Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scotland 2 v 3 Spain: Gallant Failure Again

Amazing what happens when you just have a little bit of belief, a soupcon of adventure.

As Scotland somehow clawed back a two goal deficit to get on level terms with Spain last night suddenly there seemed reason to believe again.

A Naismith header and an own goal had all but wiped out the memory of the disaster of Prague last night Friday night.

Life was great again. At least until Fernando Llorente restored order and gave the world champions a 3-2 win.

Quite a night. The gallant failure, the Hampden roar. Just like old times.

And, in getting back to two each, Scotland played as well as they have managed in this qualifying campaign.

So last night was a boost to country that has seen almost all of its footballing confidence drain away.

But the harsh reality is that this was another defeat. In the circumstances, against this opposition, an honourable one but still a defeat.

When we next kick off in Group I we are likely to be in fourth place. Four points from four games is a poor return from the opening two weeks of fixtures, particularly in a group where Spain’s sublime talents serve only to amplify the absolute ordinariness of the other teams.

The insipid performance against Lithuania, a team that was there to be beaten, and Craig Levein’s risible selection against Czech Republic meant that even the positives from last night were laced with lingering thoughts of “if only…”

Not something that the manager himself was prepared to entertain as he stormed out of a Sky interview. But that doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the country were thinking it.

“If only…” Maybe the real tragedy of this latest gallant failure was that it highlighted just how poor we have been up until the fightback began last night.

Some pride might have been restored. But it’s difficult to escape the thought that the damage to this campaign has already been done.

* Spain were a delight to watch at times. There seems to be a devastating combination of speed and patience that leaves them looking unplayable at times. For large periods in the first hour it looked like two teams thrown together on the same pitch who were playing different sports.

And then they were undone by the combined talents of Kenny Miller and Steven Naismith. Spain tend to provide the aesthetics but maybe it’s the unpredictability of the game that offers its real beauty.

* David Weir can never be allowed to retire. At some point his body is going to force him to call it a day. A worry, then, that its Stephen McManus who looks the centre back in most desperate need of being replaced.

* Allan McGregor is a difficult chap to like. Easy to respect him as a footballer though with performances like that. With Craig Gordon waiting in the wings McGregor’s performances against the Czechs and again last night have at least proved we’ve got two goalkeepers we can rely on.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scotland v Spain: Help!


The Scotland team that we've all be waiting for: McGregor, Bardsley, McManus, Weir, Whittaker, Fletcher, McCulloch, Morrison, Dorrans, Naismith, Miller.

A 4-5-1. Or a 4-1-4-1. Unless Craig Levein really is planning to spring another surprise.

Still waiting for the final team news.

Craig Levein’s reinvention as one of football’s most revolutionary tacticians means the eyes of the world will be on the formation he chooses to field tonight.

Maybe a reversal of Friday night with Scotland lining up in a stuffy 6-4-0. Or, heaven forfend, the inclusion of a striker tasked with actually playing up front.

The condemnation of the manager’s tactics in the wake of the 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic has been near universal. The players that have spoken from the camp have supported the manager but it might not be until the Levein reign is over that we hear their true feelings.

To hear a player of David Weir’s experience denying that we’d set out for a goalless draw when the whole nation could see that’s what we were trying to do was just insulting - and no doubt embarrassing for him.

All weekend and again at Easter Road last night everyone was talking about Friday night as a new nadir in Scottish football. And there are some strong challengers in that particular race.

Certainly nothing that has happened since Friday evening has given much hope as we look forward to hosting Spain at Hampden tonight.

I’d love to think differently but I can’t see this being anything other than a hide-behind-the-couch demolition of a Scottish side that looks more ill equipped than ever at this level.

The Swedish friendly, the limp stalemate in Lithuania, the flirtation with disaster against Liechtenstein and the Friday farce in Prague. This is not the form of serious contenders for qualification.

I was interested reading Slide Rule Pass earlier:

I wouldn’t mind a Scotland manager that come and said “forget the Euros, I’m building a team that will make it to the World Cup in 4 years.” Give the young guys a shot. I’d rather they be pitched into a qualification campaign where failure isn’t a disaster so that they can build up experience of playing at this level. However, mid-twenty-something Englishmen get a call-up before young Scottish talent under this regime. That’s progress for you.

An interpretation at odds with Levein’s statement that he was here to get to Euro 2012 by hook or by desperately ill judged decision to play without a striker against the team many saw as the main rival for a play-off place.

Now might have been the time to take that four year approach with the added safety net of an expanded European Championships from 2016. Too late now, of course. If, as it surely must, tonight ends in defeat we have four points from three games and we’re going nowhere in the summer of 2012.

So we might as well just sit back and enjoy watching the world champions tonight. A night for taking our punishment like men. If nothing else we can hope that Spain's performance will remind our management team that football can still be the beautiful game.

* No chance of a glorious Scottish performance? A win against Spain giving us the hope and belief to reignite this campaign (before tripping cruelly at the last?). I can't see it. A last minute escape against Liechtenstein at home looks like the most heroic thing we can muster in this qualifying group.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Scotland U21 v Iceland U21

An impressive effort from Scotland's Under 21s tonight but, typically for a Scottish team, to no avail as Iceland repeated their 2-1 victory from the first leg.

Against a strong, and more experienced, Icelandic side Scotland enjoyed the better of the game but their failure to turn their first half dominance into a goal certainly made this spectator jittery at half time.

They were also up against Gylfi Sigurdsson who Hoffenheim rated highly enough in the summer to give Reading over £6.5 million for his signature. His two unstoppable efforts in the second half were proof of the quality that his first half movement - with Scotland's defenders and midfielders continually losing track of him - hinted at.

A bit of quality of our own, mind. Aston Villa winger Barry Bannan proved almost unplayable in the first half, it's many a moon since Easter Road saw the kind of wing-play that had my dad declaring him a "throwback." A most welcome throw back and, refreshingly, he looks capable of having an impact on either wing.

And Chris Maguire's equaliser was a joy to behold.

A tough one for the Scots to take but it's up to this squad to move on and force their way into the senior squad. At least their performances of late have hinted that future might not be as dark as we sometimes fear.

* In over 25 years of being a regular - and irregular - at Easter Road two of the most spectacular goals I've seen have come in representative matches. MaGuire's effort tonight joins a Darren Jackson volley against Northern Ireland B back in 1995. Sadly I don't think video evidence of that one exists.