Scotland 1 Ukraine 3
When the fourth official’s board displayed four minutes of stoppage time, it seemed incredible to think how dominant Ukraine had earlier been in this semi-final.
Goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk meant a two-goal lead, which was perfectly reflective of the flow of this game. Yet as full-time approached, Scotland sensed they could nudge the tie into extra time, Callum McGregor having already halved the hosts’ deficit.
There was to be no late equaliser. With the last kick of the game, Artem Dovbyk instead sealed Ukraine’s win. Cheers reverberated from Glasgow to Kyiv – including plenty of towns and cities in between – as Ukraine marched on to meet Wales on Sunday.
It was an exceptional showing for so long and Ukraine ultimately needed tenacity to withstand Scottish pressure. Steve Clarke will be frustrated that the charge took so long to arrive.
“Focus on football” had been the recurring pre-match message from within the Scotland camp. That essentially happened straight from kick-off, with every crunching tackle by those in navy met with roars of approval from the majority of the crowd. Earlier, in an emotional scene, the Ukraine players – draped in the flags of their country – had clapped those supporters for their widespread applause of their national anthem.
The approach of everyone associated with the Scotland team to Ukraine has been on point from the moment it was clear this semi-final, initially scheduled for March, would at the very least be delayed. Ukraine had no desire to be patronised here; they duly were not.
Clarke’s insistence that the scale of this football challenge had to be respected partly resonated in the knowledge that Ukraine have fine players. Within 17 minutes, the visitors had twice been denied by the superb Craig Gordon.
Scotland’s goalkeeper saved acrobatically from Viktor Tsygankov. His next stop was even better, at close range when Yarmolenko looked certain to score. As Gordon leapt upon the loose ball, the Ukraine coach, Oleksandr Petrakov, did nothing to mask his frustration. At age 39, Gordon remains in the form of his life.
Scotland spent those early exchanges struggling to gain a foothold in the game. Clarke had gambled with the deployment of two strikers, Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes, but looked on as the opposition midfield imposed themselves on proceedings. Ukraine were the slicker, sharper, more coherent team during the opening half. And by a considerable distance.
When the goal that Ukraine completely deserved arrived it was blissfully simple. A chipped pass from the deep-lying Ruslan Malinovskyi should have been swept up by the Scotland central defence. Instead, Yarmolenko was allowed to reach it first. The West Ham player showed composure to loft the ball over the onrushing Gordon. Home appeals for offside proved in vain.
The sense of Scotland stage fright was both impossible to ignore and ominously similar to what transpired throughout games at this venue during last summer’s Euros. The boos that rang out as the half-time whistle blew felt almost comfortably familiar.
Clarke used the break to make the perfectly logical move to replace the ineffectual Dykes with Ryan Christie. In doing so, the manager clearly wanted to amend a back-to-front approach that had failed to work. The problem was, Ukraine doubled their lead before Scotland had a chance to implement their new plan.
Generous defending was again apparent. Oleksandr Karavaev was given time and space to float a cross to the back post, where Yaremchuk was the gleeful benefactor. Neither Aaron Hickey nor Scott McTominay could beat the striker in the air.
Yaremchuk nodded past the helpless Gordon from all of six yards. As Ukraine celebrated wildly, Scotland were hit with the stark realisation of being in deep trouble. The hosts’ challenge would have been insurmountable but for a smart Gordon block from Yarmolenko.
Scotland were almost offered unlikely salvation from Georgiy Bushchan. The goalkeeper, perhaps through boredom, cracked a clearance against the onrushing McGregor. In summing up all that had gone before, the ball flew wide of the Ukraine goal.
Clarke’s only apparent hope in the closing half-hour was that Ukraine may tire. There were slight traces of that before John McGinn passed up the kind of opportunity Scotland had been dreaming about. After Bushchan flapped at a cross, the Aston Villa midfielder had a glorious chance to head into the net from close range. Instead McGinn inexplicably sent his attempt wide. It was no wonder he slumped to his knees.
That the erratic Bushchan played his part in a Scotland goal was little surprise. McGregor was really only trying to keep an attack alive with a lofted ball as the goalkeeper allowed to squirm through his hands. The assistant referee rightly adjudged the ball had bounced over the line before a despairing Ukraine clearance.
Scotland, who had been generally desperate until this 79th minute juncture, had a pulse. The final act, though, belonged to Dovbyk. - Guardian