Scotland suffered one of their most embarrassing defeats as two goals in the opening 10 minutes sent them on their way to defeat in Kazakhstan.
A top-two finish in their European Championship qualifying group already looks a slim chance after an opening defeat to a team ranked 117th in the world. Kazakhstan had won only three of their previous 40 competitive matches – against Andorra, Latvia and the Faroe Islands.
The opening two goals were particularly painful for the Aberdeen midfielder Graeme Shinnie, who was standing in at left-back after Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson lost fitness battles.
Shinnie, who played left-back earlier in his career, allowed both Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy to get in behind him to score.
Scotland’s defence, which also featured Sheffield Wednesday’s Liam Palmer making his debut at right-back, and Scott McKenna and David Bates in the middle, continued to look susceptible to home attacks and Baktiyar Zaynutdinov headed a simple third in the 51st minute. Scott Bain, handed the gloves following Allan McGregor’s international retirement, was blameless.
Alex McLeish’s team, who started with Oli McBurnie up front with Oliver Burke and James Forrest either side, had not registered a shot on target by then and they limped to defeat after having a couple of efforts saved just before the hour mark.
While 27,000 home fans celebrated a memorable Kazakh New Year holiday, around 600 Scotland supporters watched in disbelief after travelling around 4,000 miles.
Things looked like they were starting well enough in the Astana Arena, which had its roof closed for the occasion, as Scotland enjoyed good early possession on the artificial turf. But they were caught out by a ball over the top in the sixth minute as Michal Bilek enjoyed the perfect start to his reign as Kazakhstan’s head coach.
Shinnie let Pertsukh run off him in an apparent bid to play offside but his two-centre-backs were behind him and the midfielder took Alexander Merkel’s pass down and lashed it into the roof of the net.
The hosts doubled their lead when Islambek Kuat played a pass inside Shinnie and Vorogovskiy slid in to finish from close range.
Photograph: Alexei Filippov/Reuters
Events threatened to get even worse after another ball over the top put Kazakhstan in the clear again but this time the offside flag went up.
With an average age of less than 25, McLeish’s team were short in experience and looked vulnerable any time their hosts attacked. Bain came to the rescue to touch over Kuat’s dipping long-range effort.
Scotland dominated possession in the later stages of the half but could not trouble the home goalkeeper. Burke and Stuart Armstrong both got round the side of the Kazakhstan defence on two occasions but could not find a blue jersey.
McBurnie and John McGinn headed off target and the latter miskicked when skipper Callum McGregor’s deep corner found him in space.
McLeish moved Burke to a central role but any hope of a Scotland comeback was extinguished in the 51st minute when a simple cross from midway inside the Scotland half was headed just inside the post by Zaynutdinov, who had evaded the attentions of McKenna.
Scotland got their first shot on target four minutes later when Armstrong burst through the middle and tried to steer the ball in but Dmytro Nepogodov stretched to push the shot away from goal.
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McLeish brought on Johnny Russell for McBurnie and moved Forrest to the left wing but the change failed to have the desired effect.
Scott McTominay and Marc McNulty also came on but Bain made two saves in the final 20 minutes while Scotland – who face San Marino on Sunday – failed to trouble the home keeper.