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Scots turn tables on Swiss in second half to reach last four

TWENTY-five years ago a canny bunch of Scottish teenagers shot to overnight fame, their storming run at a home Under-16 World Cup only ended by some suspiciously mature-looking Saudis in the final.

Ryan Hardie steers the ball past Swiss goalkeeper Gregor Kobel to score Scotland's third. Picture: SNS
Ryan Hardie steers the ball past Swiss goalkeeper Gregor Kobel to score Scotland's third. Picture: SNS

Scotland's class of 2014 are surely worthy of the same kind of mass acclaim this morning, after booking their place among the best four nations in Europe at Under-17 level with this fine victory against Switzerland in Malta.

This is the farthest the Scots have ever progressed at this age group and now Scot Gemmill's team go on to face the Netherlands on Sunday, for the privilege of facing England or Portugal in the final.

As anyone who has seen the progress of the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka would attest, in recent years the Swiss youth development programmes have been running like clockwork. Indeed, in the form of attacking midfielder Dimitri Oberlin, who utterly tormented the Scots during the first period here in Paola, they have one of the most highly regarded young players on the planet, the FC Zurich player reportedly already agreed to be part of Louis van Gaal's Old Trafford revolution.

This was the archetypal game of two halves, even if the periods only lasted 40 minutes, and each were separated by a mandatory water break to combat the heat. The young Scots' prospects at half-time appeared bleak: not only had they conceded a fine goal to the rampant Oberlin, but they had teenage Rangers goalkeeper Robby McCrorie to thank for going in just a single goal in arrears. The 16-year-old, culpable for a couple of goals in the opening defeat against Portugal, had made at least four fine saves to keep things manageable.

But they showed spirit and no little ability - albeit with the benefit of a couple of insightful changes from Wotte at half-time - to score three unanswered second-half strikes, with McCrorie breaking Swiss hearts one last time with a classy penalty save from Boris Babic's spot kick, after the Azeri referee harshly determined that the giant Zak Jules had impeded Oberlin's run.

The metamorphosis in Scotland's fortunes had to be seen to be believed. The catalyst was the arrival of two strikers at half-time - Dundee's Craig Wighton and Rangers' Ryan Hardie for Celtic's Calvin Miller and Dundee United's Cameron Ballantyne - and suddenly it was the Swiss defence who found the Scots camped in their penalty box and confident.

Five minutes after the restart, the excellent Scott Wright of Aberdeen found space and allowed Wighton to stab in a left-foot shot which went in off a post. Then some more fine work from Wighton down the left led to Ryan Hardie's clever knockdown being gleefully slid in by the arriving Jake Sheppard, the midfielder who is a team-mate of Jules at Reading.

The third came when Aidan Nesbitt, of Celtic, picked out Hardie, who chested it down, got the benefit of the doubt with a possible handball, and neatly steered home. The same player could have had four were it not for a fine save from Gregor Kobel.

With McCrorie suddenly looking unbeatable at the other end, this was further ammunition to back Mark Wotte's boasts about the SFA performance system.

And at least this time there are no Saudi Arabians with moustaches to look out for.

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