So Scotland rather predictably lost out to Spain last night while simultaneously the Czech Republic booked their playoff place with a fortuitous 4-1 win. Had Lithuania been given a penalty just before the Czech’s scored their third, things might have been different. At the end, Scotland came up short in another group that they should have escaped from.
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As predicted from the outset, Scotland were vying with the Czechs for that second place, and it was those two ties where the playoff place was decided. For many Scottish fans, the tie in Prague was all about Levein’s 4-6 formation, imagine the lack of ambition in not playing a striker. In reality, this was a close game not helped by the Scottish defence’s tendency to hoof the ball forward to the Czech defence. If it was the inability to hold on to possession that was Scotland’s only failing on the night, that might have been forgivable. The bigger crime was Scotland’s awful defending at the goal as the defender Hubnik was given the freedom of Prague to do whatever he wanted… which was to put the ball in the back of the net.
That game was Levein’s early problems in a microcosm. Struggling to get his team to gel while still trying to figure out his best formation, Levein’s Scotland struggled to retain possession and to do anything useful with it. It is symptomatic of the period that in the next game, against Spain, Levein played 4-2-3-1. It wasn’t until the Carling Cup matches and the early season friendly with Hungary that the 4-5-1 formation, with a midfielder dropping into a defensive position, developed. Then, the return match with the Czechs was upon us.
In truth, Scotland did not perform. Yet found themselves 1-0 and 2-1 up. Had they not sat back, then maybe the Czechs would have left Hampden with nothing. But as soon as Scotland went ahead, the Czechs seemed to pin Scotland back with relative ease. The Czechs still showed better technique than Scotland, but there is no way that this side are as good as some of the Czech sides of the past. An opportunity lost then.
While Levein is an almost certainty to be at the helm of the Scotland national team come the first World Cup qualifier, there is a growing backlash. 4-6 and those early sluggish performances have sparked criticisms, with callers to “Your Call” on Tuesday night calling for Levein’s head. So far those calls are in the minority. There is however three things to bear in mind. The first is that at the moment there isn’t really an obvious successor to Levein.
Callers named Souness as someone they would like to see at the helm. The thing is, Souness hasn’t really been a successful manager since leaving Rangers in April 1991. He won the English Cup with Liverpool in ’92, and memorably won the Turkish Cup with Galatasaray in 1996 and… well that’s it really. Secondly, Scotland is still very much a work in progress. Lastly there is a record of Scottish Managers failing to get the country to the European Championships but succeeding with qualifying for the World Cup. Stein and Roxburgh failed to qualify for any of the European Championships in the 1980’s. Stein then took us to the World Cup in 1982, and before his untimely death got us almost to the 1986 tournament. Roxburgh failed to get us to Euro 88, before taking us to Italia 90.
I think that Levein is still the best person for the job, even if it has taken him a bit of time to get to grips with the job. But it is looking more and more as if his whole career rests on what happens during the WorldCup qualifiers. No pressure then.