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Slovenia 1 Scotland 1
Roddy Forsyth, Bonifika Stadium
Scotland – who will have to profit from a Balkans campaign if they are to make the 2014 World Cup finals – emerged with encouragement from this encounter with a Slovenia team rated 18 places higher in the Fifa rankings.
An uneven first start by the Norwich City right-back, Russell Martin, saw him have the misfortune to partially deflect a header by Andraz Kirm beyond Allan McGregor, who was wrong-footed by the ricochets from the skulls of the Scottish defender and his Slovenian opponent.
That was a twist of fate the Scots found hard to take. True, they lived dangerously in the opening moments when Valter Birsa went one-on-one with McGregor but was thwarted by the Rangers goalkeeper.
However, Scotland came within a fraction of seizing the lead when Charlie Adam chipped perfectly over the Slovenian back line for James Morrison to strike a potent angled drive that Samir Handanovic tipped on to his crossbar and then clutched gratefully on his line as the rebound dropped straight into his lap.
Craig Levein’s side, however, demonstrated character to return fire to effect within seven minutes when Adam – whose Carling Cup final performance will be forever imprinted with the spectacle of his woeful effort in the penalty shoot-out – found his touch again with the Scots’ only corner kick of the game. Adam’s delivery was met perfectly by Christophe Berra with a forceful header that went in at the based of the back post, which the Slovenians had left unguarded.
At half-time Adam made way for Barry Bannan, a sign that Levein had accepted the Aston Villa player’s repentance for the drink driving episode that cost him a place in the squad for Scotland’s previous friendly, the 1-0 win in Cyprus in November.
Bannan came close to repaying his manager’s faith with a biting drive that forced Handanovic into a good save on his line.
Adam’s departure allowed Charlie Mulgrew – on his international debut to take up set-piece duties but his first attempt – a free-kick from 25 yards – hit the nearest defender.
Mulgrew was also implicated in the Slovenian goal when he went to ground in his attempt to stop Miso Brecko getting free on the flank and this error allowed his opponent to deliver the cross which did the damage.
However, Mulgrew’s familiarity with James Forrest was significant in maintaining supply to his clubmate, who had been summoned from the under-21 side that drew 0-0 with the Dutch in Paisley last night. Forrest’s pace and willingness to commit opponents was impressive.
However, the familiar Scottish failing of lack of penetration in front of goal was again in evidence, as Craig Mackail-Smith had the unappealing task of attempting to tame high balls in the vicinity of Marko Suler, whose height advantage told in his duels with the Brighton forward.
Mackail-Smith was relieved by Robert Snodgrass after an hour but the Leeds United man had scarcely more joy in the role, especially in the later stages when Slovenia pressed for a winner that looked as though it would come in stoppage time as Scotland threw bodies across the line of shots inside the box.
In the event, Levein’s players held out for the three added minutes and did their morale a touch of good in difficult circumstances.
Slovenia (4-4-2): S Handanovic; Brecko, Suler, Cesar, Jokic; Birsa (Vuckic 61), Kirm (Pecnik 88), Radosavljevic, Khrin (Matic 84); Dedic (Ljubijankic 82), Ilic. Subs: J Handanovic, Kelhar, Volas, Vrsic, Mavric, Belec.
Scotland (4-1-4-1): McGregor (Rangers); Martin (Norwich), Caldwell (Wigan), Berra (Wolves), Mulgrew (Celtic); Adam (Liverpool); Forrest (Celtic), McArthur (Wigan), Mackie (QPR), Morrison (West Brom); Mackail-Smith (Brighton).
Referee: A Stavrev (Macedonia).
Taken from telegraph.co.uk