40 min: McGinn tries to roll Gudelj and run free, but the referee isn’t having it. Not sure he actually did that much wrong there; McGinn certainly feels wronged.
38 min: A decent little spell for Serbia, forcing a couple of stretched clearances even if it doesn’t yield all that much. Scotland would definitely not want to go in behind here.
36 min: Christie loses his footing as he *almost* works a shooting chance on the edge of the box. It’s opening up a touch.
35 min: McGregor makes an absolutely vital run to cover a Lazovic break with Robertson the wrong side of the ball – wonderfully assiduous work from him.
32 min: Chance for McGinn! A half-chance anyway. He’s played into all kinds of space on the left but never quite looks confident enough to have a pop from that side, eventually shooting and forcing a relatively comfortable save from Rajkovic. Your Andy Robertsons possibly bury that.
31 min: Dykes does well to head on a long free-kick but is then pulled up for fouling Stefan Mitrovic. This currently has a going-the-distance feel about it.
29 min: A couple of decent deliveries from the left have just caused Scotland some concern. Mitrovic (let’s assume I mean the striker if I don’t give his first name) does get his head on the second of them but it loops through to Marshall.
28 min: Iceland lead in Hungary, as do Slovakia in Northern Ireland. All square here and, just now, not much going on at all. This always seemed destined to be on a knife edge.
25 min: Scotland press Serbia’s defenders like terriers down by the corner flag and win possession back after forcing a snatched clearance. They’re working very hard out there.
23 min: That was an alarm, though. Tadic works some magic, Mitrovic holds the ball up well in the box and lays it back for Lukic, and the Torino man sidefoots inches wide from 20 yards.
22 min: Very short on alarms so far for Scotland but what they don’t want to do is let this talented, but erratic, Serbia side play itself into this game. The control of that first 15 minutes was very much the way to go.
20 min: They nearly work an opening, too, as Lazovic tries to play in the bursting Milinkovic-Savic but there’s just too much on it. Milinkovic-Savic is a clear dangerman, he’s a magician when he gets going.
19 min: The hosts have settled a bit, by which I mean they’re actually getting on the ball for a sustained period now.
17 min: A flicker from Serbia, Tadic doing well to find Aleksandar Mitrovic but nobody being placed to meet the striker’s delivery. He’d usually have wanted to be in there himself, to be fair.
15 min: O’Donnell catches Kostic and Serbia have a breather. Scotland haven’t exactly run them ragged but nonetheless it’s been an impressive start. They look controlled, composed and confident.
13 min: Still Scotland dominate, working the ball forward smoothly and under little pressure. O’Donnell finds half a yard to deliver before Stefan Mitrovic clears again.
11 min: Christie’s left-footed free-kick, from 30 yards, is little trouble for Rajkovic. It was worth a go – it’s very wet and skiddy out there tonight.
10 min: Milenkovic goes across McGinn with a stray arm and it’s a very dangerous, central free-kick for Scotland. Milenkovic is booked.
9 min: Now Robertson seeks out Dykes with an early cross but Stefan Mitrovic, the centre-back, is there. The visitors are bossing this so far.
7 min: Tierney rakes over a fine diagonal pass that Christie takes beautifully, creating space to cross from the right. His delivery isn’t too far above the leaping Dykes.
6 min: Scotland definitely won’t be unhappy with this start. They’ve made the early running, such as it’s been. A lengthy passing sequence ends with a ball to Christie on the left, but his centre is claimed by Rajkovic.
4 min: It’s tentative, feely-feely stuff so far as you’d probably expect. We’ve had a wayward long pass apiece and a couple of passing moves strung around the back from each team.
2 min: Don’t forget that, if Scotland do make the Euros tonight, they’ll face England at Wembley in the group stage. Serbia, for their part, would contest a derby of their own with Croatia at … Hampden.
Peeeep! Off we go!
Scotland are playing in their traditional colours and shooting from right to left …
Brinkle writes: “Portuguese-Scottish here. My Scottish dad has been trying for the last 20 years or so to make us think he stopped caring about football … I would love if we could finally go watch both national teams (Portugal and Scotland) in a big competition. Please Scotland! He is 76!”
Do it for Brinkle snr!
The teams are walking out now, inside a
eerily silent Rajko Mitic Stadium – home to Red Star Belgrade. Nearly time!
One play-off we haven’t mentioned tonight: Hungary play Iceland shortly too. Will the surprise package of 2016 do it again?
Still time to read Ewan Murray’s brilliant preview. Can Scotland shed the fatalism that has dogged them?
James Humphries writes:
“The ‘98 World Cup is the first tournament Scotland were at that I’ve got clear memories of; mainly, unless my memory’s not as clear as I thought, of us getting denied a stonewall second penalty and Boyd putting through his own net during a valiant defeat. That should’ve been the warning sign, in retrospect, but I wasn’t any smarter as a schoolkid than, evidently, I am now. It’s the hope that kills you.”
Other MBMs are available tonight for the multi-taskers among you.
Northern Ireland v Slovakia – another big play-off final – with Rob Smyth:
England v Republic of Ireland – definitely not a play-off final – with Simon Burnton:
Wales v USA – not a play-off final in anyone’s wildest imagination – with Bryan Armen Graham:
Seems the way, doesn’t it? It’s quite similar for Serbia actually. They have plenty of pressure themselves to shed a historical burden: they haven’t qualified for a Euros since 2000, and back then they competed for one last time under the Yugoslavia banner.
Don’t be alarmed, Andy Robertson *does* play. I just took him criminally for granted when entering the teams first time around. Better hope he’s not ignored by his teammates on those gallops upfield later!
Don’t forget to send your emails in to the address above. Or tweets, I’m not fussy! This is a *big* night for Scotland and coming through it could offer such welcome relief for so many in a rotten year. What would this mean to you?
Looks as if Kieran Tierney will slot into the left of that back three for Scotland. Ryan Christie will be supporting the striker Lyndon Dykes, I fancy. The likes of Stuart Armstrong, Oli McBurnie and Leigh Griffiths are on the bench if extra vim and vigour are needed.
You’ll know a lot of those Serbian names. There’s no Aleksandar Kolarov, which is a blow for them – but that front three of Milinkovic-Savic, Tadic and Mitrovic is capable of … anything.
News from elsewhere: in the League D play-off, North Macedonia have won 1-0 in Georgia and will make their European Championship finals debut next summer. Will Serbia add to the ex-Yugoslavia contingent?
Serbia: Rajkovic, Milenkovic, S Mitrovic, Gudelj, Lazovic, Kostic, Maksimovic, Lukic, Milinkovic-Savic, Tadic, A Mitrovic.
Scotland: Marshall, O’Donnell, McTominay, Gallagher, Tierney, Robertson, McGinn, Jack, Christie, McGregor, Dykes.
Can Scotland get the monkey off their back? In 1998, when they were running Brazil close in the opening game of the World Cup, you’d have been laughed out of town if you’d said they wouldn’t make it to a major tournament for the next 22 years. But here we are – it’s been an almost unremittingly bleak couple of decades, and Scotland have, much as it might seem strange to anyone over 30, been bordering on an irrelevance on the international stage since then.
Here’s their chance to become relevant again! And it’s a good one because this is … whisper it … quite a good team. They have a genuine world-class talent in Andy Robertson and a clutch of other players shining at Premier League level including Kieran Tierney, John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong. Even if they only squeaked past Israel to reach tonight’s showdown, Steve Clarke’s men are on an enviable run of form and their record over the last eight games reads W7 D1. They haven’t strung anything comparable together since winning six on the trot back in 2007. Is something stirring?
Hopefully, but they’ve quite the hurdle to overcome here. Serbia stand between them and Euro 2020, and start as favourites. You never really know what you’re going to get from Serbia: “mercurial” would be the word, because they produce a steady stream of lavish talents who thrill when they click but are just as liable to turn out total dross. They did the former in winning, impressively, in Norway to get this far but it was their only win in the last six. Which version will turn up?
It might help Scotland that, while a full stadium would be far better for the spectacle, they’ll be spared the usual cauldron-like Belgrade vibes. Will that give them the edge? Stay tuned and find out – I’ve a feeling this one might be a cracker, whichever way it goes.