John McGinn scored twice as Scotland came from behind to beat Kazakhstan 3-1 and ensure third place in Group I of Euro 2020 qualifying.
In their final game before March’s Nations League play-offs, Scotland produced a tame first half performance against an ordinary Kazakhstan, who took the lead on 33 minutes with a sublime strike by Baktiyor Zainutdinov from long range.
Aston Villa midfielder McGinn galvanised a freezing Hampden Park with a deflected free-kick two minutes after half time and captain Steven Naismith headed Scotland in front just after the hour mark.
- Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Results | Tables
- Euro 2020 play-offs: All you need to know
- How the teams lined up
The rampaging McGinn sealed the win in stoppage time, converting Greg Taylor's cross for his seventh goal in five internationals, as Scotland achieved Clarke's prime objective of three successive wins at the end of what has been at times a tortuous qualifying campaign.
Scotland will now contest the Nations League play-offs in March, with two games standing between them and Euro 2020. The play-off draw takes place this Friday with Scotland guaranteed at least a home semi-final.
How Scotland ended campaign on a high
Clarke kept faith with the starting XI that beat Cyprus 2-1 in Nicosia on Saturday and at an eerie, half-empty Hampden Park, Scotland began brightly. Visiting goalkeeper Dmytro Nepohodov beat away Ryan Christie’s curling shot and saved Naismith’s header as Clarke’s team continued to press.
But for all their forward-thinking intentions, Scotland’s defence has long been the team’s major problem area. And so it proved again. Baktiyar Zaynutdinov was given far too much space thirty yards out and he lashed a shot past David Marshall into the top corner.
With the chance of a rare clean sheet gone - only San Marino have failed to score against Scotland in 2019 - what little atmosphere existed quickly disappeared. And at half time Scotland were chased into the dressing room by a chorus of boos - a sound now all too familiar at Hampden Park.
But the crowd had reason to cheer within two minutes of the restart. One of the few highlights in a dispiriting 2019 for Scotland has been the emergence of McGinn as an international-quality midfielder, and he equalised with a rasping free-kick, albeit with the help of a huge deflection.
The hosts were transformed by the goal and James Forrest should have put Scotland in front when presented with an opportunity from 12 yards out. However, he skied his effort.
Yet the second goal Scotland deserved arrived soon after. Nice link play between Christie and Liam Palmer resulted in the Sheffield Wednesday full-back's cross looping into the six-yard box. McGinn did well to block Nepohodov from coming for the ball and Naismith was left with a simple header from close range.
Kazakhstan were unable to launch a comeback and McGinn sealed the victory as he slotted home Greg Taylor’s cross in injury time.
The Aston Villa midfielder was substituted moments later to huge applause and his form and fitness will be key to the nation’s chances of progression to next summer’s finals. On Friday Clarke will find out which teams stand in Scotland’s way.
What the managers said...
Scotland manager Steve Clarke told Sky Sports: "I've spoken a lot about positivity and I'm hoping it spreads to the supporters and the media. The players that have been here for this international break have done themselves the world of good, but we know we have work to do. I said before Cyprus I could see signs of improvement, but until we got results I couldn't shout about it.
"We'll be home at Hampden in the semi-final play-off and we've shown we can be a good team here. I'm sure the place will be full for it."
Next on the agenda is the draw for the Euro 2020 finals, which takes place in Bucharest, Romania, on November 30 at 6pm GMT. You can follow the draw as it happens across Sky Sports' digital platforms or watch Sky Sports News' Euro 2020 draw show from 5.15pm.
Then, the European Qualifiers play-off semi-finals will be held on March 26, 2020 (7.45pm GMT), with the play-off finals taking place on March 31 (7.45pm BST).