Scotland vs Israel: International football's surprising rivalry
When you think of Scotland's biggest rivals in international football, you naturally think of England or even the other home nations.
However, in recent years an unexpected rival has emerged in Israel, Scotland's opponents this Sunday night in what will be the two nations' sixth meeting in eight years.
The first of this recent series came back in 2018 in the UEFA Nations League and Alex McLeish's side fell to a disappointing 2-1 defeat after a poor performance and an own goal from Kieran Tierney in Haifa.
Revenge came in the form of a James Forrest hat-trick in the next meeting at Hampden, which propelled Scotland to the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final, which was to be played against none other than Israel.
The play-off match, which Scotland won 5-3 on penalties after a goalless draw, was sandwiched between two more UEFA Nations League group matches as they pair were drawn together again in the second edition of the new tournament. That which produced a 1-1 draw and a 1-0 victory for Israel.
That leaves the recent record between the sides balanced at two victories a piece and a draw. Their overall head-to-head record is five Scotland wins, two Israel wins and that draw, as the Scots won three meetings in the 1980s.
Now, both sides will be eager to get their first wins on the board in 2022 World Cup qualifying after Steve Clarke's side were held to a 2-2 draw by Austria and Israel fell to a 2-0 defeat at home to Denmark on Thursday.
It'll be rivalries resumed this Sunday in Haifa in what is set to be an interesting match-up in group F.Israel host Scotland in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday.
Scotland football earned a hard-fought point at home as they tied 2-2 with Austria to open their qualifying campaign.
A late goal from John McGinn ensured the Tartan Army avoided defeat, but Israel failed to do the same. Denmark defeated Israel 2-0 and the hosts will be desperate to bounce back in style against Scotland.
Meanwhile, Steve Clarke is predicting a tight group: “I think I said at the start when the group was drawn I can see teams dropping points against each other all the way through this.
“I don’t see a Belgium, for example, taking 30 points or a Russia who I think took 24 points – so 54 points went to the top two seeds last time. I don’t see that happening now. I think it will be a competitive group all the way through with a lot of twists and turns. It is not about eliminating Israel. The key for us is to try and build on the performance against a really good Austria side. “It got us a point, we wanted three. Now if we can go to Israel and get three points that would be a good return after two tough games.”