The start of a qualifying campaign is supposed to get the juices flowing, the anticipation of potentially reaching a major tournament. And while there were a couple of renditions of “we’re on our way to Germany” from a near sell-out crowd at the national stadium, the Tartan Army was hardly in full voice. It matched the torpor on the pitch.
Make no mistake, a 3-0 triumph at home should not be sniffed at. Especially against a Cyprus team that will likely lose comfortably on their travels to Scotland’s three other qualification rivals – Spain, Norway and Georgia. Poor Alex Gogic could be given a right runaround by Erling Haaland.
But there was significant gloss added to the result by Scott McTominay’s two late goals, when the Cypriots had abandoned the defensive ship and gone for broke in attack. For the 85 minutes that came before, Scotland controlled vast swathes of the match without actually doing anything. Too many overhit crosses, too many attacks that petered out. Cyprus are obdurate, unimaginative and unambitious.
Maybe that’s why supporters spent many minutes dozing in their seats, barely roused by the action in front of them, treating this as a friendly.
Privately, manager Steve Clarke will surely be unimpressed by some of Scotland’s play – but he will be delighted with the start to the Euro 2024 campaign. The road to Germany is littered with potholes. Top seeds Spain, who visit Hampden on Tuesday, are expected to be the toughest opponent for this Scotland team but Norway have the world’s best striker and Georgia are on a huge upward trajectory as a football nation. The games against Cyprus are the low-hanging fruit.
La Roja’s arrival is going to get the pulses racing, though. How could it not, the main course for this international break. It would be hyperbole to call this Cyprus match the starter, more an amuse-bouche – and a fairly bland one at that. Scotland’s midfield, with both Callum McGregor and Ryan Jack in situ, felt a little too defensive for such an assignment yet it was good prep ahead of Spain, as the duo will surely be charged with thwarting Gavi and Co.
It was telling that the Scots improved markedly from middle-to-front when McTominay replaced Jack, providing more thrust and support to the forward line. Defensively, Scotland were rarely troubled by Cyprus’ powderpuff forward line. Debutant goalkeeper Angus Gunn made two routine saves and the biggest problem he faced was when slipping on the edge of his box under no pressure and sitting on the ball. A truer display of his abilities will be provided next week.
It was in attack that Scotland looked most off-colour. Down the right, Aaron Hickey was prominent and on the opposite flank, Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson linked up well. Only once did the Scotland captain’s delivery land on the money, on 20 minutes, although a deflection was needed to get the ball safely to John McGinn to net. Main striker Che Adams was largely inoffensive before making way, injured, for Lyndon Dykes, who played well.
Qualification campaigns are a marathon, not a sprint, though. The lethargy is more than made up for by the result. Scotland will need to improve aesthetically but in terms of a tangible outcome, three points and three goals is a job well done for Clarke and his men, especially as this is the first time since 2006 that the quest for a Euros has started with a victory.