Scotland’s years of languishing in the lower mid-tier reaches of international football could be ended this evening as they confront Group C1 leaders Israel with a chance to win the group and secure promotion to League B – along with a chance to face off against beatable opposition with a Euro 2020 slot as a prize. First, they’ll need to beat the visitors, and ideally do so without conceding in a game where any goal could make a huge difference to the outcome of the group.
The hosts arrive back in Glasgow in unfamiliar good form, having travelled to Albania with a heavily weakened squad and delivered a 4-0 pasting to their hosts. Given their recent history of tentatively raising hopes only to almost immediately dash them, this encounter is no foregone conclusion. Israel will bring some confidence to the party, having dominated and beaten the Scots in Haifa just over a month ago. Coach Andy Herzog will feel confident of getting something from this game.
Scotland vs Israel Prediction: Scotland 2-1 Israel
With first-choice strikers Leigh Griffiths and Steven Naismith unavailable, the Scottish squad is light on options to lead the line, but a decent performance from burly-but-limited Steven Fletcher in Shkoder will have raised optimism for this clash. In truth, the enforced changes have perhaps played to Scotland’s strength; their options through the middle might not be great, but in-form attacking midfielders James Forrest, Ryan Fraser and Ryan Christie are capable of taking men on and playing off a target man, which is Fletcher’s speciality. The visitors have players who can hurt them, though, and it would be no surprise to see goals at both ends.
Our recommended tip: Scotland win, BTTS
Talk of a “Hampden hoodoo” will be unwelcome in the run-up to this game, but Scotland know they need to put some ghosts to rest in an arena where they have repeatedly come up short in recent years. This is, however, a game they should win. Israel have a number of talented individuals, not least striker Moanes Dabour, but their own recent form is questionable – they lost 3-0 in Belfast to a Northern Ireland side with fewer attacking threats than the Scottish. At 3/1 (4.00) with Dafabet to win with both teams scoring, Scotland may not have earned much trust, but they’ve got the players to get a win here.
This will be the fourth time these sides have met, and the first two were in 1981 – so it’s to last month’s meeting in Haifa that we must look for hints. The omens from that outing aren’t great for Scotland; they took a 1-0 lead against the run of play when Charlie Mulgrew netted a penalty, but nothing went right thereafter. Seven minutes after half-time Dor Peretz grabbed an equaliser after the visitors were exposed out wide. Defender John Souttar was then sent off for a second booking, before Kieran Tierney put past his own keeper when attempting to clear. It was a shambolic display for Scotland, but one they should be able to avoid repeating on home soil.
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Players to watch: James Forrest & Moanes Dabour
Celtic winger Forrest has had an up-and-down career – he broke onto the Scottish scene in his late teens, and his pace and quality attracted the attention of Premier League clubs. Loss of form and chronic injury have meant that his mid-twenties did not produce the level of achievement he might have hoped for, but he’s been a standout for his club this season and grabbed his first international goals in last week’s thrashing of Albania. Against a 3-5-2 he’ll have space to run into, and could be a difference-maker here.
Part of the exciting RB Salzburg side that made the semi-finals in last season’s Europa League, Dabour is a striker with a fine record in front of goal. He’s notched 24 in 47 games since arriving in Austria, seven of those on that European run, and he’ll demand close attention from the Scottish defenders. If he can add to the three goals he’s picked up for his country, he may also grab the attention of scouts from bigger European club – although he might also just end up jumping to Salzburg’s sister club RB Leipzig.