Saturday, October 08, 2011

Euro 2012: Liechtenstein v Scotland

Another day, a familiar feeling of foreboding.

Or seize the day, the promised land will be delivered.

Mathematically, Scotland still cling to the chance of winning a play off spot for the chance to win a spot in Euro 2014.

Mathematically, I could probably measure the height of the trees outside my window using trigonometry. I’m not going to though.

So we’re only two games away from the fevered anticipation of a play off draw. Or two games away from the doom, the gloom, the post mortem and the calls for Craig Levein to fall on his sword.

First though comes part one of a double header that is probably just the wrong side of a mission impossible to qualify as being "crucial".

Today Liechtenstein. Little Liechtenstein. A small, hilly country where the tax is low and the drink is costly. Narnia, Aslan Salmond calls it.

There are, they say, no easy games in international football. That’s not true. Spain have scored ten past Liechtenstein in two qualifying games.

There are easy games. But there are fewer easier games for world football’s lumpen proletariat than there are for the aristocrats.

And Scotland are scrapping among the peasantry. Spain apart, this is a desperately poor group.

Scotland needed 96 minutes to despatch Liechtenstein at Hampden. Lithuania beat Czech Republic away. Liechtenstein enjoy a better record (on goal difference) against Lithuania than Scotland.

Scotland now appear to have a problem adjusting to those moments when we lift ourselves free of the shackles of our ordinariness. We display a timidity in moments of superiority that we often don’t suffer when the game’s giants are trying to oppress us.

So we roar back against Spain yet slouch into the shadows when in front against the Czechs or dominating the Lithuanians.

That means we often lose or draw games we could have won. And we still end up losing game we’re expected to lose.

The worst of both worlds. Emboldened and ready for revolution when faced with the aristocracy, unable to assume command among the squabbling under class.

All of which can create big problems when we play a team like Liechtenstein. A country even smaller and less successful on the pitch than ourselves. A team who see Scotland as a scalp and will happily set out this evening with the same intent that we’ll be planning to show in Spain next week.

Their desire and our timidity. It can be a disappointly nervy combination.

It’s not arrogant to suggest we’re meeting minnows tonight. 80 times Liechtenstein have played qualifying matches for major tournaments. They’ve lost 67 times, drawn eight and won five.

They’ve conceded 254 goals and scored just 32.

Are they improving? Maybe. Maybe not. Discount those easy Spanish victories and they’ve conceded just six in five games.

But they’ve only scored three and – we hope – are set to finish bottom of a qualifying group yet again.

That’s not to point and laugh at the little “made up” country who have no right to be playing with the big boys. They showed at Hampden that they more than have that right.

It’s to emphasise that, while offering them every respect in our preparation and attitude, this Scotland team, any Scotland team, should be able to beat them. This evening, with those slim hopes still alive, we have to beat them.

And yet still there’s a hint of fear in some of the pre-match chat.

Apoplexy over Darran Fletcher’s tonsils and Kenny Miller’s leg, concern that our centre backs might not be up to the job, debate over whether the inclusion of Charlie Adam is a luxury we can afford to risk.

That it has come to this.

It seems that Fletcher has declared himself fit but Miller won't feature. Captain ready, vice-captain missing but the formation unchanged. Tried and tested. The nucleus of Levein's group on the field and prepared to offer their all.

Is that the best tactic, to stick with what we know? It’s all we’re going to get from Craig Levein.

In my heart I idly hope of him saying:

“To hell wi’ this for a game o' sodjers. Attack, attack, attack.”

He won’t though. When you’re not in the top tier, your football is always likely to be as risk averse as it is adventurous. If, as I expect, we’re out of Euro 2012 by next week then those who call for Levein’s head should remember that very few available managers are likely to offer us anything other than blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Whoever plays, whatever the formation, we’re in Liechtenstein to get a win that will keep the pressure on Czech Republic.

If we can’t do that then not only do we not deserve a play-off spot but we’re destined to slum it with the also-rans, nearly men and never-has-beens for a long time to come yet.


Send them melodious


Liechtenstein’s national anthem is sung to a tune by an unknown composer that has been popularised – or demonised – by its association with God Save The Queen. Countries often borrow things from other countries. There are nations in Africa with agriculture laws that make provision for farmers in Northern Ireland and crofters in Shetland.

Admittedly it’s not the best tune in the world. But the playing of the anthems before an international football match is not the natural home for informed musical criticism.

More than just musical criticism? So what are we left with? A small country feels victimised by a larger country so picks on an even smaller country in act of misplaced retribution.

There's something rather depressing about that.