The Netherlands took a big stride towards World Cup qualification with their win last night. The strange thing about the game was that though they did play very well, the 3 goals all came from defensive mistakes from the Scotland back line. That was after Kenny Miller really should have tested Stekenburg in the first 10 minutes.
Now before anyone criticises Burley for any tactical mistakes, a look at the list of missing players should put to bed any doubts surrounding Burley. Alan Hutton’s lack of match practice probably helped Graeme Alexander make the starting line up for this game. This game is not one which he will remember with any fondness. Time and again he was exposed and found wanting in the face of Arjen Robben’s pace and trickery. This however is no excuse for his failure to track Huntelaar for the first Dutch goal. Caldwell also seemed distracted by this as he also lost his marker for a second, making it look as if the Dutch were queuing up to score.
The Netherlands were dominating at this point, and a repeat hiding looked to be on the cards. But just as Scotland looked to have weathered the storm pre-half time, they gave away the second goal, a rare Robin Van Persie header. Never has the phrase “schoolboy defending” really been more apt as Van Persie had time for the run up.
Scotland held it together much more successfully in the second half, and put the Dutch under some pressure. Caldwell scored with about 15 minutes to go from a corner, but this was chalked off. Presumably there was pushing in the box, with either of the Fletchers being deemed the culprit. The incidents were part of the normal jostling that goes on in the penalty box at corners, so it is something of a mystery that the goal was chalked off. Had the goal stood, then Scotland would have been back in the game. As it was the Dutch went up the park to put the game beyond doubt with Huntelaar going through and being brought down by Berra. Kuyt converted the penalty, and that was really that.
At this point we could go into reasons why we lost, but the truth is rather obvious. Bearing in mind that the current crop of Scottish players are just not as technically gifted as their Dutch counterparts, that is possibly a discussion point for another time as to why a country only 3 times the size of Scotland can produce so many great players while we struggle. We did look rather threadbare in areas, particularity down the right, with Graeme Alexander being exposed to Robben. Hutton, when he came on, was a little short of match practice and looked it. Naysmith & Teale fared a bit better with Kuyt on the other flank.
Scotland must now pick themselves up for the visit of Iceland on Wednesday. We are half-way through our qualifying programme, with only 4 points to show for it. The only upside is that our hardest games, away to the Dutch and Macedonia, are behind us. With only one tie to be played away, we should be looking to consolidate a good second place finish. Just need to work a bit on defending at crosses first.