Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Built up high only to come crashing down

It seems to happen regularly to Scotland fans.

Every time we build our nation's footballing expectations up , we are sent crashing to the depths of despair at the last minute.

- In 1978 Scotland were going to win the World Cup in Argentina but "Ally's Army" limped home instead of marching to victory!

- In 2007 Scotland's hopes of reaching Euro 2008, our first national tournament finals since World Cup 98 in France were thwarted by a late Italian Job and a "dodgy" referee.

- Now it is 2011 and it has happened again!

With only two games to go and after a disappointing home double header against the Czech Republic and Lithuania, it looks as if Scotland's hopes of reaching a national tournament will go on past Euro 2012.

Usually four points out of six in a European Championships double qualifier would be good news, however Scotland needed the full six points to make sure Craig Levein's side were in the driving seat to reach the play-offs and be in with a great chance of qualifying.

Drawing 2-2 with the Czechs inflicted the damage before the 1-0 win over Lithuania and leave Scotland needing to at least win in Liechtenstein and draw in Spain and need help from Spain and Lithuania when the sides take on the Czech Republic to have hopes of qualifying for the play-offs.

The Czech Republic will qualify on the next match day if either they defeat Spain and Scotland fail to defeat Liechtenstein,or they draw with Spain and Scotland lose to Liechtenstein. It is the Czech Republic's play-off spot to throw away now.

Leading 2-1 with eight minutes to go against the Czech's it looked as if Scotland were going to hold out however some play acting and some dodgy refereeing led to a late Czech equalizer from the penalty spot and the game finished 2-2 with Scotland's hopes seemingly crushed.

Is the ref fully to blame?

The simple answer is no. Yes Jan Rezek dived to win the Czech's a penalty near the end and the referee Kevin Blom had a terrible game from start to finish but Scotland were simply not good enough to win the game against the Czech's and a draw was a fair result.

Scotland defended too deep and were lucky not to be 3-0 down before Kenny Miller put the Scots ahead as Milan Baros missed easy chances early on and Kevin Blom missed a stonewall penalty for the Czechs when Charlie Adam went over the ball and stamped on Baros' ankle in the box.

The Czech's got back in the game at 1-1 and when Darren Fletcher scored Scotland looked set to steal a win but they defended too deep and if you defend in your own box letting the opposition run at you, it is only a matter of time before you concede.

Scotland managed to bounce back from the disappointing 2-2 draw to beat Lithuania 1-0 to keep our slim chances of the play-offs alive and there were some promising signs in the performance but they made hard work of a poor Lithuania side who were hardly in the game.

Man Of The Match Barry Bannan showed why he is a prospect for the future with a fine performance and the likes of Don Cowie, David Goodwillie and late sub Robert Snodgrass all showed some reasons to be cheerful after Steven Naismith fired Scotland to only the second win of the campaign however the finishing needs to be worked on.

Scotland should have been out of sight but Steven Naismith, Christophe Berra, Goodwillie and others wasted chance after chance and captain Darren Fletcher surprisingly took and then missed a poor penalty before half time when it was still 0-0. Another type of attacking option is clearly needed when Kenny Miller is suspended or injured.

Steven Fletcher could very well be that option.

It is time for Fletcher to put his spat with Levein to the side and come back to help his country when they need him. Fletcher is one of if not the top Scottish striker right now and scores regularly at the top level in the English Premiership against some of the best defenders in the world.

Fletcher back in the side would give Levein healthy selection choices which are needed and if he and everybody else is fit it is time for Levein to finally work out his top side for the next two crucial games.

 Levein has not covered himself in glory since he took over and it tells you something when his most memorable moment was the infamous 4-6-0 disaster in Prague but he has shown signs of promise with young talents like Graeme Dorrans, Snodgrass, Danny Wilson and Barry Bannan being involved in his squads regularly and there have been some impressive performances albeit in friendlies, Levein has to lead Scotland in the last two matches to the glory of the play-offs or to at least go down fighting and not go out with a whimper.

If Scotland don't qualify for Euro 2012 and if Levein is still the manager then attention will turn to World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

With Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia and Wales standing in our way , you can bet the expectation's and belief of finally qualifying for another National Tournament will surface again and we will build up Scotland's chances once more.

We will never learn.

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