Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Scotland v Liechtenstein: Party Time

Phew, what relief.

Glory from the jaws of national humiliation.

When the news came through that Lithuania were beating the Czechs there was a beam of optimism cast on Scotland's qualifying campaign.

And then we huffed and puffed through the first half against Liechtenstein. Bad, of course, but not miserably bad.

Certainly not as bad as it was about to get.

One minute it took of the second half. Mario Frick put Liechtenstein ahead. We're talking about qualifying for Euro 2012. But we're losing to a team ranked 141st in the world. A team that have managed only five wins and eight draws in 81 qualifying matches.

A country with about 11000 fewer inhabitants than Ayr. A country with fewer residents than there were fans in Hampden tonight.

Kenny Miller and Stephen McManus, seven minutes into injury time, made everything OK.

Radio Scotland's resident pundits are using words like “delighted” and “ecstatic.”

Craig Levein will accept no “negativity.” Callers are telling Jim Traynor that “a win is a win” and “performance is secondary.”

Everything's fine, nothing to see here. Scotland sit atop the qualifying group, we've stolen a march on the Czechs. Bring on Spain.

I detect a lot of bollocks in that reading of events.

Just as we need to learn that football games can't be won on passion alone we need to realise, quickly, that tonight's events can't be judged on the emotion of that last minute winner.

Maybe, on the night, we answered the most immediate question by escaping from the biggest humiliation of them all. But we left a list of unanswered questions that need to be addressed.

And, if league tables don't lie, I fear there is a whiff of dishonesty about the current look of Group I.

What evidence is there to suggest that we can push on from here? Our last three perfomances - tonight, on Friday against Lithuania and against Sweden - have veered between mediocre and abysmal.

We can dominate possession but struggle to score – where will the goals come from in what is likely to be a defensive approach against the Czechs?

What fear are Lithuania going to have coming to Hampden? Are they not going to look at Liechtenstein's performance and back themselves to pull something off?

And how are our clubs producing players that seem incapable of mastering simple skills? How can a national team with any pretensions contain so many players who too often seem incapable of weighting a pass correctly? Or defenders who struggle to contain the attacking threat of a team like Liechtenstein, a team that may well have been surprised to discover they even had an attacking threat.

It strikes me that there is a reading of that table that suggests we're as firmly in the race to finish fourth as much as we are involved in the fight for second.

There is the idea, already swilling around and about to be spread by the manager and players, that the late winner tonight will somehow provide a spark for some momentum, convince us of our destiny.

And people will argue that we're unlikely to be as bad again.

Our footballing history should shatter that illusion. We can be as bad again and we probably will be as bad again.

It can never be stressed enough just how bad this performance was, how close we came to what I described earlier as an “unthinkable” result.

I'm at a loss to know where we go from here. No point sacking the manager.

The problems go much deeper than the job that Craig Levein is being asked to do. He might be the figurehead as national manager. But on accepting the job he inherited the structural problems that have been undermining Scottish football for decades.

Our clubs and our triumvirate of ineffectual governing bodies must take their share of the blame. So to, maybe, must us fans who have put up with game being ruined in this country for too long.

And now it has come to this. We're backslapping and cheering a performance defined by our ability to “never give up” against a team that are pretty much the definition of minnows.

Something needs to change. That will take time.

The immediate future is a qualifying campaign that, remarkably, does still offer a flicker of hope. Only a flicker though.

We avoided a humiliation tonight. But we didn't spare our embarrassment, people will be looking at this result around Europe and wondering how much further Scotland can fall.

Stephen McManus brought relief after 97 abject minutes. And relief is fine. But it shouldn't let this Scotland team, or any of the organisations that have sat back and let this happen, off the hook.

And it certainly shouldn't usher in a new age of optimism.

Elsewhere:

Dismal, dismal, dismal stuff. (Left Back In The Changing Room)

Liechtenstein looked sharp in attack, and in spells as likely to notch a second goal as their – apparently – more illustrious opponents were. That changed with McManus's goal, but Scotland were still embarrassed. (The Guardian)