- Eight wins in last nine friendlies for Scotland
- Ritchie’s early goal settled hard-fought spectacle
- Impressive debuts for Tierney and McGinn
- First home match since Poland ended Euro hopes
- One Denmark victory in last seven internationals
GORDON Strachan was pleased with Scotland’s team spirit and the displays of their two debutants as he earned the tenth 1-0 win of his tenure in a tepid friendly against Denmark.
Celtic’s 18-year-old Kieran Tierney impressed at left-back and Hibs midfielder John McGinn, 21, put in a man of the match display as the Tartan Army edged past the Danes at a half-empty Hampden Park.
Matt Ritchie’s third international goal in the early exchanges – after a mix-up between Daniel Agger and Kasper Schmeichel – proved the difference and Strachan was satisfied with many aspects but admitted there remains room for improvement.
“The two young boys making their debuts were terrific, and the third one came on [Oliver Burke] to almost make us a goal so they were the bonuses,” said Strachan, who has been at the helm since January 2013.
“What we learnt is that it’s very hard to take on some of Europe’s best footballers physically and technically if you don’t play regularly.
“We learnt we have team spirit and have to retain the ball better but that comes down to not being match fit. We couldn’t play players twice because we’ve got big games coming up so we protected them.
“It was a bit of a gamble but we came out of it. It was a chance to see younger and new players and older players coming back into the squad which was great.”
Strachan opted for 11 changes from Thursday’s 1-0 win over Czech Republic in Prague, including the return of Celtic’s 35-goal top scorer Leigh Griffiths for his first Scotland start since September 2013.
His club team-mate Scott Brown was handed his 50th cap and it was the Tartan Army captain’s forward pass which led to a horrific breakdown in communication between Agger and Schmeichel and, subsequently, the night’s decisive moment.
Experienced Danish skipper Agger tried to shield the ball back to Schmeichel – who started despite reports he was injured – but there was not enough pace on the ball to reach the Leicester keeper.
Ritchie – linked with Tottenham earlier in the day – stole in and stroked a calm finish into the net to reward Scotland’s enterprising start in the driving Glasgow rain.
The hosts could not get their passing game going on a heavy pitch at the national stadium, or capitalise on several unforced errors from a shaky Danish backline in a disappointing first period.
Tierney thwarted Yussuf Poulsen with a last-ditch tackle and Nicolai Jorgensen’s daisycutter was kept out by Craig Gordon as Denmark – who, like Scotland, failed to qualify for Euro 2016 – responded positively.
But it could have been two just before half-time had Steven Fletcher’s header from Steven Whittaker’s cross snuck past Schmeichel, who got down low to palm behind at the near post.
Denmark coach Age Hareide – seeking a second win in his second game since replacing long-serving Morten Olsen in December – will reflect on missed opportunities in a second half his side were much the better team.
Scotland struggled to seize the initiative for long periods but were resolute to keep the Danes at arm’s length – a quality which satisfied Strachan.
He added: “We would like to have played better football but the keeper and centre-backs did well for us defending and we had a couple of chances in the second half. But overall I was pleased with a lot of things.”
The hosts were indebted to Celtic stopper Gordon – making his first start in a year – who denied Christian Eriksen’s stinging 20-yard drive before reacting to parry Martin Braithwaite’s follow-up header.
Scotland, though, might have finished the game off as Ritchie almost doubled his tally from sub Ikechi Anya’s cutback but for a brave Andreas Christiensen block.
Debutant Oliver Burke, introduced from the bench late on, then burst into the box before his cross-cum-shot squirmed under Schmeichel and Rizi Durmisi’s clearance rebounded inches wide off Chris Martin.
But another sub, Liam Bridcutt, should have seen red after a reckless challenge on Denmark’s Celtic defender Erik Sviatchenko which only received a yellow card.
Overall, a third straight win and clean sheet will encourage Strachan, who will hope the momentum can continue to build in tough friendly tests against Italy and France before qualification for the 2018 World Cup begins in earnest in September.
Substitutes: Mulgrew (on for Tierney 45′), Anya (on for Fletcher 45′), C Martin (on for Griffiths 60′), Bridcutt (on for Maloney 69′), Burke (on for Ritchie 82′).
Not used: Bain (GK), Caddis, Cooper, Forrest, Murphy.
Booked: McGinn (68′), Bridcutt (79′), Greer (87′)
Goals: Ritchie (8′)
Substitutes: Lossl (on for Schmeichel 45′), Braithwaite (on for Poulsen 45′), Sviatchenko (on for Agger 64′), Schone (on for Eriksen 81′).
Not used: Lindegaard (GK), Wass, Kvist, Thomsen, Vestergaard, Okore, Knudsen, Vibe.
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (Norway) – 7/10