Scotland boss Steve Clarke hailed his side’s character as John McGinn’s stunning overhead kick rescued a 2-2 draw against Austria to begin their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, having twice been behind at Hampden on Thursday
But Grant Hanley’s header and moment of magic from McGinn five minutes from time ensured another qualifying campaign did not get off to the worst possible start for Scotland.
“You can’t keep this team down. They’ve got character and want to keep fighting for their country,” said Clarke, who will lead Scotland at their first major international tournament in 23 years in June at Euro 2020.
Clarke had urged his side before kick-off not to become “one tournament wonders”, but they face an uphill task to make it to Qatar with Austria and Denmark the two top seeds in Group F and only one automatic place at the World Cup up for grabs.
Austria are 25 places above Scotland in the FIFA rankings, but it did not show as an even contest swung back and forth.
Scotland were slow out of the blocks as Kalajdzic flashed a shot just wide inside two minutes before Christoph Baumgartner tested David Marshall from distance.
However, the home side took control as the first-half wore on and had the best chance before the break when Ryan Christie was denied by the feet of Alexander Schlager.
After a first-half short on goalmouth action, the game exploded into life in the second period.
Kalajdzic took his free-scoring form in the Bundesliga this season onto the international stage by tapping home the rebound after Marshall had parried Florian Grillitsch’s powerful effort.
Stuart Armstrong fired inches wide before Christie was somehow not awarded a penalty as he was hauled down inside the area as Scotland went in search of an immediate response.
The home side also had a let off moments later as Kalajdzic had a goal harshly ruled out for a push on Kieran Tierney.
Scotland’s first equaliser came from an unfamiliar source as Hanley celebrated his recall to the starting line-up by powering home a header from Stephen O’Donnell’s free-kick.
However, Clarke’s decision to break up the defence that had conceded just three goals in six games will be questioned.
Jack Hendry was making first competitive international start alongside Hanley and Tierney in a back three and it was Hendry who Kalajdzic outjumped to power home a brilliant header and restore Austria’s lead.
John McGinn had been pushed into a more advanced role by Clarke by that point and the Aston Villa midfielder produced a sublime piece of skill to hook a long ball forward into the bottom corner with his back to goal late on.
“Delighted with that. It’s a been a while since I’ve scored,” said McGinn.
“It shows how far we’ve come. Austria were blowing out their backsides because we’ve flung everything at them.
“We’ve got quality players and we just need the belief now.”