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Steve Clarke had called it “the most disruptive week going into a camp” and the ramifications were laid bare for Scotland as Denmark continued their comfortable advance towards the World Cup finals.

The Euro 2020 semi-finalists had too much craft and energy for a depleted Scotland team, and maintained their 100% qualifying campaign with considerable ease. A visit to the top seed in the group would have been a daunting challenge for Scotland without a raft of absentees or the passionate backing that Denmark received on their first appearance at the Parken Stadium since the European Championship.

It unfolded as Clarke might have privately feared when his squad was reduced by eight because of Covid issues and injury but, that said, he also had every reason to lament the passive first-half display that ultimately condemned Scotland to defeat and a desperate fight to finish second. “Let’s not under-estimate how good this Denmark team is,” the Scotland manager said. “They are a good side playing with great confidence, as they showed in the summer. Against the top teams you have to learn to ride out the storm and we didn’t do that.”

Without a recognised right-back, Clarke tasked Andy Robertson with a surprising shift at right wing-back. The enforced switch did not pay off, mainly as a consequence of Kieran Tierney’s lapses on the opposite flank, and was abandoned at half-time. By then it was too late. Two goals in the space of 92 seconds in effect settled the contest inside 15 minutes. The opener was galling from Clarke’s perspective. The hosts, greeted by a sold-out crowd and a banner that proclaimed: “You have reunited the nation” after their emotional charge to the Euro semi-finals, targeted the space behind Tierney from the outset. Daniel Wass, the overlapping right-back, almost capitalised twice before punishing Scotland at the third attempt. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg floated a tantalising cross over the left wing-back, who stepped out unnecessarily and allowed Wass to steer a header beyond the recalled Craig Gordon.

As Scotland regrouped Denmark struck again. The impressive Andreas Olsen cut in from the right and picked out Joakim Mæhle on the edge of a crowded area. Mæhle flicked the ball out to Mikkel Damsgaard, who chipped an exquisite return to the left-back who scored between Gordon’s legs.

At this point, with Gordon denying Yussuf Poulsen after more poor Scotland defending, a rout beckoned. The visitors will take consolation in preventing one. Scotland had no outlet, no threat and could not get near Denmark’s midfielders or Damsgaard as he drifted into space and picked passes at will in the first half.

Clarke reacted at the interval, replacing defender Scott McKenna with the in-form QPR forward Lyndon Dykes and restoring Robertson to the left. Tierney stepped inside to the three-man central defence and Ryan Fraser dropped to right wing-back. Improvement was immediate.

Billy Gilmour drove just wide from 25 yards and the Danish defence were finally put under pressure with and without the ball. Callum McGregor, Grant Hanley and Fraser all went close, the latter forcing a fine low save from Kasper Schmeichel, but Scotland could find no reward. “We’ve got two massive games coming up now,” said Robertson. “We are still right in it, in my opinion but we need to pick up points. It’s about believing we are a good team, sticking to our gameplan and doing it for 90 minutes, not only 45.”