Scotland under-211

Croatia under-210

Agg: 1-2

Scorer: O'Connor (11)

A night of pride, passion, and patriotism went ultimately unrewarded at Easter Road last night. Scotland's stirring performance was not enough to ensure their place in the European Under-21 Championships but after 90 minutes of near flawless football, how they must have cursed the ruinous 12 minutes in Croatia that cost them so dearly.

Rainer Bonhof's battlers blud-geoned their opponents with a perverse pleasure in vengeful response to the Croats' premature celebrations after the first leg. Garry O'Connor's early goal gave the Scots the start they had craved but for all the cavalry charged, they could not find another chink in the armour.

There was not a single failure in Bonhof's side and even their opponents would have struggled to comprehend their survival from a relentless assault with only minor damage to show for it. ''I'd like to thank my players for a great performance,'' said an emotional Bonhof. His captain, Ian Murray, summed up the mood. ''It is hard to take because we destroyed them but the manager told us to leave here with our heads high.''

The manager's heart must have sank when he was handed the visitors' team-sheet. Niko Kranjcar, who along with Marko Babic terrorised Scotland at the NK Varteks Stadium, had been allowed to remain with the under-21s despite indications that he would join Babic in Slovenia with the senior side. Bonhof needn't have fretted.

Scotland were unrecognisable to the timid team that found themselves in serious arrears after 12 minutes in Croatia. Stuart Duff provided added security as sweeper in a three-man defence, Gareth Williams galvanised the midfield in place of Michael Stewart, and Scotland were off and running.

Within the opening minute, O'Connor was a stud-length away from converting a Peter Canero cross which was flicked on by Maloney. It immediately brought the crowd to life.

Gradually, the Scots found their range, with Brian Kerr shaving a post from 25 yards and the early pressure was tangibly rewarded moments later.

Steven Hammell hared down the left touchline, swung in a tempting cross and O'Connor's near-post header arced over the Croatian goalkeeper, Tomislav Vranjic. Game on.

Yet there was a strong suspicion that this way all too good to be true and so it proved midway through the first half when Kevin Kyle collapsed clutching his back after a bruising challenge. What ensued was a bizarre five-minute period in which the Sunderland striker made his way gingerly about the field, occasionally squatting to the surface of simply stopping in his tracks.

Not once but twice Simon Lynch was stripped and ready for action only for Kyle to continue until he eventually conceded defeat and forced Bonhof to tinker with winning tactics.

It was hardly surprising that Scotland struggled to sustain such a high tempo but they had done enough to evoke anxiety among the Croats. Seconds before half-time, Scotland should have levelled the tie. Canero flicked the ball over Danijel Pranjic but the left foot that served him so well against Rangers could not repeat that scoring feat.

So wretched an evening was this for the Croats, they resorted to shameful simulation. At one stage, they demonstrated a synchronised dying-swan routine in the penalty box. Even the normally unflappable Bonhof rolled his eyes contemptuously.

Amid all these amateurish antics, Scotland were denied a penalty when Simon Lynch was felled by the keeper.

Tommy Skjerven, the Norwegian referee, struggled to keep up with the mayhem. ''In defeat you always look for someone to blame and I blame him,'' said Bonhof, only half-jokingly. ''I think the game was too big for him.''

Relentless in their pursuit of a second goal, Lynch had a shot slapped to safety by Vranjic but injury was again inflicted on them. Maloney creased this time and was replaced by Stephen Hughes. Deep into injury time, Scotland claimed for another penalty. It was the last act of desperation.

Scotland (3-4-1-2): Gordon; Kennedy, Duff, Murray; Canero (Montgomery 90), Williams, Kerr, Hammell; Maloney (Hughes 66); O'Connor, Kyle (Lynch 32). Subs: McGregor, Dillon, McManus, Stewart Booked Kerr, Murray

Croatia (4-4-2): Vranjic; Buljat, Drpic, Lucic, Pranjic; Safaric (Gal 79), Jese, Hikulic, Petric (Brkic 63); Krankjcar, Ljubojevic (Zahora 86). Subs: Sarlija, Linic, Zgela, Cosic Booked Pranjic, Jese, Hikulic

Referee T Skjerven (Norway)