With his 16th international goal, John McGinn not only broke the deadlock for Scotland against Cyprus in a 3-0 win, but moved up to 7th in the top goalscorers list for his country. It’s a list that is currently topped by the iconic duo of Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law, but McGinn’s place in the top ten is testament to his importance in Steve Clarke’s team.
Against a stubborn Cyprus, Scotland pressed and pulled until they found the opening, and in one of the two number ten positions, McGinn was once again influential. For Aston Villa, he has too often been used in a deeper role due to his tenacity, but it has limited his effectiveness in the final third.
With Ryan Jack given a start alongside Callum McGregor in the centre of midfield, McGinn and Stuart Armstrong were deployed behind Che Adams. Scotland dominated the ball and were able to keep control of the midfield, as you would expect against a side that have won just three of their last 19.
With Andy Robertson and Aaron Hickey given licence to go forward from wing-back, Scotland were able to camp in the Cyprus half, even if they lacked the cutting edge to create too many goalscoring opportunities. The goal came after a direct pass released Robertson on the left and his deflected cross fell into the path of McGinn who volleyed into an empty net.
It was what Scotland and McGinn deserved as he celebrated his 16th goal for his country. That takes him clear of Robert Hamilton and James McFadden in the Scotland scoring standings, with Kenny Miller on 18 the next on his hit-list. He hit seven in the last qualification campaign for Euro 2020 and will hope to produce a similar number if Scotland are to reach their second consecutive European Championship finals.
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In their smart 150th anniversary shirt, it was the wing-backs that provided the greatest threat. Hickey went on a mazy run in the first half and saw his shot saved, while he nearly got on the end of a Robertson low cross.
The introduction of Lyndon Dykes, Scott McTominay and Ryan Christie gave them more energy and they almost forced a second goal, but they took their time to put the game to bed. The second goal came from the boot of the Manchester United midfielder as Dykes nodded the ball down to him in the box, and he took one touch to control, before firing into the roof of the net from close range.
It was a goal that lifted the anxiety that had been building around Hampden Park. And it got better for McTominay as he scored his second in the 93rd minute, to put the game to bed and take his own personal Scotland tally up to three.
He has posed manager Clarke, who signed a new contract ahead of this match, an interesting dilemma. He’s proven his attacking qualities and has the physicality and energy to secure a place in this Scotland team. Against Spain he should surely come into the XI, perhaps in place of Jack should Clarke decide to deploy him in the deeper central midfield role.
The 3-0 scoreline made the game look far more comfortable than it was for the hosts. Cyprus are the lowest seeds in this qualifying group, with Spain to come on Tuesday and Norway and Georgia aso hoping to make it to Germany. One thing is for sure, Scotland will have to be far better against those opponents to make it to Euro 2024.
But this is the perfect start on paper. McGinn and McTominay will hope to produce when Spain come to town.