Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sporting Picks of 2009, Part 4 - August 12th

World Cup - European Zone, Group 9: Norway 4 Scotland 0

Scotland's World Cup dream was left on a knife edge after they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of a desperate, Egil Olsen-inspired Norway. Gary Caldwell was sent off after 33 minutes and John Arne Riise scored with the resulting sublime free-kick. Morten Gamst Pedersen drove in the second on the stroke of half-time. Erik Huseklepp turned in the third and Pedersen added a fourth as coach Olsen's Norway revived their chances of reaching the play-offs from Group Nine.

Defeat means Scotland will probably now need to win their two remaining matches, at home to Macedonia and group winners Netherlands, to make those matches as one of the best-placed runners-up.

Truth be told this game was probably the jump the shark moment for George Burley. For some it would have been the loss in Macedonia, for others (mostly Rangers fans) it would have been his behaviour towards Kris Boyd, described by Darren Fletcher as the laziest trainer he has ever seen. There are members of the press who turned on Burley for his handling of the Ibrox 2 affair in the aftermath of the defeat in Amsterdam (when the Scotland defence seemed to be auditioning for parts as Dracula such was their aversion to crosses...). For the majority this game was the moment when it all became crystal clear. George Burley was not a Scotland manager.

Burley made errors of judgement when picking his defence. Norway had re-appointed Egil Olsen as manager in the spring of 2009, Olsen having taken Norway to 2 World Cups and a European Championship in his first stint in the 1990’s. Olsen’s tactics were to get the ball as quickly as possible into their opponents box, by any means necessary. At his disposal up front, Olsen had the former Rosenberg powerhouse, now at Aston Villa, John Carew. To combat this threat Burley picked the Caldwell brothers, Stephen being inexperienced at International level and Gary having begun a calamitous fall in form. It was a combination doomed to failure as both Caldwell brothers, later joined by the forgotten V sign flicker Christope Berra, floundered and failed to contain Carew.

As Carew ran amok among the Scotland back line (well… defence would be stretching the Trades Descriptions Act a bit to far…) it surely must have occurred to Burley to change the shape or the tactics. Four at the back wasn’t working, as players were getting through the Scotland back line without being picked up.

Of course the SFA blazers hindered Burley from the off with their agreement to this fixture list. Starting with playing Macedonia in the heat of the first weekend in September (they should have swapped the away fixture with Iceland around, a Wednesday night fixture wouldn’t have been so energy sapping), the timing of this fixture couldn’t have been worse as this was played before the start of the season, when many of the Scotland players looked under-cooked.

The strange thing is that Burley kind of recovered. Scotland destroyed Macedonia 2-0, but should have been 6 or 7-0, and lost 1-0 to the Netherlands at Hampden, but should have won with the amount of chances created. After the campaign it was back to normal as Scotland lost in Japan before Wales saw off yet another Scotland manager, 5 years after another famous Welsh win was the beginning of the end for Herr Voghts. This time the SFA were swift and decisive in their verdict and axed Burley within days of the Wales result. They have been equally swift and decisive in plumping for the Dundee United manager Craig Levein as his successor, a choice which appears to have been the consensus choice among the Scottish Football fraternity.

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