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Slovenia dealt a fatal blow to Scotland’s World Cup hopes as the sides played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Sportni Park Stozice in Ljubljana on Sunday evening.
All Irish eyes were on the result as a Scottish win would have left Ireland’s playoff hopes out of the hands of the Boys in Green.
After sitting back early on, the Scots impressed on the break and Gordon Strachan’s men took the lead just after the half hour.
A right-wing cross following a throw-in was partially cleared to James McArthur. The Crystal Palace midfielder’s looping header back into the box found Leigh Griffiths in a pocket of Slovenian central defenders.
The little striker angled a low left foot shot across Jan Oblak and into the bottom corner.
Sre?ko Katanec, who is departing the Slovenia head coach role, shuffled his deck at half time and produced a trump card in Roman Bezjak.
The SV Darmstadt striker delivered two goals in 20 second half minutes to turn the match around and ultimately dash Scottish dreams of a Summer trip to Russia 2018.
On 52 minutes, the impressive Josip Ilicic, who was earning his 50th Slovenian cap, curled in a right wing free kick, awarded after a Darren Fletcher foul.
Static Scottish defenders allowed Bezjak a free header and his stooping effort eluded Craig Gordon and found the bottom corner.
In the 71st minute, Ilicic swung in a right-wing corner. Scotland’s defending was again found wanting and the ball fell to Bezjak eight yards out.
He needed no second invitation to sweep the ball deep into the Scotland net to the delight of the home fans and all the Irish supporters watching in Ireland or in the bars of Cardiff.
Substitute Robert Snodgrass did give the Tartan Army some hope late on two minutes from time. Set-up superbly by Darren Fletcher, Snodgrass held off pressure from full back and ‘keeper to lift the ball home.
Snodgrass had an even later chance to earn Scotland a play-off reprieve but his header lacked power and Oblak held the ball safely.
Tempers frayed in injury time and veteran Chievo defender Bostjan Cesar received a straight red card for Slovenia as he clashed with Christophe Berra, who was one of four Scottish players to be booked.
The dismissal somewhat spoiled the Slovenian captain’s 100th international appearance but one doubts it’ll worry him too much.
After that encouraging first half, Scotland flattered to deceive and this result will be well received in both the Wales and Republic of Ireland camps.
Slovenia: Jan Oblak; Aljaz Struna (Nejc Skubic 46), Miha Mevlja, Bostjan Cesar, Bojan Jokic; Jasmin Kurtic, Rajko Rotman; Jan Repas (Roman Bezjak 46), Josip Ilicic, Benjamin Verbic; Tim Matavz.
Subs not used: Vid Belec (GK), Mitja Viler, Matija Sirok, Andraz Sporar, Antonio Mlinar, Jan Koprivec.
Booked: Rajko Rotman (57), Bostjan Cesar (90), Benjamin Verbic (90).
Sent off: Bostjan Cesar (90).
Scotland: Craig Gordon; Kieran Tierney (Steven Fletcher 80), Christophe Berra, Charlie Mulgrew, Andrew Robertson; Matt Phillips, Darren Fletcher, James McArthur (Robert Snodgrass, 79), Barry Bannan; Chris Martin (Ikechi Anya 52), Leigh Griffiths.
Subs Not Used: Allan McGregor (GK), John McGinn, Steven Whittaker, Grant Hanley, James Forrest, Liam Cooper, Jordan Archer, Callum McGregor.
Booked: Kieran Tierney (5), James McArthur (65), Christophe Berra (90), Charlie Mulgrew (90).
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Roman Bezjak (Slovenia)