Scotland produced an excellent display to defeat Sweden 2-0 in an International Challenge Match in Edinburgh. Outplayed at times in the first half by a strong Sweden side, Scotland emerged from the break and outran, outworked and outfought their opponents.
It was two goals in the space of as many minutes that won the match, with Hibernian’s Oli Shaw and Celtic’s Mark Hill scoring the vital goals just after half time. After that, Scotland defended resolutely and protected their lead with the stubbornness, professionalism and intelligence of a side beyond their years.
Sweden had the first chance of the game. The ball fell to the lively and impressive Jesper Karlsson on the edge of the box but his powerful snapshot was fired straight at Scotland goalkeeper Ross Doohan.
Karlsson’s strike partner Isac Lidberg was next to try his luck. A loose pass by a Scotland player inadvertently played in Karlsson who carried the ball to the edge of the box before dragging his shot wide of the left post.
Sweden’s goalkeeper was tested for the first time a few minutes later. A Scotland corner from the left was cleared but only as far as right back Anthony Ralston, who had cleverly positioned himself on the edge of the box. Ralston caught the clearance full on the volley and did well to get his effort on target although in truth it barely troubled Sweden’s John Hakansson.
The pressure on Sweden’s goal was building and Scotland should have taken the lead in the 15th minute. The ball was given away in the middle of the pitch by a Sweden midfielder and was seized upon by Regan Hendry. The midfielder drove forward at the Swedish defenders. Sensing an overlapping run on his left, Hendry released the ball at the perfect moment, right into the path on the onrushing Calvin Miller who burst into the box before firing a left footed shot across goal. The shot was well saved.
After such a frenetic start, the game fell into a bit of a lull. Both sides were keeping the ball well. Scotland were looking assured in possession and were constantly looking to release striker Paul Joseph Crossan with an early ball over the top. Crossan was tireless in his running but it was mostly in vain.
Sweden on the other hand looked to stretch play horizontally when they had the ball. Their 3-5-2 formation allowed them to dominate possession. Scotland worked hard to win the ball back, but there was too much space and the Swede’s looked comfortable on the ball.
Using their possession as a platform to get back into the game, Sweden launched a siege on the Scotland goal in the last five minutes of the half. Corner after corner was swung into the box only to be scrambled clear by the Scotland defenders. On one occasion a corner fell to the feet of Sweden captain Thomas Popper Isherwood. With his back to goal, the Bayern Munich defender swung at the ball with his heel but his audacious effort only fell into the grateful grasp of Doohan.
Scotland in the end were relieved to go into the break level. In that context however, their start to the second half was extraordinary. It all started with Hendry. After finding himself in space on the left of the pitch, Hendry looked up to see the overlapping run of full back Tony Gallacher. The Swedish defence were reduced to statues by the quality of the pass; the weight, the direction, the timing, everything was perfect. Gallacher didn’t even need to break stride as he collected the ball before delivering a low cross into the box where Shaw was on hand to tap in at the front post. It was his first touch of the ball since coming on as a substitute.
Only minutes after taking the lead, Sweden fired a warning shot. A pull back from the right by-line fell to Karlsson, whose first time curling shot from the angle kissed the top of the bar.
Encouragingly, this was as close as Sweden got in the second half. They spent the rest of the game struggling to deal with Scotland’s blitz. Led by the industrious midfield duo of Fraser Hornby and Iain Wilson, it was a constant, vigorous effort from Scotland to make life difficult for their opponents.
In the 50th minute, Sweden, who had been so comfortable in possession, crumbled. Pressed deep into their own half, a Swedish defender was forced to play a back-pass to Hakansson. Hill had read the situation and was already on his way. By the time the Swedish goalkeeper had received the ball the Celtic forward was all over him. Hakansson was dispossessed and the ball was bundled into the net. If a goal was ever to symbolise a team’s performance this was it.
Scotland were unrelenting and continued to chase and harass their visitors, but, inevitably, Sweden responded. As the game wore on, Scotland dropped deeper and Sweden became more direct. Centre backs Ross McCrorie and Stuart Morrison were solid and reliable whenever they were called upon and protected their goal and clean sheet with pride. This was exemplified by skipper McCrorie’s excellent covering tackle to deny Lidberg a free run on goal.
With Sweden pushing forward in search of a goal, Scotland found themselves with more space to attack. Substitute Kevin O’Hara could have helped himself to three goals in the final ten minutes of the game, two of his chances, both near post efforts from an angle, were well saved but he should have added a third when Hill flashed the ball across the goal mouth after a strong run down the right wing.
In the end though, 2-0 works well for Scotland. It is the score-line that perfectly illustrates what Scotland faced. This was a challenge, but this was a challenge that Scotland overcame. They did so through hard work, determination and a touch of class. In the end they looked secure and at ease with the idea that this was a result that they thoroughly deserved.