Gareth Bale showed the best and worst of his game to help Wales prevail in Cardiff
Preamble: Let's face it, on the balance of probability and the evidence of what we've seen so far, neither Wales nor Scotland has a snowball's chance in hell of qualifying for Brazil 2014. The Welsh sit bottom of Group have lost five out of five under Chris Coleman, who can be commended for taking the job in January under difficult circumstances, but has yet to show any indication he is about to capitalise on the promising work done by his predecessor, the late Gary Speed.
Coleman's opposite number, Craig Levein, has demonstrated considerable obduracy, bordering on pigheadedness, throughout his tenure, but little else to suggest he is the man to help the Scots revisit the glory days of their 6-1 aggregate defeat at the hands of the Netherlands in their attempt to qualify for Euro 2004.
But for all that, geography means that this is one of the more intriguing encounters among tonight's international fixtures and with the bragging rights of genuinely passionate supporters at stake and both managers being edged ever closer to the exit door, its importance cannot be understated. A desperate tussle between two bald men fighting over a bottle of Head & Shoulders it may be, but who among us wouldn't sally forth to the pub car-park, driven by mild intrigue at the prospect of a potentially entertaining scrap?
Team news: Having decided young Aaron Ramsey isn't his idea of officer material, Chris Coleman will wrap the armband around the biceps of Swansea City defender Ashley Williams for the first time tonight and will be cautiously optimistic that Gareth Bale and Adam Matthews have recovered from niggles in time to start, despite not having participated in training.
He will, however, have to make do without both his first- and second-choice goalkeepers, as both Wayne Hennessey and Boaz Myhill are unavailable, meaning Aberdeen's Jason Brown will make only his fourth start in six years.
The loss of Scotland striker Steven Naismith through suspension for playing fast and loose with his elbow against Serbia's Srdjan Mijailovic in last month's 0-0 draw has been compensated by the return of Sunderland's in-form Steven Fletcher from a two-year self-imposed international exile. Fletcher's midfield namesake Darren also returns to international duty, having got his well-documented bowel illness under control. Robert Snodgrass and Jordan Rhodes are out of the squad, but Celtic duo Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Brown should be fit enough to line up despite recent minor injuries.
Slightly more up to date team news: Midfielder Darren Fletcher returns to the Scotland team for the first time in almost a year as captain for this evening's World Cup Qualifying Group A clash with Wales at Cardiff City Stadium.
As well as the skipper - who had been sidelined by a chronic bowel complaint - striker Steven Fletcher and winger Kris Commons are also back in the side after considerable absences from international football.
The trio's inclusion are among five changes from the Scots' 1-1 draw with Macedonia last month, with Danny Fox and the fit-again Scott Brown the other men being brought in.
There's was a new captain for the hosts too as centre-back Ashley Williams assumed the armband from midfielder Aaron Ramsey to lead a Dragons team that shows four adjustments from their 6-1 drubbing in Serbia.
In place of injured goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and defender Adam Matthews, Lewis Price and debutant Ben Davies comes into the team, along with midfield pair David Vaughan and Joe Ledley.
Wales: Price, Gunter, Blake, Williams, Ben Davies, Bale, Allen, Vaughan, Ramsey, Ledley, Morison.
Subs: Brown, Craig Davies, Ricketts, King, Richards, Church, Robson-Kanu, Vokes, Wilson, Fon Williams.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Caldwell, Berra, Fox, Maloney,
Morrison, Darren Fletcher, Brown, Commons, Steven Fletcher.
Subs: Gilks, Mulgrew, Adam, McArthur, Miller, Mackie, Martin, Phillips, Webster, Forrest, Marshall.
Referee: Florian Meyer (Germany)
An email from Simon McMahon: "While it's hard to disagree with anything you say in your preamble, you could have at least humoured us for a bit," he writes. "Since when did Scotland fans deal in reality? A win tonight and a trip to Brazil 2014 is ON."
And this from Ruaraidh MacIntyre: "I've recently emigrated abroad to work, and the first day I'm given an iPad," he says. "It's been sitting in a drawer since. No longer. It's true use is clear, minute-by-minute reading while your supposed to be making power-points on your actual computer. On a more football related note, I expect Steven Fletcher to score 0 due to poor service from his compatriots. And Scott Brown to get sent off in what he deems a fair tackle, but leaves someone in a coma."
Not long now: The teams amble out of the tunnel, with Sky's man in the commentary box saying that this is "a crunch domestic international" where is a draw is of little use to man or beast.
Go-to girl Katherine Jenkins must be on tour, as Welsh Soprano Gwawr Edwards will be singing the national anthems tonight. She steps forward to the microphone and begins singing to a chorus of PA feedback and fan feedback in the form of a chorus of wolf-whistles. Here's a clip of Gwawr singing Santa Baby, just to give you a feel for what's going on.
Scotland kick off. Their players are kitted out in white shirts and socks and black shorts. The Welsh wear red shirts, shorts and socks.
1 min: Steven Fletcher is penalised for offside within 20 seconds, as he tries to get on the end of an Allan McGregor hoick up the field. Ben Davies takes the free-kick. It's another long ball and Steve Morison is promptly flagged for offside. Only a minute in and this is already like a game of rugby.
2 min: David Vaughan gets a reducer in on Scott Brown, leaving a calling card early doors. German referee Florian Meyer sprints over to the scene of the assault, gesticulates furiously at Vaughan and gives him a stern ticking-off. He decides not to leave his calling card early doors and keeps his yellow in his pocket.
3 min: Now Scott Brown feels the lash of the referee's tongue after being penalised for a cynical shoulder on - I think - Darcy Blake. One for the purists, this. It could be a long evening.
4 min: Another free-kick, this time for a Joe Allen foul over near the touchline near the halfway line.
5 min: "Your photo seems to show a Scottish player (I'm guessing Fletcher) doing a remarkable impression of Jonny Wikinson," writes Robin Hazlehurst. "They do know that it's supposed to go under the bar, don't they? Even against supreme egg-chasers Wales. Maybe that's why they don't score very often."
7 min: The ball remains on the deck for long enough for Gareth Bale to try a shot from all of 35 yards out. He sends his effort comically high over the bar.
8 min: Darren Fletcher bodychecks Aaron Ramsey about five yards oputside the Wales penalty area as the Arsenal midfielder tries to turn and embark on a counter-attack. The ref blows his whistle again.
9 min: Gareth Bale gets in behind left-back Danny Fox to latch on to a splendid pass down the wing from Chris Gunther. He cuts inside Christophe Berra and tries to lash the ball around Allan McGregor and inside the far post, but sends it wide. It's an optimistic effort that was always unlikely to come off - Steve Morison won't be too happy with that, as he was well placed and screaming for a pass.
14 min: The camera cuts to Craig Levein on the Scotland bench. He's wearing a navy blue and gold tie and generously offers chewing gum to the guy sitting to his right. The guy declines. Levein shrugs and returns the chewing gum to his inside jacket pocket. Who the hell keeps it in there?
17 min: Joe Ledley fouls Kris Commons, conceding a free-kick down near the corner flag outside his own penalty area. Commons swings the ball in towards the far post and James Morrison leaps. The West Brom midfielder is penalised for something or other, but I'm not sure what. He doesn't look too sure either.
20 min: Wales have probably settled the better of the two teams thus far, but the possession stats are about even and the home side seem to be relying a bit too much on lumping long balls towards Steve Morison, who isn't being given a sniff by Gary Caldwell and Christophe Berra. To be fair to the Norwich City striker, the service he's trying to feed off is dreadful.
23 min: Wales blow a great chance. Joe Allen robbed Kris Commons of possession inside the Scotland half and played the ball forward to Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey went rampaging into space, with Morison ahead of him to the right and Allen overlapping on his left. He played the ball to Allen, who cut inside the penalty area and took so long to unleash a shot that, when he finally tried to get the ball away, his effort was easily smothered.
26 min: Gareth Bale! Gareth Bale! Running down the wing! Gareth Bale! Gareth Bale! Sends the football in! On this occasion his cross to the far post is perfect, Morison rises above Hutton, only to head across the face of goal and wide. That's a shocking miss.
GOAL! Wales 0-1 Scotland (Morrison 26): Goal-kick ... flick-on ... goal! Liquid football from Scotland.
28 min: Goals don't get much simpler than that. After Morison's dreadful miss, Allan McGregor took the kick-out. He wellied the ball as far as he could, Steven Fletcher out-jumped Joe Allen to flick it behind him and James Morrison ran between defenders to steer it past Lewis Price and into the bottom right-hand corner with his first touch.
33 min: Scotland win a free-kick about 40 yards from the Wales goal. Fox and Commons stand over the ball. Fox tries one from the training ground, curling the ball down the inside right to Steven Fletcher, who'd made a run. The intention was clearly for Fletcher to square the ball across the edge of the six-yard box, but Fox's delivery was over-hit and over the striker's left shoulder. It runs out of play.
34 min: Remember Gareth Bale's goal against Serbia from a free-kick about 30 yards out? Well, he gets the chance to score a similar one after Gary Caldwell is booked for a late lunge across the bows of Joe Ledley. He shanks the ball into the Scottish fans behind Allan McGregor's goal.
37 min: Kris Commons puts Allan McGregor under pressure with a sloppy backpass, but the Besiktas goalkeeper remains composed enough to clear the danger.
39 min: Ben Davies tries a long range effort for Wales after a decent cross from Gareth Bale is headed his way by a Scottish defender. High and wide. Moments previously, Steven Fletcher had spurned a decent opportunity to put Scotland two up, failing to connect with the ball from seven yards after it bounced kindly for him upon being sent in from the left wing.
40 min: Gareth Bale turns on the afterburners and skins Fox and Maloney down the right wing. He cuts inside and crosses the ball to Ramsey at the near post, but the Arsenal midfielder puts the ball wide. That's splendid play from Bale, who is lording it down the right wing. If Wales can get the ball to him more often, he could wreak all sorts of havoc.
43 min: James Morrison spurns another great opportunity. The ball's zinged in from the right and Steven Fletcher's knockdown was perfect and bounces up for Morrison, but he couldn't keep his effort down and sends the ball fizzing over the ball from about 10 yards out.
45 min: There'll be one minute of added time, which is plenty of time for Kris Commons to take a corner. His delivery is absolutely atrocious and sails high over everyone's heads. If I was a manager I'd fine players for doing that or failing to clear the first defender, but then I suppose nobody would ever volunteer to take corners.
Half-time: Scotland go in a goal to the good after an entertaining first half. There have been full blooded tackles, cynical fouls, several decent chances and terrible misses galore, with occasional touches of class from a select handful of players. In short, pretty much what you'd expect from an encounter between these two sides.
Second half: Wales kick off. Scotland have made a change for the second half, with Charlie Adam replacing Scott Brown, who was carrying a hip injury.
46 min: Aaron Ramsey picks up the ball in the centre-circle and tries to ping the ball wide to Chris Gunther on the touchline. His pass is inaccurate and over-hit, leaving the right-back with no chance.
47 min: Wales win a free-kick in a good position, wide on the right on the edge of the final third. Gareth Bale's delivery is poor and fails to clear the first defender. It's genuinely shocking that a player of his undoubted quality is incapable of doing better when his team is a goal down at home in a must-win game.
49 min: Wales goakeeper Lewis Price puts the ball out for a corner after nudging a looping Alan Hutton cross wide of his own goal. He probably could have left it but it was one of those ones that might have looped in the angle of crossbar and upright.
51 min: Gareth Bale scampers down the inside right with the ball at his feet. With kicks the ball ahead of him and chases it, prompting Danny Fox to slide in with the tackle. It's perfectly timed, which is just as well for the Scottish full-back, as Bale would almost certainly have hooked his foot around his marker's shin and gone to ground if he'd missed the ball.
54 min: "So, what do you do at half time?" asks Ian H. "Are you really so tired from 45 mins of intermittent typing that you can't describe the stadium pies or beer?"
That's harsh, Ian. Generally, at half-time, I take time out to sit here in my Kings Cross office and idly wonder if there's anybody out there who thinks I'm typing this in the stadium where the match is being played.
57 min: Wales centre-half Darcy Blake goes down injured and is sent to the sideline for treatment. He doesn't look to chipper, but is fit enough to continue.
58 min: Aaron Ramsey and David Vaughan pass the ball between themselves a few yards outside the Scotland penalty area, wondering what to do next. Gareth Bale makes a round down the right flank, inviting Vaughan to play the ball into space for him. The Sunderland midfielder tries to do exactly that, but over-hits his pass and smashes the ball wide. On the touchline, Wales manager Chris Coleman goes a bit bonkers.
60 min: "Fining players for poor corners?" asks Matt Dony? "You'd have a rather draconian approach to management; not what I'd expect from a liberal, namby-pamby guardianista. It's how the Nazis got started!"
The Nazi's got started by fining football players for taking poor corners? Really? I did not know that. Meanwhile in Dublin, Ireland have just gone 4-0 down against Germany. That could get a lot worse with half an hour to go.
62 min: Aaron Ramsey's evening goes from bad to worse - he's booked for a challenge on Alan Hutton which will rule him out of Wales next match against Croatia.
64 min: Things go from worse to catastrophic for Ireland and Aaron Ramsey. The Irish go 5-0 down in Dublin, while Ramsey is denied what looked a penalty after going down under a challenge from Charlie Adam in the Scotland penalty area.
65 min: Replays show there was no contact between Ramsey and Adam just inside the Scotland penalty area. That's a great shout by the referee - I was certain it was a penalty, but it seems Ramsey was chancing his arm.
66 min: Scotland attack down the right flank. Morrison shoots from a tight angle, bringing a fairly straightforward save out of Lewis Price when Steven Fletcher was screaming for the ball at the far post. To be fair to Morrison, he did look up and seemed to decide that he'd be unable to get the ball to Fletcher from such close range with a defender standing between them.
70 min: Gareth Bale is put through on goal, shows splendid close control to draw the keeper and then lifts it over McGregor and wide when it looked easier to score. That's Wales eighth attempt on goal, none of which have been on target.
70 min: The action has been so frenetic that I haven't yet had a chance to mention the penalty Wales should have been awarded, moments after the one they were denied. The ball was crossed in from the right and on the edge of the six-yard box, Christophe Berra just wrapped his arms around the substitute Craig Davies (on for Steve Morison) and just wrestled him to the ground. Quite how the referee or linesman didn't spot that is a mystery.
73 min: Joe Allen is booked for a foul on James Morrison. It's a fair cop; he'd been skinned for pace in a dangerous area and had no real choice but to clip the Scotland midfielder's heels.
74 min: Charlie Adam dinks a splendid cross to the far post, where an unopposed Steven Fletcher heads the ball home from close range and wheels away in celebration. The ref blows his whistle to disallow the goal and everyone presumes it's for offside. Replays show Fletcher was emphatically onside, so I have no idea why what looked a perfectly legitimate goal was chalked off. If I had to guess, I'd say he or his linesman might have thought Adam's cross curled out of play and came back in again before Fletcher got on the end of it. Replays show that it didn't.
77 min: Wales win a corner and Ramsey sends an outswinger to the far post. Scotland clear. Wales substitution I haven't had a chance to tell you about because the action here is so non-stop: Joe Ledley off, Reading winger Hal Robson-Kanu on.
78 min: Gareth Bale leaves a couple of Scotland defenders in his dust, sprints into the Scotland penalty area and with Shaun Maloney on the chase, kicks the back of his own leg and hits the deck. Penalty.
GOAL! Wales 1-1 Scotland (Bale 80pen): Bale doesn't let his conscience get the better of him and coolly slots the penalty home, waiting for McGregor to make his move before putting the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
There's absolutely no question that Bale dived to the ground there after clipping his own heels - he has now apparently reached a point in his career where he's happy to eschew perfectly decent goalscoring opportunities in order to win penalties, which I find a bit depressing.
83 min: To be fair to Bale, that wasn't a decent goalscoring opportunity. He was being forced wide of goal along the right-hand side of the penalty area. He still took a dive, mind. Considering the history between them, it was no surprise that Charlie Adam was the first over to Bale to remonstrate with him for his chicanary.
85 min: This second half has been magnificently entertaining and played out at such an incident-packed lick that I'm finding it very difficult to keep up. There's so much happening - if there are highlights available in your neck of the woods this evening, they'll be well worth a look. Kenny Miller and Jamie Mackie are on for Scotland. Kris Commons and somebody else have made way.
88 min: Aaron Ramsey has been dire this evening. Really awful. A couple of minutes ago, a wayward backpass gave his goalkeeper Lewis Price a dreadful case of the heebie jeebies.
GOAL! Wales 2-1 Scotland (Bale 89) In torrential rain from at least 25 yards out, Gareth Bale rifles a diagonal surface-to-air screamer into the top right-hand corner. That's real Roy of the Rovers stuff - an extraordinary goal.
90+3 min: That was an astonishing goal. Wales won a free-kick in the centre-circle, just inside the Scotland half. They took it short and Bale jogged forward with the ball at his feet, not appearing top have much idea of what to do next.
Charlie Adam was ponderous in the extreme when it came to closing him down, choosing instead to just amble forwards a bit and edge Bale a bit wide. The winger jinked to his left, cut inside and from the edge of the penalty area, sent an unstoppable fizzing drive past Allan McGregor and into the top corner.
90+3 min: On the touchline, Craig Levein is wet through, cutting an extremely forlorn figure in his drenched suit, with rivulets of rainwater running down the lenses of his spectacles.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeeep! It's all over. Wales have won their first match under Chris Coleman, to move ahead of Scotland in Group A and put Craig Levein under immense pressure. That was a splendidly entertaining football match, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that neither of these teams will need to go scouting hotels in Brazil for the next World Cup.
Elsewhere in this group: Croatia came from behind to beat the mysterious Macedonians away from home, while Belgium take all three points home from their visit to Serbia. Back in Cardiff, we saw both sides of Gareth Bale in a much-needed win, His team-mates celebrated at the final whistle like they'd just won the World Cup, rather than edged a scarcely deserved home win over a very poor Scotland side.