John McGinn’s stunning overhead kick five minutes from time rescued Scotland from a losing start to their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Austria at Hampden on Thursday.
Sasa Kalajdzic twice put the visitors in front in the second-half with his first international goals, but Grant Hanley’s header and moment of magic from McGinn ensured another qualifying campaign did not get off to the worst possible start for Scotland.
Clarke’s men ended a 22-year wait to qualify for a major international tournament by reaching the upcoming Euro 2020 in November. But they face an uphill task to make it to Qatar with Austria and Denmark the two top seeds in Group F and only one automatic place at the World Cup up for grabs.
Clarke had urged his side not to become “one tournament wonders”, but Scotland were slow out of the blocks as Kalajdzic flashed a shot just wide inside two minutes before Christoph Baumgartner tested David Marshall from distance.
However, the home side took control as the first-half wore on and had the best chance before the break when Ryan Christie was denied by the feet of Alexander Schlager. After a first-half short on goalmouth action, the game exploded into life in the second period.
Kalajdzic took his free-scoring form with Stuttgart in the Bundesliga this season onto the international stage by tapping home the rebound after Marshall had parried Florian Grillitsch’s powerful effort. Stuart Armstrong fired inches wide before Christie was somehow not awarded a penalty as he was hauled down inside the area as Scotland went in search of an immediate response.
The home side also had a let off moments later as Kalajdzic had a goal harshly ruled out for a push on Kieran Tierney. Scotland’s first equaliser came from an unfamiliar source as Hanley celebrated his recall to the starting line-up by powering home a header from Stephen O’Donnell’s free-kick. However, Clarke’s decision to break up the defence that had conceded three goals in six games will be questioned.
Jack Hendry was making first competitive international start alongside Hanley and Tierney in a back three and it was Hendry who Kalajdzic outjumped to power home a brilliant header and restore Austria’s lead.
McGinn had been pushed into a more advanced role by Clarke by that point and the Aston Villa midfielder produced a sublime piece of skill to hook a long ball forward into the bottom corner with his back to goal late on.