If you are a connoisseur of set-piece defending, this one probably wasn’t for you. But for any other sports fan, this was the place to be on Saturday.
Scotland and Israel might not be heavyweights on the football scene but that did not prevent them from producing a compelling and fluctuating bout, the hosts twice dragging themselves off the canvas to deliver a knockout blow at the death. If the first half, after Lyndon Dykes’ abject penalty, had ended in fury, the conclusion to the second could hardly have been wilder.
Considering the height of the stakes – for Scotland, victory would represent a major step towards getting their name on the bill for the undisputed world championship, whereas Israel knew defeat would likely spell the end of their days as contenders – the quality of the contest was remarkable.
Neither side was intimidated by the size of the prize or paralysed by the consequences of failure, as had arguably occurred when these same sides served up a deplorable spectacle in the European Championship playoffs a year and a day earlier.
The scoresheet, of course, is not the only thing which was empty then but full here. Stands whose patrons numbered nil in 2020 held over 50,000 this time, and the noise released upon Scott McTominay’s winner was worthy of not only that many but also the thousands more who would have witnessed Hampden’s other recent battles had they been permitted.
It was certainly a very different type of celebration to those which greeted the successes of Scotland’s last qualifying campaign, though one hesitates to call it a better one.
The magnitude of reaching Euro 2020 was such that, even apart, Scotland experienced it together. The country now lives in hope that 2022 will provide a repeat, which can be savoured as one.