Monday, 15 October 2012


Not only an assessment of where Scotland are in relation to the current World Cup campaign, but also many of the Tartan Army’s verdict of Craig Levein after the awful defeat to Wales on Friday.

There are two things that stick out for me.  Firstly - and not for the first time - we find ourselves with an advantage in a must win game and then throw it away by sitting back and letting the opposition come at us.  We did it twice against the Czech Republic at Hampden last year, while on Friday we went missing pretty much for most of the second half.  We roused ourselves and produced a five minute spell culminating in the goal that never was, but apart from that we were not at the races in the second half.

The second thing is that while Scotland suffered at the hands of the match officials - chopping off a perfectly good goal and awarding a penalty from a dive - the sense of outrage just wasn’t there.  There was no sense that we were robbed probably in truth because Wales were good value for their win.  Rather worryingly, Scotland’s performance dropped off markedly after the injury induced substitution of Scott Brown at half time.  Also rather worryingly, Scotland continued to give the ball away in key positions.

The third poor performance in a row has seen calls for Levein to be replaced.  Personally, I am yet to be convinced that all of Scotland’s ills will be solved with the removal of Levein.  On Friday, he changed from his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation and played with a much more attacking 4-3-2-1 formation and still couldn’t get a performance from the players.  It is worth pointing out that Saturday saw the fifth anniversary of the 3-1 win over Ukraine that saw us three points away from qualifying for Euro 2008 - we went on to lose to Georgia and Italy to miss out by a point.  Since that game Scotland have been managed by three men (Alex Mcleish, George Burley and now Levein) and won 6 competitive matches (Iceland (twice), Macedonia, Liechtenstein (twice) and Lithuania).  Clearly the results do not bear out that we have the best set of players eligible to play for the national team since the early 1990’s.

Rather irritatingly for those people who want to speculate about Levein’s position, there is another qualifier on the way.  Unfortunately for Levein, this one is against the group leaders - and one of the promising sides in European football - Belgium.  Bossed by Marc Wilmot’s, a UEFA Cup winner at Schalke 04 in 1997 and featured in both qualifiers in 2001, Belgium seem to be in the midst of their own golden generation.  Kompany, Vermaelen and Vertonghen are well known to English Premier League audiences, while Hazzard, Dembele & Mirallas have moved to English Premier League clubs during the summer. 

The star of Belgium’s 3-0 win in Belgrade on Saturday though is not a house hold name in England yet, De Bruyne has been loaned out from Chelsea to Werder Bremen.  They will have to go some to match the achievements of the previous “golden generation” of Belgian football - when they were runners up to West Germany in the European Championships of 1980, beat Argentina in the opening match of the ‘82 World Cup, and went all the way to the Semi-finals four years later in Mexico - Argentina gaining some sort of revenge in that match.

If the quality of the opposition was not bad news for Scotland, there is our record in Brussels to look at…  then again, maybe not.  Scotland have never won in Belgium - a record that includes qualifiers for three successive European Championships (2-0 in November 1979, 3-2 in December 1982 & 4-1 in April 1987) as well as that 2-0 loss in September 2001 (pictured above) that saw Scotland fail to reach the World Cup 2002.  All of which makes a Scotland win unlikely.

The odds are on the autopsy on Scotland’s failed World Cup qualifying campaign beginning at some point tomorrow night.  Whether that goes hand in hand with a search for a new Scotland manager remains to be seen - and I suspect if the worst happens tomorrow it won’t be until the end of the week before there is any news to report on that front.  Whatever happens, there are a lot of reputations waiting to be salvaged with a win tomorrow night…  starting with the players.

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