Scotland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign got off to the worst possible start as they were beaten 3-0 by Kazakhstan.
Yuriy Pertsukh gave Kazakhstan a shock lead after just six minutes before Yan Vorogovskiy doubled the advantage moments later.
Baktiyor Zainutdinov scored a third for the home side shortly after half-time allowing Kazakhstan to control the tempo of the game and see out the win.
But what did we learn from the match?
1. Graeme Shinnie struggles to replace Robertson
Scotland have one of the best left-backs in European football right now on their hands in Andy Robertson, but unfortunately they were unable to use him on Thursday afternoon.
The Liverpool man, in the form of his life, was ruled out of the trip to Kazakhstan after undergoing an operation on an abscess in his mouth last Sunday. Although it was nothing serious, it was enough to see him miss Scotland’s opening Euro 2020 qualifier.
Things got worse for Scotland when Robertson’s deputy Kieran Tierney was also ruled out with a hip problem, resulting in Graeme Shinnie starting his first competitive game for the national team.
And, unfortunately, Shinnie had a day to forget with Kazakhstan targeting his side of the pitch for most of their attacks, resulting in two goals. For the first, Alexander Merkel played a simple ball over the top of the Scotland defence which Pertsukh ran on to through the space between Shinnie and Scott McKenna.
Then just moments later, Islambek Kuat played a beautifully-weighted pass inside Shinnie, which Vorogovskiy finished.
2. No Fraser, big problem
On top of the injury problems Scotland had, the location of the match brought unnecessary dilemmas for Alex McLeish.
The venue, the 30,000-seater Astana Arena is the home of Europa League regulars FC Astana and has hosted the likes of Celtic, Villarreal and Sporting Lisbon in recent years.
But the Kazakhstani national stadium currently uses an artificial surface, which two Premier League sides decided would be too dangerous for two of their players.
Both Ryan Fraser and Callum Paterson were withdrawn from the match to face Kazakhstan by Bournemouth and Cardiff City respectively, due to fears the surface could cause reoccurrence of serious knee injuries.
As a result, McLeish had to set up his Scotland side without one of the most creative players in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
Fraser has recorded 10 assists so far in the Premier League this season, only Lionel Messi, Jadon Sancho and Eden Hazard have managed more across Europe’s top five leagues.
The Bournemouth winger has also been directly involved in four goals in his last two games for Scotland, scoring one and assisting three.
His replacement on the left, Oliver Burke did well enough on the ball, causing Kazakhstan’s wing-backs problems but the Celtic man was severely lacking when it came to final product.
Fortunately for Scotland, Fraser and Paterson will be available for their trip to San Marino on Sunday.
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3. Kazakhstan are not just here to make up the numbers
With just two teams from each group qualifying for Euro 2020, not many would have backed Kazakhstan to make much impact on Group I.
As well as an apparently improving Scotland, Kazakhstan also have to contend with Belgium and Russia for the two spots – while Cyprus and San Marino complete the group.
GOAL for Kazakhstan! The home side break quickly. A floated ball into the box is met by the head of Zainutdinov who puts into the far corner. 3-0.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) March 21, 2019
While Belgium are surely favourites to win the group, second place could be open – depending on which Russia shows up in qualifying – and Kazakhstan certainly made their case in their win over Scotland.
The home side were excellent, targeting Scotland’s weak points in defence to build the early lead, before looking to add to it with ferocious counter-attacks.
This, coming from a side ranked 117th in the world, was a shock to Scotland’s system who may have expected a slightly easier game given the 67 places between them in Fifa’s ranking.
But Kazakhstan were the ones to come out on top, winning their second game in a row after ending the Nations League with a victory – the first time the nation has done so since March 2016.
It may still be a hard task for Kazakhstan to qualify for Euro 2020, but it they play like they did against Scotland, they could be in with a slim chance.
4. Scotland may be relying on Nations League route to reach Euro 2020
Just one game in to the qualifying campaign, it’s far too early to realistically say this, but Scotland fans may already be thankful they have a Euro 2020 play-off place wrapped up.
Thank goodness Scotland won their nations league group to get a play off. We are the only country in Europe with real hopes of qualifying that somehow manage to wreck a whole qualifying campaign in the opening 10 minutes. What a shambles.
— Michael Youngson (@Michael9589) March 21, 2019
These first 10 minutes a total brass neck for Scotland. Cant help but feel this entire campaign is a waste of time though, with all our hopes pinned on the play off from the nations league anyway.
— Ian (@ianmck24) March 21, 2019
10 minutes into the entire pan-continental Euro 2020 qualifying groups and Scotland already concentrating on the playoffs 1 year from now. The Nations League is a beautiful thing. https://t.co/AxSLbXDCye
— Graham Dunbar (@gdunbarap) March 21, 2019
Scotland’s Euro campaign lasted all of 10minutes! Embarrassing start in Kazakhstan, just as well we have the lifeline of the Nations League playoffs! #Euro2020
— Steven Khan (@stevenkhan93) March 21, 2019
Although the automatic place through the official qualifying campaign is the dream, with Belgium, Russia and Kazakhstan seemingly above Scotland, it may just be too hard of a task for McLeish’s men.
Fortunately, due to Scotland winning their Uefa Nations League group, they are guaranteed a play-off place to reach Euro 2020. In that regard, they will face three similarly-ranked teams from League C. But, even then it looks like a hard task with Finland, Norway and Serbia the fellow League C winners.
strong>5. The Scott McTominay fan base spreads to Kazakhstan
Who knew Scott McTominay had die-hard fans in Kazakhstan?
The 22-year-old central midfielder made a name for himself after being utilised by Jose Mourinho at Manchester United towards the end of last season and the start of the current campaign.
Scott McTominay has more fans in Kazakhstan than he does in Scotland pic.twitter.com/pKBCFEsJaT
— Liam King (@LK95_) March 21, 2019
His growth has since continued under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the Norwegian often starting McTominay as part of his midfield trio in replacement of the injured Nemanja Matic.
And it appears his performances for the Red Devils have made an impact in Kazakhstan. Just before the 22-year-old came on from the bench for Scotland, one of the home fans was pictured with a poster asking for McTominay’s shirt.
Unfortunately for Scotland, McTominay could add nothing to the poor side which were outplayed and overrun by Kazakhstan, but the midfielder may just make someone’s year if he fulfil’s the fan’s wish.