Euro 2012 qual. - Scotland win, Spain reach finals

Tue, 06 Sep 21:52:00 2011

Steven Naismith spared Darren Fletcher’s blushes as Scotland kept their Euro 2012 qualification dream alive with a 1-0 victory over Lithuania at Hampden Park.

2009-10 Scotland Darren Fletcher (PA Photos) - 0

Tadas Labukas handled in the box one minute before half-time to gift Scotland a penalty but captain Fletcher saw his spot-kick saved by Zydrunas Karcemarskas.

But Naismith scored the only goal of the game five minutes after the break as Scotland closed the gap on second placed Czech Republic to two points.

Scotland’s 2-2 draw against the Czechs on Saturday, where a cruel late penalty denied Craig Levein’s men all three points, left the hosts’ qualification hopes hanging by a thread.

Levein’s side went into the game five points behind the Czech Republic but with this their game in hand, anything over than three points would have rendered their qualification campaign all but over.

The pre-match statistics read in Scotland’s favour; they were unbeaten in four meetings with Lithuania, who had lost seven of their last eight away internationals.

Levein made four changes to the side that drew at the weekend, with midfield duo Barry Bannan and Don Cowie replacing Scott Brown and Charlie Adam, while Alan Hutton made way for Steven Whittaker and David Goodwillie replaced the suspended Kenny Miller as the lone striker.

Scotland took charge from the off, dominating possession against a Lithuania side who were happy to sit deep and soak up the pressure.

Bannan proved to be Scotland’s danger man, with the Aston Villa midfielder firing in a succession of first-class deliveries, with Phil Bardsley flicking on a teasing corner but Gary Caldwell unable to get enough on the ball to convert at the back post.

Goodwillie started the game as the only recognised striker in Scotland’s squad – and the 22-year-old had just 14 minutes of international football under his belt before kick-off, as a substitute in a friendly victory over the Faroe Islands last year.

But the Blackburn player rose well to bring down a high ball on the edge of the box and knock it into the path of Cowie, who blazed over on the half-volley from 18 yards.

Bannan continued to look the most likely source of a Scotland breakthrough and the left-footed midfielder cut in from the right to tee-up a long-range shot but fired over.

Lithuania went into the game having not scored in any of their previous three away fixtures and barely looked like finding the net until Labukas met Ramunas Radavicius’ cross with a tame header that went wide.

And the visitors should have tested Scotland keeper Allan McGregor with two minutes remaining in the first half when Deividas Semberas broke from midfield but, despite having two team-mates free to his right, greedily chose to go for goal himself, only to see his shot blocked by Scotland’s sole defender.

Scotland felt as if they should have had a late penalty to win their game against the Czech Republic but saw their appeals waved away. But, three days later, referee Kristinn Jakobsson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot when Labukas threw out his left arm in the box.

Fletcher stepped up in the absence of Miller and Adam but Karcemarskas guessed the right way to keep out the Manchester United midfielder’s low effort.

Lithuania emerged from the break buoyed by that let-off and Arunas Klimavicius saw his free-kick flash just wide of the post shortly after the restart.

But Scotland took the lead seconds later and Bannan inevitably proved the architect, clipping a delightful ball over the top of the Lithuania defence for Naismith, who spun off his man to fire home on the half-volley.

Scotland looked content to sit on their one goal lead, falling deeper and deeper to invite Lithuania pressure on their back four.

Substitute Arvydas Novikovas, who plies his trade for SPL side Hearts, delivered an inch-perfect ball from the left and Tomas Danilevicius saw his glancing header go inches wide.

The 20-year-old Novikovas continued to pull the strings for Lithuania and watched his 25-yard shot dip narrowly over the crossbar with just three minutes remaining.

But Scotland held on from there to record their second victory of the campaign. Levein’s side now face Liechtenstein and Spain, while the Czech Republic meet Spain and Lithuania in their remaining fixtures.

Holders Spain qualified for the Euro 2012 finals with two games to spare thanks to a 6-0 win at home to Liechtenstein.

The victory for the world and European champions made it six wins out of six in Group I and put them eight points clear of second-placed Czech Republic.

Alvaro Negredo (34, 37), Xavi (44), Sergio Ramos (52) and David Villa (59, 79) were on target during the rout.

George Scott / Eurosport

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