan however, clearly learned from Die Mannschaft’s early destruction of Poland on Friday by instructing his charges to press high up the pitch and close down the space they cherish exploiting.
It worked fine until the 18th minute when, just as the manager leapt from his seat to bark out reminders, his gameplan was unhinged.
Muller, having drifted inside from the right, easily slipped past a lunge from Charlie Mulgrew to gain a sight on goal and his crisp low shot took a deflection off Russell Martin to wrong-foot David Marshall and roll into the far corner.
With Steven Fletcher once again deployed in the sole striker’s slot, Scotland’s attacking play was spare to say the least but they were helped plunder an equaliser 10 minutes later through a litany of German defensive lapses.
Firstly, Emre Can needlessly dragged down Charlie Mulgrew on the edge of the area to allow Shaun Maloney curl a shot which Manuel Neuer could only parry onto his defender Mats Hummels and back across his goal-line for an own goal.
The noise that followed that leveller lasted just six minutes. Neat possession on the left once again had the Scots scrambling and the ball was shifted into the path of the onrushing Can.
While his shot carried punch, Marshall should have at least pushed the effort out for a corner rather than parry it across goal for the awaiting Muller to nod home his second off the post.
Marshall wasn’t alone in enduring some goalkeeping jitters. Two minutes before the break, Strachan’s crew were back on terms for a second time through another setpiece from Maloney.
When his corner was only half-cleared to James McArthur 20 metres out, the Crystal Palace midfielder left fly with a half-volley which zipped past a floundering Neuer.
Few teams are capable of deflating an atmosphere like Germany and, just eight minutes after the restart, a Hampden hush returned as the visitors edged ahead for the third time. Free-flowing football was the constant again, Muller exchanging passes with Gundogan at the penalty area, leaving the latter to finish coolly from eight yards out. Having given so much, and still with over an half hour left, the wishful Tartan Army dared to dream of another goal nestling past Neuer.
Reality dawned, though, as the diminutive Maloney, just back from the US to join Hull City, tired in tandem with most of his fellow attackers.
In fact, only full-back Alan Hutton came close to engineering a draw when Fletcher’s layoff offered a 65th-minute opening yet he was forced to stretch when shooting and the ball veered high and wide. More chances fell for Germany to make the contest safe. Gundogan tested the palms of Marshall while Gotze blazed over five minutes from the finish with the goal at his mercy.
Instead of being two points ahead of Ireland, Scotland now trail by four following this double header. They can only hope Germany and Poland inflict defeat on Martin O’Neill’s side in the concluding contests and they beat the Poles in Glasgow on October 8.
D Marshall; A Hutton, R Martin, G Hanley, C Mulgrew; S Brown (M Richie 81), J McArthur; J Forrest (C Martin 81), J Morrison, S Maloney (I Anya 60); S Fletcher.
M Neuer; E Can, J Boetang, M Hummels, J Hector; B Schweinsteiger, T Kroos; T Muller, I Gundogan, M Ozil (C Kramer 90); M Gotze (A Schurrle 85).
B Kuipers (Netherlands)
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