Robert Lewandowski double sends Scotland out of Euro 2016
Scotland’s bid to reach Euro 2016 was ended by lethal Poland frontman Robert Lewandowski, who bagged a brace with strikes at the start and end of a 2-2 draw.
Matt Ritchie inspired a response from Gordon Strachan’s side, with a goal and assist to put the home team ahead at Hampden Park, but all was in vain anyway as another result went against the Scots.
Ritchie’s stunning strike right on half-time after Lewandowsi grabbed an early opener set up an absorbing second 45 minutes, which saw the Bournemouth winger later tee-up Steven Fletcher to emphatically end his goal drought and help Scotland to a hard-earned point, but in vain.
Shane Long’s winner in Dublin against world champions Germany extended the gap between the Irish and Scots, with just one more match of this pool to be played. Martin O’Neill’s men now take on the Poles in Warsaw, but need to win to be at Euro 2016 automatically and avoid the play-offs.
Strachan made four changes to the side so brave in defeat against the World Cup holders last time out. With Charlie Mulgrew injured and James Morrison banned, two were enforced but James McArthur and Shaun Maloney dropped to the bench.
That meant starts for Steven Whittaker at left back, Ritchie and Steven Naismith in the front four and Darren Fletcher alongside fellow engine room operator Scott Brown.
Scotland’s midfield simply failed to get tight to Lewandowski’s strike partner Arkadiusz Milik, when he dropped deep inside three minutes and threaded through to Euro 2016 qualifying’s leading marksman.
Bayern Munich frontman Lewandowski survived a hint of offside, found himself in behind the home back four, with the flag staying down, and slotted past the exposed David Marshall on his near post for his 11th of this international campaign.
Strachan’s response to falling behind so early was to match the Poles and their 4-4-2 setup, but several Ritchie crosses failed to find their mark.
Naismith’s shot midway through the first-half, after great work from Russell Martin and James Forrest, only saw Kamil Glik throw himself in the way to block.
Fiorentina loanee Jakub Blaszczykowski dragged wide after slick interplay from Poland, as Lewandowski looked to turn provider for his former Borussia Dortmund teammate.
Ritchie got Hampden roaring with a superb equaliser on the stroke of half-time hour, with fellow winger James Forrest finding him on the edge of the box to stunningly swivel his drive past Lukasz Fabianski. The Cherries wideman’s strike was all the more impressive because the ball was behind him.
Milik almost restored Poland’s leads moments after the second-half kicked off, but this time Marshall got down low to his right to turn the Ajax forward’s shot behind.
A stretched contest for five minutes after the interval then saw Naismith go close again, but just couldn’t steer a Whittaker ball over the top on target. Lewandowski lifted over Marshall, but also the Scotland goal at the other end.
Steven Fletcher completed what looked an unlikely turnaround just after the hour, curling past Fabianski into the top corner when Ritchie slipped the Sunderland striker in down the right channel.
Marshall had to be on hand to twice parry long-range efforts from Sevilla anchorman Grzegorz Krychowiak’s long-range effort, as backs to the wall defending ensued for Scotland.
Polish pressure finally told deep in stoppage time, though, with Lewandowski tapping in when a free-kick caused chaos in the Scottish defence and came back off the base of the post.
Strachan is left to rue that poor result against Georgia, but giving teams like German and Poland a run for their money should give Scottish supporters, staff and players alike huge pride.