That failure in June should no longer weigh so heavily on John McGinn. Not after.
Just as it seemed as if Scotland would not be fairly rewarded, the personal moment of redemption helped to cap an excellent team performance – one that has been completely transformed after a floppy defeat by Ukraine in the World Cup play-off semi-finals would have.
McGinn has admitted he was haunted by his failure to convert from close range back in the second half when hopes for Qatar drifted adrift.
If this was a moment of utter agony, this was a moment of pure bliss. Fittingly, it happened at the same end of Hampden.
After Kieran Tierney’s foul forced the ball his way, McGinn used the most effective butt in international football to roll away from Valeriy Bondar. This time the finish was spot on.
Shot into the bottom corner of the net, it delivered a breakthrough in the 70th minute after a series of thwarted chances. Stuart Armstrong alone had three in the second period’s one-way traffic.
Steve Clarke faced a lot of criticism after Ukraine outclassed their hosts three months ago.
The manager did everything right to send Scotland to the top of Nations League Group B1. It was one of the finest exhibitions of his tenure. A display of talent in this squad.
A system change, away from the back three, made Scotland flourish. And Clarke’s substitutions were perfect.
Ryan Fraser and Lyndon Dykes were introduced to wrap up the match. They did it in style. Twice in the last ten minutes Fraser delivered corners for Dykes to go home.
It was quite the cameo for the Newcastle winger on his international return. For Dykes, it was an emphatic way to end a streak of just one goal in 24 games for club and country.
It’s up to Scotland now. A win against the Republic of Ireland on Saturday night would only require a draw against Ukraine next Tuesday in Poland.
Play like that again and it’s entirely possible to secure promotion to the Nations League and a backup play-off option for Euro 2024. After all the dismay in June, there is a renewed optimism.
Ukraine left the game with a somewhat stunned look. Captain Andriy Yarmolenko stressed at the pre-match media conference that his suffering compatriots’ will to win remained strong.
Once again, each visiting player emerged from the Hampden Tunnel with their national flag.
Coach Oleksandr Petrakov was missing a few options due to injury, above all Oleksandr Zinchenko. The versatile Arsenal man, who excelled in the play-off win, is out with a calf injury.
For Scotland, Tierney’s return to replace the injured Andy Robertson was one of six changes Clarke have made since they last met. The formation was also changed.
Scott McTominay was deployed in midfield – rather than at centre-back – as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Clarke was acutely aware of June’s lessons.
A back four with Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna as the central building blocks still had to prove itself against talented opponents.
As the game began – after a minute of applause for the late Queen, who prompted some boos in Hampden – Ukraine raised an early alarm when Artem Dovbyk suddenly found himself in a one-on-one with Hendry. A former goalscorer at that spot, the Dnipro striker couldn’t make anything of it.
This little terror moved Scotland. Clarke’s side was on the front foot for most of the first half. Ukraine was unable to bypass them as before.
Tierney’s presence was also significant. He spotted Che Adams breaking away to the left and slipped through that channel to hit the striker’s barrel.
Adams directed his drive towards the box, with Bondar’s slip allowing a shot on target. It went straight to goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin.
Ryan Christie then hissed one through the six-yard box without finding a taker before a clear pass to Nathan Patterson saw the ball snap off the right-back’s toes.