Penalty kicks have traditionally proved a spot of bother to English footballers.
They have also been a source of vicarious pleasure to Tartan Army foot soldiers reduced to relishing the misfortunes of our near neighbours during Scotland’s miserable 22-year run of failing to qualify for tournaments.
But a remarkable transformation has occurred in the past few weeks as Scottish football supporters have ditched schadenfreude to instead embrace their own team’s emergence as the practitioners of the perfect penalty.
Scotland qualified for their first major tournament in 22 years after beating Serbia on Thursday
David Marshall was the hero as he saved Aleksandar Mitrovic’s effort to send Scotland through
Scotland players made their spot-kick success against Israel and then Serbia look easy
Scoring 10 out of 10 in Euro 2020 play-off showdowns with Israel and Serbia is a 100 per cent record in shoot-outs that not even the mighty Germany can match.
Famously, the Germans have never lost on penalties in the World Cup. But they have lost one tournament shoot-out: the 1976 European Championship final to the Czech Republic, with the decisive kick so famous they named the style of penalty after its impudent taker, Antonin Panenka.
Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about Scotland’s recent spot-kick success is how easy the players have made it look.
Since John McGinn only just squeezed his first penalty under Ofir Marciano and over the line against Israel, sublime kicks by Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay, Lawrence Shankland and Kenny McLean secured our passage to Serbia in the final.
Over in Belgrade, some faces had changed but the faultless penalties remained a constant.
Leigh Griffiths, McGregor, McTominay, Oli McBurnie — under such huge pressure having never scored for his country — and, finally, McLean scored past Serbia’s penalty specialist keeper Predrag Rajkovic, who has saved four out of seven spot-kicks for French side Stade de Reims this season.
As a measure of how tough these occasions are, Israel’s star striker Eran Zahavi and Serbia’s finest frontman Aleksandar Mitrovic were the two fall guys thanks to magnificent saves by David Marshall .
Scotland’s talisman Marshall was well prepared by goalkeeping coach Stephen Woods
Yet so well prepared was Scotland’s talisman by goalkeeping coach Stephen Woods that he was a touch disappointed he had not saved more, despite getting a firm hand on Luka Jovic’s effort.
But he recognised that saving his best until last added to the sense of occasion on a night of high drama.
‘We did a lot of prep for penalties,’ said Marshall. ‘You need a lot of information quickly as soon as the game finishes and Woodsy’s great with that.
‘I actually was disappointed at the first because I was going to stand for Dusan Tadic’s penalty (which went high and straight).
‘But you might as well take it to the last penalty for that little bit more excitement!
‘What was I thinking in those seconds before the referee ruled my save from Mitrovic could stand? I just hoped and prayed it didn’t go to a retake but the referee let me know pretty quickly. When you’ve waited 22 years what’s another four or five seconds?’
Andy Robertson was next to take a penalty but wasn’t surprised of his team’s 100% hit rate
Captain Andy Robertson was in line to take the next penalty had Mitrovic scored.
But the Liverpool star was not surprised that Scotland had another 100 per cent success rate from the spot.
‘It doesn’t matter if you wear the captain’s armband or play every game — the important thing is choosing your five best penalty takers and that’s what we did,’ said Robertson.
‘The five guys had been amazing taking penalties in training and that gave us the best possible chance to win. They were so confident.
‘And we always fancy Marshy to save a penalty and it was incredible from him. Again. What a legend he’s been for us!
‘He’s been involved with the Scotland squad for so many years so it’s brilliant he’s now getting to a tournament. My God he deserves it.’
Scotland will play in a group consisting of England, Croatia and Czech Republic next summer
Scotland can now look forward to the Euros next summer, with Hampden home matches against the Czech Republic on June 14 and Croatia on June 22. But the pick of the Group D ties sees Steve Clarke’s side take on England at Wembley on June 18.
And should the referee point to the spot at Wembley, there will be justifiable grounds for optimism.
Let’s not think of Euro 96; of Gary McAllister and of Uri Geller.
On the evidence being served up by this modern, dynamic, confident young Scotland side, those days are past now. And in the past they must remain.