Scotland concluded their mini-tour of the Americas with a narrow 1-0 defeat to World Cup-bound Mexico at the Azteca Stadium.
Seven players from Alex McLeish’s makeshift squad had made their debuts in the 2-0 loss to Peru in Lima on Tuesday night, and two more new faces – keepers Jon McLaughlin and his interval replacement Scott Bain – did so against the Mexicans who proved too strong and cohesive.
Giovani Dos Santos scored what proved to be the winner with a shot in the 12th minute and the home side had several chances to increase their lead, hitting the woodwork twice, albeit the spirited Scots improved markedly after the break and might have sneaked a draw had Oli McBurnie’s header not smacked the post.
The two matches will not linger long in the minds of those with a Scottish persuasion and with so many regulars absent, and two hugely inexperienced teams fielded in both games, it is difficult for McLeish to draw too many conclusions as he plans for the Nations League games against Albania and Israel later in the year.
The stadium, which hosted the 1970 and 1986 World Cup finals and which also witnessed Maradona’s Hand of God goal against England in the quarter-final of the 1986 tournament, took time to fill up but the excited home fans were looking for encouragement from their side before they fly out to Russia.
McLaughlin was one of seven changes, coming into the side along with Graeme Shinnie, Jack Hendry, Johnny Russell, McBurnie and Ryan Christie and Callum Paterson.
Scotland were captained by 21-year-old Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna and, ominously, were without an international goal to their name.
The home side, who had eight changes from their goalless draw against Wales, did not have to work too hard for their early goal with former Arsenal player Carlos Vela having time to lay the ball off to Dos Santos and from the edge of the box he stroked the ball low past McLaughlin and into the far corner.
Mexico quickly got further into their stride.
Miguel Layun curled a shot against the post from the edge of the box in the 27th minute and then McLaughlin made a save from Hirving Lozano’s long-range effort as the Scots struggled to assert themselves.
Bain came on for McLaughlin for the start of the second half and made two saves in a minute from powerful drives, first from Lozano and then from Hector Herrera.
Moments later, though, in a rare Scotland attack, McBurnie got on the end of a Russell cross but crashed his header off the post.
In the 55th minute, after the Scots goal had survived another close call with some desperate defending to block a Layun shot, Charlie Mulgrew, Chris Cadden and John McGinn came on for Christie, Kenny McLean and Paterson.
The game opened up and in a Mexico break, Lozano hammered a drive off the Scotland crossbar and the substitute Oribe Peralta had the ball in the net after Bain had parried Lozano’s header but was ruled offside.
A tiring Scotland side struggled in the final stages to contain Mexico – Mulgrew headed clear off the line – but can hold their head high with their second-half showing.