Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Art Of Missed Opportunities

World Cup - European Qualifying Group A: Hampden; Scotland 0, Serbia 0

Did I say that a point against Serbia would be par?

To be honest, I though that Serbia would show an awful lot more, would be dangerous in their movement and look dangerous going forward.  Instead, while they weren’t quite awful, this was a game that Scotland could have won and should have won.  Serbia were comfortable in possession, but save for a couple of shots on target did not look very dangerous.  Indeed, at this early stage, it looks unlikely that they will be involved in the shakeup at the conclusion of this group. 

So, if Serbia were disappointing then what does that say about a Scotland side that spurned several clear opportunities to nab a win.

In the first 15 minutes of the match, Scotland won 6 corners against Serbia but could not fashion any chances from those set pieces, while Serbia responded with just the one chance – a free kick from Kolarov that was put around the post by McGregor.  The first sign that things were not going to go Scotland’s way came on 23 minutes when a Snodgrass cross went uncontested, with Miller off the pace.  Had Miller gambled at that point, it would have been a gift horse.  Instead Scotland fluffed a very good chance to take the initiative.

In the meantime Kenny Miller was having one of those nightmare matches that everything he touched turned to rubbish.  He failed to gamble at that chance midway through the first half, while just before the break, Adam sent him though on goal.  Instead of passing to players in a better position, Miller went for goal.

While I thought that Serbia would be technically excellent on the ball, what I wasn’t quite expecting was that Serbia would indulge in so many niggling foul challenges.  Nastasic was the first to pick up a booking with an awful challenge on Hutton, while a couple of the other Serbian defenders were intent on intimidating the Scotland attack.  Yet Scotland topped the crime count, Hutton picking up a booking for showing studs during a slide tackle while Snodgrass picked up a booking for a push on Kolarov.

While the pattern of this match continued, Serbia settled into a counter punching role – holding possession before launching short sharp attacks.  Scotland did create three very good chances during this half though.  With 10 minutes gone, Berra put a cross across goal, only to see Miller slow on the uptake at the back post.  Mid way through the match, Caldwell put the ball through to Naismith, who’s cross-shot went just wide of the post (pictured above), while just at the end of the match the substitute Forrest shot straight at the goalkeeper Stojkovic.  That last chance had come just after Serbia’s best opportunity of the match, Tadic was put through and almost chipped McGregor but for a great save.

The match finished in a chorus of Booing. To be honest, I don’t think that was harsh at all.  At the end of qualifying, this might look like a very good point, but on today’s evidence Scotland did not take the opportunities presented to them.  While I don’t think Levein made any selection mistakes, Levein was slow in making necessary substitutions.  Miller should have been hooked by the hour mark at the latest (it was obvious he had faded badly in the second half), while the double substitution took place far too late to have any effect.

With the first round of matches now complete, both Scotland & Serbia now find themselves two points behind both Croatia and Belgium.  Both those side meet in Brussels on Tuesday while Serbia host Wales and Scotland host Macedonia.  That tie with Macedonia looks more vital, not for Scotland’s chances of qualifying but for Scotland’s chances of just staying in the pack.  Anything less than a win will probably see Scotland all but out of the qualifying shake up, even at this early stage. 

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