After 23 years of watching from home and, frankly, not being good enough, Scotland will be back at a major tournament next summer – and how they deserve their place at Euro 2020, where England await.
All that can deny them now is Covid-19, but that is a worry for another day. For now, the boys of Belgrade will rightly bask in the glory of this playoff triumph, secured following a penalty-shootout victory in which Derby goalkeeper David Marshall was the hero and Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic was the fall guy.
It means a first appearance at a major finals since France 98. To give the passage of time some context, their goalkeeper from that World Cup, Jim Leighton, is now in his sixties, and manager Craig Brown in his eighties.
Scotland’s players celebrate after reaching their first major tournament since 1998
Scotland have qualified for Euro 2020 after beating Serbia with a dramatic penalty shoot-out
Steve Clarke’s men were forced to go the distance but had sparked delirium right at the death
Scott McTominay and Declan Gallagher celebrating after breaking Scotland’s 23 year-wait
Serbia: Rajkovic, Milenkovic, Stefan Mitrovic (Spajic 108), Gudelj, Lazovic, Maksimovic (Jovic 70), Milinkovic-Savic (Katai 71), Lukic, Kostic (Mladenovic 59), Aleksandar Mitrovic, Tadic
Subs not used: Rockov, Gacinovic, Kolarov, Vlahovic, Ristic, Grujic, Radonjic, Dmitrovic
Goalscorers: Jovic 90
Booked: Milenkovic, Gudelj
Scotland (3-5-1-1): Marshall 6; McTominay 5, Gallagher 6.5, Tierney 7; O’Donnell 6.5 (Griffiths 117), McGinn 6.5 (McLean 83, 5), Jack 7, McGregor 7, Robertson 6.5; Christie 7.5 (Paterson 87, 5); Dykes 7 (McBurnie 83, 5)
Subs not used: McLaughlin, Gordon, McKenna, Cooper, Armstrong, Burke, Palmer, Considine
Goalscorers: Christie 52
And how those old boys would have cursed at the all-too-familiar sight of Scottish heartache as they surrendered a 1-0 lead in the 90th minute.
Ahead thanks to Ryan Christie’s 52nd-minute strike, Steve Clarke’s side looked comfortable as the fourth official readied the board for the injury-time minutes.
But having defended so admirably on a sodden night at the Red Star Stadium, they switched off at the death.
The concession was careless and Manchester United’s Scott McTominay was culpable. Not only did he needlessly give away the corner from which Serbia equalised, it was McTominay’s man – the unmarked Luka Jovic – who headed home.
But how McTominay will be relieved that his errors matter not and he redeemed himself by converting in the shootout.
Norwich’s Kenny McLean tucked in Scotland’s fifth spot-kick meaning Mitrovic had to score. But Marshall was equal to it with a magnificent flying save.
Captain Andy Robertson said: ‘We got so close and had to pick ourselves up for extra-time.
‘In the 90 minutes we were comfortable. We were the far better team. But it just shows you the strength we have to come back from conceding, a lot of teams would have crumbled. And going to penalties you always back Marshy to save one.
‘I’m so proud of everyone. We’ve been through a lot of criticism but I hope we’ve put a smile on a lot of people’s faces back home at what is a tough time. There were tears everywhere afterwards.’
Ryan Christie netted the opener for Scotland after fizzling a low drive into the bottom corner
The Celtic man was mobbed by his team-mates with Scotland’s hard work paying off superbly
Scorer Christie was one of those in tears, as he added: ‘Its been a horrible year for everyone. We knew we could give a little something to this country. I hope everyone back home is having a party.’
A Serbian was once the mastermind behind Scotland’s most humiliating defeat at a major tournament.
Bora Milutinovic was manager when Costa Rica beat them 1-0 at Italia 90, and he surfaced on the eve of this game to predict yet more misery for the Scots. How wrong he was.
An away fixture it may have been but at least the bouncing rain felt homely for the Scots and they were the better team for the majority.
Luka Jovic headed home unmarked inside second half added time to break Scotland’s hearts
They should have been in front seconds before Christie’s opener when QPR striker Lyndon Dykes held off two Serb defenders and rolled invitingly to Robertson arriving on the edge of the area. His effort, however, was as wild as the weather.
But amid the storm Christie was a picture of calm as he received a clever reverse pass from Celtic team-mate Callum McGregor and, from 20 yards, duly produced a reverse pass of his own as he guided in via the inside of the post.
It was a goal good enough to win the tie but Scotland won’t mind how they did it, they are back on the big stage, and that is all that matters to them.