Improving Scotland’s chances of making it to a first international tournament in 14 years are hanging by a thread after a poor display by Dutch referee Kevin Blom proved costly in a 2-2 draw with Czech Republic at Hampden Park.
Vladimir Smicer’s side are the Tartan Army’s main rivals for a play-off place in Group I and Craig Levein and co went into Saturday’s game knowing that victory followed by a win over Lithuania would see them leapfrog the 1996 finalists.
Despite a disjointed display, they appeared on course to achieve that when captain Darren Fletcher put them in front for the second time in the 82nd minute, however late controversy surrounding two penalty decisions have shattered their hopes.
Firstly, Michal Kadlec struck from the spot for the visitors after the official harshly adjudged Danny Wilson to have fouled Jan Resek, then booked Christopher Berra for diving at the other end when falling under greater contact by Roman Hubnik.
A furious Fletcher, who set up Scotland’s first and scored the second, said: “How he can’t give ours is beyond me after giving them one in the last minute at a full Hampden. If we didn’t have bad luck, we wouldn’t have any luck at all.”
Boss Levein was as scathing, blaming Blom exclusively for the draw, but his skipper has vowed that his team-mates will keep fighting even though they are now relying on Czech Republic tripping up and may yet require a win in Spain to progress.
It is absolutely essential that Scotland defeat Lithuania, who are level on points with them in third largely thanks to a 0-0 draw in Kaunas last September, on Tuesday, to keep the pressure on Smicer and co, and they are 4/9 to do so.