Scotland have become so unaccustomed to preparation work for major finals that the significance of this draw with the Netherlands is difficult to determine. There was, though, plenty for Steve Clarke to be encouraged with, not least because of the Covid disruption that formed the backdrop to this fixture in the Algarve. Kevin Nisbet looked to have won the game for Scotland before a late, stunning intervention from Memphis Depay.
Czech Republic, England and Croatia may take note given Clarke sought this meeting with the Dutch with those tournament opponents in mind. Scotland were at no point overawed or outplayed.
While Scotland’s Euro 2020 appearance will end a 23-year top-table wait, the Netherlands are on a recovery journey of their own. On this evidence significant improvement is still needed if the top nations are to be troubled by those in orange when matters take on more meaning.
Billy Gilmour, the 19-year-old Chelsea midfielder, was handed his Scotland debut in the 81st minute. Virgil van Dijk, who will miss the Euros through injury, watched on from the stands.
John Fleck’s positive coronavirus test result was not overly problematic in the context of Scotland’s tournament buildup but subsequent events did give Clarke a headache before this friendly. The Scottish FA decided to leave six more players – including John McGinn and Che Adams – at their training base in Spain as a precautionary measure after assessing earlier interaction with Fleck.
“We decided just to be ultra-cautious,” said Clarke before kick-off. “I think it was the correct decision.” It remains to be seen who reappears for Sunday’s meeting with Luxembourg.
The Dutch had Covid issues of their own, with Frank de Boer opting to leave Jesper Cillessen out of his Euros squad amid concern over how long it may take the experienced goalkeeper to recover from the virus. Tim Krul duly started against Scotland.
A strong start from the Scots belied any sense of fraught preparations. Kieran Tierney had already flashed a shot wide of Krul’s left-hand post by the time Jack Hendry notched his first goal for his country. After Scotland pressed a Dutch goal-kick and Stuart Armstrong stole the ball, Hendry strode forward from centre-back and left Krul with no chance from 22 yards. Lyndon Dykes stung the palms of the Norwich City goalkeeper soon after and watching Scotland supporters had cause for giddyness.
Reality soon struck from familiar sources. Georginio Wijnaldum cleverly cushioned a header into the path of Depay, who found himself in splendid isolation. The prolific Lyon marksman beat Craig Gordon with his first touch.
In what at least appeared a pre-determined move, De Boer removed Wijnaldum and Frenkie de Jong shortly after the half-hour. The only menace the Dutch delivered in the remainder of the half earned Matthijs de Ligt a booking for his wild challenge on Hendry. Scotland, although no longer much of an attacking threat, were perfectly comfortable.
Liam Cooper spared Tierney’s blushes after a rare international mistake from the Arsenal defender handed the Netherlands a chance in the 53rd minute. De Boer’s team are typically free-scoring; they had scored two or more in each of their five outings before this.
Scotland could be accused of lacking such potency but Nisbet, with his first touch after replacing Dykes, put them ahead for a second time. The Hibernian striker rounded off a fine move that involved Ryan Christie and a perfect Andy Robertson cross.
From close range Nisbet made the toughest part of football look blissfully simple having drifted away from the Dutch central defenders. It is to Clarke and his players’ credit that they were good value for their lead.
Gordon saved superbly from a deflected Patrick van Aanholt effort as De Boer’s men chased an equaliser. It arrived from Depay, who curled a wonderful free-kick beyond the stranded Gordon in the dying moments. It was a goal befitting a loftier, soon to be available, stage.