World Cup qualifier: Scotland beat Slovakia 1 – 0

Martin Skrtel scores an own goal
Martin Skrtel scores an own goal

Scotland kept their World Cup qualifying hopes alive in dramatic fashion as a late Martin Skrtel own goal gave them victory over 10-man Slovakia.

It had looked as though the hosts would be denied a potentially decisive win by a combination of the woodwork and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

Leigh Griffiths and Chris Martin hit the crossbar, and Dubravka made an outstanding save from Christophe Berra and also kept out Griffiths and James Morrison.

But Skrtel turned home Ikechi Anya’s right-wing cross to give Gordon Strachan’s side a win that moved them up to second in Group F.

While a draw would not have ended their hopes, the fact Slovakia finish their campaign against Malta – who have taken just a point from nine matches – meant they would have been all but out.

But victory over Slovenia on Sunday will now secure Scotland second place, and the chance of reaching the play-offs.

The Scots started the game brightly and, playing at high intensity, took the game to their opponents.

Their rhythm was disrupted, though, when Slovakia midfielder Robert Mak was shown a second yellow card, after diving in the penalty area.

Mak had already been a significant figure, his block on Kieran Tierney inside the area judged not to be a penalty by referee Milorad Mazic.

Elsewhere in the group, Harry Kane’s injury-time winner secured England’s qualification for next summer’s World Cup with a 1-0 victory against Slovenia.

Some games of this magnitude take a while to get going as an occasion. This was not one. Inside 10 minutes, Hampden was howling for a penalty when the doomed Mak collided with Tierney, the Celtic defender going down against a deafening backdrop of the Tartan Army in high dudgeon.

Mazic was having none of it, but when the next major call was demanded of him he was emphatic. Mak had been booked for a lunge on James Forrest in the 17th minute, then he was given a second yellow for attempting to con Mazic into thinking Craig Gordon had brought him down in the penalty area. He had not. Mak, who scored twice against Scotland last year, deservedly, but reluctantly, walked.