Scotland World Cup hopes ended by Slovenia
World Cup Qualification, UEFA Group F, Sportni park Stozice - Slovenia 2 (Bezjak 52', 72') Scotland 2 (Griffiths 32', Snodgrass 88')
Scotland fell agonisingly short in their efforts to make the World Cup play-offs, conceding a first-half lead to draw 2-2 away to Slovenia, missing out on second place through goal difference.
Gordon Strachan's men needed a win to make sure of finishing second in Group F, with Slovakia beating Malta, but narrowly missed out despite a breathless finale in a remarkable qualification comeback over the past few games.
Gordon Strachan made a bold team selection, dropping James Forrest and James Morrison in favour of James McArthur and Chris Martin, opting for two up front. Scotland looked uncomfortable in their shape early on as Slovenia dominated possession, but the dynamic of the contest changed with a Leigh Griffiths goal after 32 minutes, with the Celtic striker finding the far corner with an excellent finish.
However, a double change at the break gave Slovenia renewed impetus, with the hosts equalising through substitute Bezjak, who headed a free-kick back across goal and into the far corner of Craig Gordon’s net.
Scotland’s Leigh Griffiths scores their first goalReuters
And Slovenia took the lead after 72 minutes, with Bezjak once again finding the net. Robert Snodgrass found a late equaliser to set up a grandstand finish, but Scotland just couldn’t find the goal they so desperately needed, even after the sending off of Bostjan Cesar. Ultimately, this was another case of glorious failure.
TALKING POINT - What happened to Scotland in the second half?
At half-time, Scotland were in the perfect position. They hadn’t played especially well, but they had a 1-0 lead after Griffiths’ opener. From that point on, though, everything went wrong. Strachan set up his side too negatively, taking off Martin and throwing on Ikechi Anya after the equaliser. That robbed Scotland of an outlet, inviting yet more pressure on top of themselves that ultimately resulted in another Slovenia goal. When it mattered most, their tactics were all wrong.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Josip Ilicic (Slovenia)
He was identified as the danger man for Slovenia before kick off, and Josip Ilicic lived up to his billing. The playmaker was at the centre of everything well the hosts did, especially in the first half. Scotland didn’t know how to deal with him as he drifted between the lines of midfield and attack. Bezjak might have grabbed the goals, but Ilicic was the man who created them.
Slovenia's players celebrate after scoring a goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifier football match between Slovenia and Scotland at the Stozice stadium in Ljubljana, on October 8, 2017Getty Images
32’ GOAL! Slovenia 0-1 Scotland: Scotland have a crucial lead! It was an extremely tight angle for Griffiths, but he let the ball drop and angled a strike across the face of goal and into the far corner of the net.
Scotland’s Darren Fletcher in actionReuters
42’ GRIFFITHS INJURY! This could be a real issue for Scotland. Griffiths appears to have picked up an injury and is hobbling over to the touchline to receive some treatment. Calf?
55’ GOAL! Slovenia 1-1 Scotland: Well, there's the equaliser and Scotland are going to have to do this the hard way. Bezjak got in behind the Scotland defence from a free-kick and headed past Gordon into the far corner.
72’ GOAL! Slovenia 2-1 Scotland: Is that the goal to finish off Scotland? The away side don't defend a corner kick well enough, with the ball played back to Bezjak. The sub made no mistake in passing into the net.
78’ FLETCHER SHOULD HAVE SCORED! That was the chance for Scotland to get back on level terms! The ball fell nicely to Fletcher eight yards out, but he sliced his effort over the bar.
88’ GOAL! Slovenia 2-2 Scotland: OUT OF NOWHERE! Scotland have scored a late equaliser, but they need another one! Snodgrass got on the end of it to prod high into the corner of the net.
92’ SENT OFF! I'm not entirely sure what's happened, but Cesar has been shown a straight red card.
Leigh Griffiths has been involved in seven goals in his last five internationals for Scotland (four goals, three assists).
Slovenia conceded a goal at home for the first time in this World Cup qualification campaign.