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Scotland U17 3 Belgium U17 1:Malta-bound Scots come from behind

SCOTLAND came from behind to deservedly beat the highly-rated Belgians to qualify for their first European Under-17 Championships for six years with a game still to go.

Jake Sheppard scores after coming off the bench to seal Scotland's victory at Cappielow last night. Picture: SNS
Jake Sheppard scores after coming off the bench to seal Scotland's victory at Cappielow last night. Picture: SNS

Mark Wotte and Scot Gemmill's youngsters knew before last night's game at Cappielow that victory would ensure qualification from the Elite Round to the finals in Malta, after they beat Bosnia on Monday.

And they did it in style, despite going in a goal behind at the interval. Scotland were excellent; they looked technically superior to a side whose senior team have been touted as potential World Cup winners this summer in Brazil. They looked fitter, stronger and thoroughly deserved their win.

It proves there could be a bright future ahead for several of this age group, who will compete at a major finals for the first time since the 2008 tournament in Turkey.

Second-half goals from Aidan Nesbitt, Cameron Ballantyne and substitute Jake Sheppard sealed the win and the youngsters were given a standing ovation by an impressed Greenock crowd.

Wotte was delighted at the progress of the young Scots, after Victory Shield success earlier this year. "It's so important for us to be able to show progress although it's just a small step," he said. "Three years ago we started this strategy and this is a sign of progress and I'm very proud of my players.

"After our under-16s won the Victory Shield we now have our under-17s qualifying for the Euro finals. I said to the players before the game that they can be the first generation that can show the difference.

"We showed the Scottish mentality with a fighting spirit but there was also great skill and technique. We want to play better and better as well as having a good team spirit and will to win.

"At half time the boys were down as they had played well in the first half, but I told them it's not always football skills that win games. We told them to look to score a goal as it could change everything and so it proved. The man of the match for me was Aidan Nesbitt, he was fantastic. We were stronger than the Belgians and the work we have done on the set-pieces paid off."

The young Scots were without the goal hero from Monday night's victory over Bosnia, Tom Lang, due to suspension. Scotland's first chance came when Newcastle United's Kyle Cameron burst from his full-back position in the 15th minute after a quiet start, but his shot was deflected wide for a corner.

Greg Kiltie, the Kilmarnock striker, could have given Scotland the lead midway through the first half when Nesbitt picked him out with an excellent cross from the right but he nodded over the bar.

Then, Scotland were carved open when Belgium took a 28th-minute lead as Jeff Callebaut clipped a ball over the top of the Scots defence and Club Brugge striker Dylan Damraoui had the simple task of slotting home past Robby McCrorie, the Rangers goalkeeper.

Scotland should have been level five minutes from half-time when Kiltie teed up Nesbitt who only had the keeper to beat but saw his effort saved by Quintijn Steelant.

And Nesbitt went even closer a minute later when he headed Michael Kelly's corner into the net, but the Bulgarian ref controversially ruled it out after blowing for a soft free kick.

Then Scotland had Dundee United defender Ballantyne to thank when he made a superb sliding stop on the line to keep out Callebaut's shot, which had McCrorie beaten.

It took Scotland just four minutes after the break to draw level. Cameron picked up the ball and drove powerfully forward before setting up Nesbitt who slid the ball into the net to deservedly haul Scotland back on terms.

One of the Scots' best young prospects was then stretchered off, though, when Kiltie was cleaned out in a hard, but fair, tackle from Wout Faes.

But Scotland then took the lead in the 52nd minute when Ballantyne glanced in a corner from Aberdeen midfielder Michael Kelly.

Wotte introduced Sheppard 10 minutes later and the Reading youngster scored with his first touch after Cameron had headed Kelly's corner across goal to seal a really impressive win for the Scots.

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