Saturday, April 02, 2011

SPL Today: Four Out Of Five

2nd of April in the SPL. And still the postponements come.

Inverness v Celtic, today's early kick off, was cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch.

This season might never end. And we'll have the joy of moaning, accusations and counter-accusations caused by the the number of games that need to be squeezed in before the split.

The joys...

Motherwell v Aberdeen

Motherwell's defeat of Dundee United in the cup this week confirmed them as the SPL's least consistent side. Good follows bad follows mediocre follows excellent.

So who knows what to expect today. A bit of a sub-plot offered by the return of Craig Brown as well.

I'll say draw.

Rangers v Dundee United

Celtic's postponement means the Old Firm will both played 28 games after this one.

And a Rangers win will send them top. United might still be somewhat shocked by the shellacking they took on Wednesday night.

Big game, big stakes. I can't see Rangers slipping up.

Home win.

St Johnstone v Kilmarnock

What does life after Mixu hold for Kilmarnock. His departure this week was a bitter blow for one of this season's SPL success stories.

Kenny Shiels' interim appointment offers continuity and its up to him make sure the players aren't badly affected by the shock of Killie's loss.

St Johnstone haven't won in six and have had four draws in that run of results.

More of the same today. Draw.

St Mirren v Hamilton

Hamilton are now such habitu├ęs of the last chance saloon that they've got their own cushioned bar stool and a silver tankard hanging behind the bar.

But this surely must be it. Do or die. Win or be relegated.

Sadly I think they're no longer masters of their own destiny, the club's been enveloped by the relegation crisis and the players are powerless to stop it.

Home win.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Friday Video: Busby, Stein and Shankly

Recent commutes have been leavened by Barney Ronay's The Manager: The Absurd Ascent of the Most Important Man in Football.

It's in turns mildly diverting, reasonably interesting and laugh out loud funny.

And, of course, no discussion of the role of the manager without reference to management's tartan trinity.

Sent forth from the very bowels of the Ayrshire and Lanarkshire coalfields, it seemed Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein were put on this earth to bend football clubs, and the game itself, to their will.

As Ronay writes:

"Busby, Shankly, Stein. This is our managerial supergroup. They're like the members of Cream, if Eric Clapton had been joined not by some other excellent 1960s musicians, but by Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and Liberace.

"Each brought something different, his own virtuoso guitar solo, drum break or shrieking signature vocal. Busby gave the preacherly and the paternal tone, father and Father rolled into one. Shankly brought an urgently vocal presence. Stein was the Big Man, the beacon, the lighthouse."

Each rebuilt clubs from inauspicious beginnings. Manchester United were near bankrupt and bombed out when Busby took over. Liverpool were in the Second Division when Shankly arrived. Celtic had won the league only once since war when Stein was appointed in 1965.

All stories that have been oft repeated, all stories that remain remarkable despite that familiarity.

In an ideal world, a planet free of copyright and rights issues, this week's Friday video would centre on Hugh McIlvanney's three part Arena documentary for the BBC: Busby, Stein and Shankly - The Football Men.

Instead we'll turn to the most publicly vocal of the three. That might be fitting, it's easy to imagine Busby and Stein giving their smiling acquiescence as Shankly, as ever, demanded the last word.

Bill Shankly on Matt Busby

Bill Shankly on Jock Stein

Bill Shankly on Bill Shankly

SFA: Peat Eyes Top FIFA Job

It appears we might not be shot of him yet.

As George Peat's tenure as SFA chairman enters its final few months, amid ongoing controversy, he has emerged as a realistic contender to challenge Sepp Blatter in the forthcoming FIFA presidential elections.

Although a divisive figure in Scotland, Peat's candidacy could find favour in the broader footballing world.

Already the other three home nations have fallen behind the former Airdrie man.

Northern Ireland and Wales see a successful bid from Peat as offering the most satisfactory end to damaging debates about a British team competing at the Olympics.

The English FA have come on board after Peat, supported by UEFA General Secretary David Taylor, persuaded them that a home nations president - the first since Sir Stanley Rous left the post in 1974 - was the best way of ridding the governing body of the anti-English sentiment that soured England's recent World Cup bid.

Sources within the SFA and FA refused to confirm that Peat may also have left a possible deal over an English World Cup in 2026 on the table.

Taylor's influence has also helped soothe Peat's passage to world football's top job inside UEFA where the SFA president's tact and diplomacy are far more admired than they are in Scotland.

Peat's age and lack of enemies in the wider football world have convinced UEFA chief Michel Platini that the Scotsman can serve as a viable anti-Blatter candidate.

A gentleman's agreement will see Peat transfer his support to Platini ahead of the next elections.

Although Mohamed bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation, was set to formally announce his own candidacy today it now seems he will step aside to back Peat.

The Qatari is keen to build relationships across the footballing world ahead of what is predicted to be a controversial build up to the 2022 World Cup.

He has also been persuaded that a pooling of Asia and Europe's resources in a united campaign for Peat will neutralise the financial strength of Blatter's FIFA-backed re-election bid.

Bin Hammam will delegate Asian football's chief strategist Cancan Hick Fee Gnu to co-ordinate a global campaign that will stress both Peat's capacity to unify the game and trade on lingering resentments over Blatter's turbulent time in charge.

The monetary clout of a joint campaign will also allow Peat's supporters to buy favour around the world. The home nations are already on standby to rethink their international friendly strategies should they be called on to make goodwill visits to countries who fall into line behind Peat's presidential bid.

The promotion of George Peat as a unity candidate will raise eyebrows in Scotland where his SFA term has been dogged by division and controversy, most recently in a series of damaging run-ins with Celtic.

It is believed that Stewart Regan, chief executive of the SFA, formulated the idea for Peat's presidential bid after discussions with Neil Doncaster, his SPL counterpart.

Both men believe that the dual benefits of added influence at FIFA and the removal of Peat from domestic football will allow them to concentrate fully on rebuilding the Scottish game.

It seems the dinosaur might not yet be extinct.

FIFA's elections will be held on June 1st in Zurich's Alp Fir Solo Conference Centre.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kilmarnock: Finnish for Mixu?

Tabloid reports suggest that Mixu Paatelainen is set to be unveiled as the new manager of Finland this afternoon.

While this might not be as galling for Kilmarnock fans as losing him to a lower league English side, it's still and absolute kick in the goolies after a season that has surely surpassed the hopes of even the most optimistic of supporters.

There was a tendency to write Mixu off when got the job. My own reaction was:

"Stubborness, even the ability to ignore the aesthetics and revert to the long ball, will be plus points for Kilmarnock next season. Where touchline arguments were a distraction at Hibs they might, if they're well chosen, prove an inspiration in Ayr." (July 2010)

We were all wrong, although he has proved an inspiration. Mixu brought pleasingly eye catching football to Rugby Park. He has given the SPL Alexei Eremenko. He turned Conor Sammon into the goal scoring machine that even Sammon himself suspected he might not be.

Kilmarnock currently sit fifth, assured of a top six place and still very much in the fight for fourth.

Their experience last season and their financial turmoil saw many people tip them as relegation strugglers this season.

They've shown that up to be a load of codswallop.

And now they pay for their success.

Perhaps the lure of his national team job carries an emotional attachment for Paatelainen. It's a new challenge that has more attraction than leaving Kilmarnock for the glamour of Scunthorpe.

Good luck to him. He's a decent bloke and he's given us a rare good news story in the SPL this season.

But even as they wish him well, this must be scunnering for the Kilmarnock fans. Talk this morning that, if his departure is confirmed, he could remain in post until the end of the season.

His assistant Kenny Shiels will not be going to Finland with him and might provide Killie with a ready made replacement.

There's still likely to be uncertainty and anguish among the fans today though.

Football, just when you think your team's getting the hang of it, it turns round and whacks you about the jowls.

Forgotten Scotland Players: Peter Canero

Forgotten Scotland Players: Peter Canero
Confirmation of Scotland's friendly with Denmark had me flicking through the record books to jog the memory about our less than stellar recent performances against the marauding Danes.

We lost 1-0 to Denmark twice during Scotland's Berti Vogts experiment.

The second of those games, a clash in Copenhagen in 2004, gives us the second of The Scottish Football Blog's forgotten Scotland players.

Gary Holt, then of Norwich City, started in midfield, winning the fourth of his ten caps.

But Holt's game came to a premature end after only 16 minutes. Injured, he was replace by today's hero.

On 24 April 2004, Peter Canero came off the bench to make his Scotland debut.

Aged 23, and just a couple of months after leaving Kilmarnock for Leicester City, Canero must have felt this was the start of something big.

But football's a fickle mistress. Those 76 minutes in the Parken Stadium were to be the beginning and the end of Canero's international career.

Making his Kilmarnock debut in 1999, Canero quickly established himself as a regular at Rugby Park and in the Scotland under-21 side.

He would eventually make over 150 appearance for Kilmarnock and get a taste of European football in 2001-02.

By the end of 2003 Kilmarnock were offering a much in demand Canero a 60 percent pay rise to try and persuade him to stay in Ayrshire.

But when Leicester, then in the English Premiership (as was), came calling Canero was lured south.

In the way of such things, his transfer left a bitter taste for some with Kilmarnock settling for £250,000 and blaming the cut-price deal on the malignant influence of the player's agent.

Micky Adams, then manager of Leicester, saw the winger as a signing for the future but it took only three months for Berti Vogts, who collected Scotland players like your spinster great-aunt might collect thimbles, pitched him as a first half sub in that friendly against Denmark.

And then disaster struck.

Injury curtailed not only the rest of his 2003-04 season but the rest of his Leicester career.

By July 2005, when his contract was terminated by mutual consent, Canero had made just seven Premiership and six Championship appearances.

From Leicester he briefly headed back north, spending a couple of months at Dundee United where eleven league games produced two goals.

At the start of 2006 Canero's career took another twist when the colourful managerial pairing of Alexi Lalas and Maurice Johnston took him to New York with Metrostars.

At the time of his signing Lalas had this to say:

"His signing represents a significant upgrade to our flank play, something that is a priority for 2006."

Mo Jo added:

"Peter has a great willingness to win and work hard for his team for 90 minutes."

It was a willingness that the fans rarely saw.

By October 2006, a Metrostar blog had this to say:

"Then, the preseason came, and we started hearing rumbles that Canero was just not that good. And when Metro lined up for their first match in DC, the supposed versatile winger could not win a spot. Amazingly, the three positions he was supposed to be able to play were taken by players with little or no pro experience at those; Seth Stammler at right midfield, Carlos Mendes at left back, and Jeff Parke at right back.

"His appearances off the bench in the first two matches were indifferent at best, and Peter was invisible in his lone start at Salt Lake. Since then, a few late-game appearances, Mo's firing, a long-term injury, six games for the reserves, and finally, his first first-team time in months last weekend, seven minutes as Metro needed cover for the ejected Marvell Wynne. All that for $142,996 a year." (Metro Fanatic)

Unsurprisingly, after just nine appearance, his contract was not renewed for the next season.

And that proved the end.

Canero's injuries seem to have forced him into a low key retirement when still in his mid-twenties. Certainly he was blighted by problems at both Leicester and in the MLS.

Sadly he was destined to join that always worryingly large group of Scottish players who, for one reason or another, don't ever quite graduate from promising youngster to successful career.

The internet throws up sightings of his name on Leicester City forum discussions of "crappest ever player" and "worst ever signing."

That's a shame. It was injury rather than a lack of talent or a distaste for hard work that knackered him in the end.

But, small consolation as it might be, he'll always have that Scotland cap.

Forgotten Scotland Players Number 2: Peter Canero, Leicester City, 1 Cap

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Scottish Cup: All Well At Fir Park

Motherwell 3 v 0 Dundee United


The curse of The Scottish Football Blog's predictions strikes again.

I said away win.

Instead Motherwell dominated proceedings, goals from Jamie Murphy, Chris Humphrey and Francis Jeffers sealing a place in the semi finals.

Motherwell's unpredictability is becoming a predictable cliche now. But still. It is quite remarkable.

So the Scottish Cup semi-finals are now set.

Motherwell play St Johnstone on 16th April with Aberdeen and Celtic meeting the following day.

It's an interesting line up. And not one many people would have predicted.

Tonight's attendance

Motherwell made the decision to charge only £10 and £5 for tonight's game.

A welcome initiative that the fans seemed to respond to, 8,337 turning out.

I've done a very quick check and leaving out the visits of the Old Firm - who regularly bump the Fir Park crowd over 9000 - I make that the highest attendance at Fir Park since 9105 watched the 1-0 defeat to Odense back in August.

Again, leaving aside the Old Firm, only twice (Hibs in August and Aberdeen in September) have SPL opposition attracted over 5000 to Fir Park this season. 7,721 were in attendance for the European game against Aalesunds and almost 6000 for the match against Breidablik.

So congratulations to Motherwell for a brave ticketing decision and fair play to the fans for responding.

Here's the thing though: If the game had been shown on Sky and 2000 fans had turned up, Motherwell would probably have made more money than they did tonight.

As ever, there are no easy answers in Scottish football.

Scotland v Denmark, 10th August 2011

The SFA have confirmed that Scotland will play Denmark on 10th August in a Vauxhall International Challenge Match.

Last year, of course, Scotland travelled to Sweden at the same stage of the season.

That trip produced both a number of managerial moaning-minnies and a bit of a doing for a makeshift Scotland side.

Different circumstances this time around though. The Denmark game will be played at Hampden. And it offers a last get together before Craig Levein's squad face what we should always now call "the must win double header" in September when Czech Republic and Lithuania come calling.

So the feelings of club manager's must be cast asunder, sacrificed for the greater good of our Euro 2012 hopes.

Strangely enough our recent record against Denmark has been honking.

In nine games between 1951 and 1975 we beat the Danes eight times.

But since Willie Ormond's side enjoyed a 3-1 victory at Hampden with goals from Bruce Rioch, Kenny Dalglish and Ted MacDougall the worm has turned. The pendulum has swung.

In the five most recent games Scotland haven't enjoyed a victory. Or a draw. Or even so much as goal.

Starting with the 1-0 defeat at the 1986 World Cup we've lost 2-0 and 1-0 in Copenhagen and endured two 1-0 defeats in Glasgow.

So slaying a bogey team, going where Alex Ferguson, Craig Brown (twice) and Berti Vogts (twice) failed to go, will be the order of the day for Levein.

Upsetting 25 years worth of results will be as good a way as any to build some momentum going into "the must win double-header."

Fingers crossed.

> Ranked 28th in the world, Denmark at 22 places above Scotland in FIFA's world order. That means they're three spots ahead of our Group I rivals Czech Republic who they drew 0-0 with last November.

In Group H of the Euro 2012 qualifying the Danes lie in third place on seven points after four games, behind Portugal on goal difference and three points adrift of table topping Norway.

Scottish Cup: Motherwell v Dundee United

A bit delayed, this quarter final replay.

It was supposed to be played last night but the clubs decided the attendance would be badly hit by the first of Scottish election leader's debates on STV.

Three dull men and a scary lady.

Actually, that might not be true.

But the fits and starts of our recent scheduling have dictated that this game is being played during the international break.

That means Motherwell defender Stephen Craigan played the full ninety minutes in Northern Ireland's goalless draw with Slovenia in Belfast last night.

Goalkeeper Darren Randolph was also on international duty, risking a chill as he sat on the bench throughout the Republic of Ireland's 3-2 defeat to Uruguay in Dublin.

It ain't ideal. And, with Steven Saunders set to miss out and Stevie Hammond doubtful, Motherwell manager Stuart McCall might be facing a few problems in defence.

All of which serves to reinforce the idea that Dundee United are favourites this evening. A prediction I also confidently made before the first game when United twice had to come back from a goal down at Tannadice.

But recent form suggests that United have, as they say, got their shit together in time for the business end of the season.

Motherwell are about as reliable as Scotrail in the face of a light dusting of snow.

United never know when they're beaten, Motherwell never know what they're going to do.

Which could at least provide the right mix for an exciting night.

Away win.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scotland: Group I As It Stands

Euro 2012 Group I as it stands:

Spain 15 (+10) Played 5
Czech Republic 9 (+1) Played 5
Scotland 4 (-1) Played 4
Lithuania 4 (-3) Played 4
Liechtenstein 4 (-10) Played 4

Scotland's Journey

While Scotland were huffing and puffing in their attempts to stay close to Brazil, other teams in Group I were getting on with the business of qualifying for Euro 2012.

The three games played in this international break went as expected.

Spain might not have been as emphatic as they could have been but they beat Czech Republic 2-1 at home on Friday night.

The Czechs recovered from that loss to beat Liechtenstein 2-0 this evening, while Spain needed a couple of late goals to beat Lithuania 3-1.

All of which means that Spain are top of a group they have dominated with 15 points from five games. Out of sight and qualified.

Czech Republic lie second with nine points from five games. That leaves them five points clear of Scotland.

Our four points and -1 goal difference means we're edging out Lithuania, who have also played four games, by two goals.

By the time we meet the Czechs at Hampden on 3rd September, Lithuania will have played twice against Liechtenstein. You have to expect them to win those games.

That will mean we're lying in fourth the next time we're in action.

How will it all pan out?

Let's presume that Spain win their remaining games and Liechtenstein lose theirs.

If Scotland can beat Czech Republic and then Lithuania in the Hampden double header at the start of September that would - theoretically - put us level with the Lithuanians and a point ahead of the Czechs.

If we then beat Liechtenstein then we'll knock the Czechs out of contention before they play in Lithuania on 11th October at the same time as Scotland visit Spain.

Obviously all that depends on Liechtenstein not upsetting anyone and the Czechs not springing a surprise on Spain when they play them at home.

It could be tight. And even taking nine points from the three might leave us needing something from the final game against Spain.

To get that far we need to beat both Czech Republic and Lithuania. I can't see four points from those two games being enough.

It's not going to be easy. But it might be all the sweeter for it.

Let's Hear It For The Fans

Scottish football fans ownership proposals
It may have escaped your notice but we're all suffering from election fever here in Scotland.

Actually, it might well have escaped your notice. The campaign hasn't exactly caught the public imagination yet. Strange that, given all the massive and impressive personalities involved at the hustings.

I jest.

But the fitba' has elbowed its way into proceedings thanks to a new proposal from the Scottish Greens:

"The Scottish Greens today proposed an extension of land reform and the community right to buy to cover Scotland's football clubs, so fans would have first refusal when their club comes up for sale. The Greens also identified two sources of money to back fan buy-outs: first, from the £1m last week allocated to sponsor the Scottish League Cup from the Proceeds of Crime Act, and secondly through a levy on the broadcast fees received by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association.

"The Scottish game continues to be beset by financial insecurity, uncertainty about ownership and structures. These measures are designed to start a long-term shift towards fan ownership of their clubs, work promoted across the UK by organisations like Supporters Direct. Last year saw the successful £300,000 takeover of Stirling Albion by its fans, yet other Scottish clubs - including Dundee and Motherwell - remain in financial difficulty while supporters' trusts work to take control of them."

Patrick Harvie, Co-convenor of the Scottish Greens and the party's top candidate in Glasgow, said:

"Scottish football is in a mess. We have chronic financial indiscipline in football management, and a concentration of wealth and power in the clubs at the top of the game. Fan-owned clubs, on the other hand, are a model that works well elsewhere - not just for Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also for every substantial club in both Sweden and Germany. In the long term, clubs large and small will only thrive on and off the pitch when they are rooted in their communities, and that means giving loyal supporters both the right to buy their clubs and the money to do so."

An interesting proposal. I'd guess it might not be top of the Greens' wishlist if they find themselves bargaining with a minority government. But one never knows.

Slightly put off by the comparisons with other countries. Real Madrid and Barcelona are very different beasts. And, it must be said, both have embraced some of modern football's more extravagant excesses despite, maybe because, of their structures.

Still, it's a fair enough point and I'm sure fan ownership or part ownership will provide the best answers to the problems at certain clubs.

Interestingly the Greens' policy announcement clashed with a statement from St Mirren:

"Last year the board of St Mirren Football Club appointed Richard Atkinson and Chris Stewart to the Club board. This was with the purpose of investigating the feasibility of a Community Interest Company (CIC) based purchase of the 52% of the shares of the Club that have been for sale.

"The board is pleased to report that the initial phase of this investigation has concluded positively and as a result two further individuals are to be brought on as advisors to the board. This is Scott McLennan, former Local Director for LloydsTSB and Tony Fitzpatrick, who requires no further introduction to all St Mirren fans.

"Over the next couple of weeks further details will be announced of a shareholders meeting and a number of public meetings at which all people who may be interested in what a Community Interest Company controlling ownership will mean for them, the team and the wider community."

If nothing else it seems that Scottish football, a game trapped in a perpetual hunt for solutions and answers, is about to hear a lot more about the pros, cons, if, buts and possibilities of fan ownership.

> Fair to assume that both David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, his Culture, Media and Sports go-to-guy, have had other things on their minds since assuming office last year. But, lest we forget, the Conservative Sports Manifesto had this to say:

"We will reform the football governance arrangements so co-operative ownership models can be established by supporters, as part of a wider package of reform of football finance and governance."

That might be a more fitting legacy than the bungled 2018 World Cup bid. A select committee inquiry into football governance is ongoing and today's Guardian reports that:

"The Culture, Media and Sport select committee's investigation into football governance is set to lead to a formal club licensing system. Indeed, so advanced is the thinking of the committee that what the licensing system would contain is already taking shape.

"Insiders have told Digger that there are four main strands. The committee has been particularly alarmed by the lack of transparency surrounding Leeds United's ownership. Shaun Harvey, the Championship club's chief executive, was left to answer the committee's questions about who are the beneficial owners of the web of offshore trusts that are Leeds's parents, but he said he did not know. This starkly illustrated to the committee the ease with which impenetrable structures can be set up.

"The second licensing condition will be a strengthened fit-and-proper-persons' test. Third will be a restriction on the clubs' gearing ratios of debt to equity or assets, and fourth will be an element of supporter involvement in the decision-making structures of clubs.

"This is set to be enshrined in a Football Governance and Major Events Act, for which parliamentary time has been set aside. The licensing system would be a big incentive for reform of the normally reactionary Football Association. Once the FA became fit for regulatory purpose, oversight of the system would give it proper teeth."

Watch this space.

Scotland v Brazil: Learning The Hard Way

Neymar starred in Brazil's 2-0 win over Scotland
Comprehensively outclassed and the day marred by an accusation of racism.

Scotland have had better experiences than their trip to London on Sunday.

Having endured 90 minutes of pressure it could surely only be the most masochistic of Scotland fan who would stick to the party line that a glamour clash against Brazil is always a joy to behold.

The way in which 19 year old Neymar provided the focal point as a depleted Brazil waltzed past Scotland served only to underline how small our progress - wins against the Faroes and Northern Ireland - has been in the grand scheme of the world game.

Of course Brazil are in football's stratosphere, Scotland are its honest journeymen. We're not supposed to beat them. 2-0 will allow the record books to show that we avoided annihilation.

From the Scotland camp came the expected messages of lessons being learned, of hard work paying off.

But this was turgid stuff from Scotland.

Kenny Miller, as tireless as ever, touched the ball on seven times in the first half, his isolation almost complete.

Charlie Adam was honest about his own failure to perform. If Steven Whittaker is given to nightmares then it must be expected this his slumbers will be interrupted by Dani Alves in the coming weeks.

It's unfair to pick out individuals. As Brazil coach Mano Menezes said at the end, this is a Scottish team that relies on collective hard work. The succeed together and they fail together.

The only positive to draw was that Scotland didn't completely fall apart as the Brazilians ran them ragged.

Scotland's plan was to work hard, to press and harry. Yet even in this the temporary hosts provided the most exhilarating display.

When Scotland sought temporary reprieve by training to hold the ball at the back or using Allan McGregor as an outlet, the yellow shirts swarmed into the final third.

Finding himself rushed, his defenders and midfielders marked, the goalkeeper could only go long or wide. Possession was immediately handed back.

It was a study in combining ability with hard work. The sobering lesson was one that many Scotland fans learnt years ago - our own brand of toil and labour combined with technical inferiority is increasingly impotent in the modern game.

All of which is probably nothing new.

So perhaps the most immediate positive to take from it all was Levein's assurance that we won't play a tougher friendly.

And, when all is said in done, it was only a friendly. It could be a costly one though if it combines with other results to send our ranking plummeting.

A game that underlined our weaknesses might also have made it even more difficult for us to qualify for the 2016 World Cup in Brazil.

I hope the SFA feel suitably comfortable with that as they count the cash they got for showing up at the Emirates.

> The racism allegation: As I understand it the booing of Neymar centred on what the fans saw as play acting.

A banana was thrown. The video I have seen suggests it came from the Brazil end, although footage throughout the game seemed to show a fairly wide mingling of fans.

The Tartan Army, since backed by the SFA, have issued vehement denials.

The truth is there was an idiot, from somewhere, in the ground whose ignorance cast a shadow on the day, a day that should have been celebrated for Neymar's performance. And that's deeply regrettable.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Scotland v Brazil: The Preview Post

Scottish football blog Brazil v Scotland preview
The chosen few:

McGregor, Hutton, G Caldwell, Berra, Crainey, Adam, Brown, Morrison, McArthur, Whittaker, Miller

The eleven men chosen to rage against history, to turn football's established order on its head.

The bravehearts charged with leading Scotland to a first ever victory against Brazil.

Alright. So that's all a nonsense really.

Yes, the game is capturing imaginations for a number of reasons.

The glamour of Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

A chance to dream that Scotland, at best solid proletarians of world football recently, can upset Brazil, the game's perennial aristocrats.

All of it's enough to get the Tartan Army on the march, their tunes reverberating through London town itself.

Still a meaningless friendly though.

Obviously it beats playing the Faroe Islands. But there's little substance to it.

Scotland are simply the latest hired hands shipped in to provide the padding in Brazil's apparently open ended world tour.

And, the cynic in me says, chosen to give Brazil a boost, the chance to gain some confidence as flat track bullies.

Because this Brazilian side remains a work in progess, a team that has lost their last couple of games.

But even as an auld curmudgeon like me tries to rain on tomorrow's parade, it's impossible not to feel a frisson of something.

This remains Brazil. The Samba superstars, the jogo bonita brigade, the classy Canarinho.

So, once more, the hope, optimism and excitement build.

There's even been a hint of belief growing around this Scotland squad.

By rediscovering a certain enterprising passion and resilience whilst being quite obviously outclassed by Spain and then enjoying a spot of flat track bullying of our own against inferior opposition, some of the damage of that 4-6-0 and Liechtenstein's Hampden visit has been repaired.

Fickle bunch us Scots.

Yet there have been some signs of progress. Whether an examination by Brazil, even a developing Brazil, is the best way to discover how much progress remains to be seen.

Always remember though, you've got to beat the best to be the best.

Or avoid massive humiliation against the fifth best to be not as bad as might have been feared when you played without a striker against Czech Republic.

Craig Levein has chosen a team that might have been guessed at by the squad he had at his disposal.

It's likely to be the 4-1-4-1 that almost prospered against Spain. Kenny Miller, captain again, is the one.

In the centre of defence a pairing of Gary Caldwell and Christophe Berra might raise some groans but in a squad of increased options Levein remains faced with a narrowing field of contenders at centre half.

I'm interested to see how the much discussed Charlie Adam fares. By now we should all be aware of Adam's qualities - Dani Alves was moved to mention them in an STV interview the other day - but we've still to properly see them for Scotland.

In a game where we're likely to lose out in both possession and territory Adam's exceptional passing and Miller's exeptional workrate could - should - combine as a valuable outlet.

And that's important, because using this formation we have to be capable of giving teams some pause for thought. Preferably before we go 2-0 down.

This is a strange beast of a match. If we play exceptionally well and get a result it will be both remarkable and a massive confidence boost.

If we play well and lose narrowly we'll be able to fall back to the default, gallant losers role we seem to occupy with worryingly natural ease.

If we get a total doing - and that could involve us playing well, alright or very badly - then some of the rebuilt confidence will take a knock. Having picked ourselves off the ropes and almost got on to the front foot we'll be rocked backwards again.

Which is why I disagree that this is a win-win. If the worst happens then it's a lose-lose.

I steal myself to banish such unpatriotic, unworthy thoughts.

Let's hope that this game will continue Levein's evolution as an international manager.

Let's hope that his players will not freeze when faced with the glamour of their surroundings, the fame of their opponents, the hype of the media and the fans.

We're playing what would now appear to be our chosen formation against top class teams. So it's up to the players to prove that it works.

Here's hoping.

Prediction? For fear of being accused of traitorous tendencies, I'll leave the last word to Craig Levein:

"I haven't rushed round the bookies to put a bet on." (BBC)