Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Euro 2012: Spain v Scotland

David said moreover, the Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee.

And, by jove, the Lord was with David.

Unfortunately Goliaths have got a bit more sophisticated in the 400 years since King James authorised his version of the bible.

It's doubtful if a stone and a sling could counter tiki-taka. And Scotland won't be allowed swords in Alicante this evening.

So we're screwed as we meet our Judgement Day?

No, we're not. In a weak group we've been foolish in letting it come down to this, a meeting with the invincibles of Spain.

But we don't have to beat them. We just need to hope Lithuania can do us a favour against Czech Republic.

Nothing illustrates the polarisation of this qualification group, the chasm between Spain and the also rans, more than the possibility of a team as limited as Lithuania beating a team as average as the Czechs to allow a team as uninspired as Scotland the luxury of getting cuffed in Spain and still progressing.

International football in all its glory. And the severity of the judgement delivered on your Judgement Day is somewhat neutered by the knowledge that you could lose 6-0 and reach the promised land of a play-off lottery courtesy of a last minute Saulius Mikoliunas dive in Kaunas.

We could, of course, still get some sort of result against Spain. Nothing is certain in football, even if the total Spanish domination of the group suggests otherwise.

In fact Scottish football's popular romanticism, that well worn narrative of the glorious near miss largely invented to lessen the pain of our failures, would have an inspired Scotland enjoying an underdog's moral triumph.

Did we not rock the haughty Spanish as we roared back from the dead at Hampden?

We did. For a bit. And Spain have qualified at a canter so can afford to relax to the point of distraction by the Mediterranean this evening.

What state of relaxation do Spain need to be in before they become a bad team?

Unless we have pre-match confirmation that they intend to turn up drunk, we can consider our hosts prohibitive favourites.

We can expect our 4-1-4-1(ish) to be called into a rearguard action. If our "1" up front is Kenny Miller, Craig Mackail-Smith or David Goodwillie we can expect him to be isolated and tireless, his own frustrations forgotten for the greater good of the collective.

Talk of Levein's tactical options, chat of the meaning of this injury or that passed fitness test, strikes me as being a lot of tosh today.

We want our best players to be available. But what tactical shocks can Levein spring? Which armchair pundit is going to suggest a formation or a game plan that will nullify this Spain team?

Better teams than Scotland have tried and failed. Worse teams than Scotland have tried and failed. Teams that are pretty much the same as Scotland have tried and failed.

Spain are World and European champions for a reason. Scotland have gone a generation without playing at a major championship for a reason. Bridging that gulf is akin to breaking the Rubik's Cube world time record while wearing a blindfold.

Tonight we're likely to be playing the gooseberry as Spain murmur sweet nothings and make rude with the ball. And football's a hard game without the ball.

Keeping your shape, keeping your dignity, when a team is enjoying over 70 percent possession (as Spain have so far in this qualifying campaign) is not easy.

Maybe that sets the stage for Levein's finest hour. The night when his admirable dedication to his own footballing beliefs or - depending on your view of him - his obdurate obsession with organisation above all else, is given the chance to shine.

90 minutes that validate his mantra that the squad have bought into his methods and that he's created a group that can make Scotland proud.

Organisation, concentration, hard work and luck. That's how you get a result against Spain.

And hope. Hope that Lithuania can deliver us to a play-off. And hope that this Goliath leaves David's dignity intact.

> Kenny Miller, Barry Bannan and Craig Mackail-Smith remain injury doubts. Darren Fletcher looks set to play. It looks grim for Miller - whose absence could yet prove that you don't miss the water until the well runs dry - while Bannan could have difficulty putting his boot on without opening up a cut on his foot.

Bannan's emergence has gladdened the heart these past couple of games. But it is the likely absence of Miller's selfless experience that will be most keenly felt.

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