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18 of 019

Macedonia 1-0 Scotland

Keith Jackson

GEORGE BURLEY didn't arrive at the end of the world on Saturday in Skopje. But he came close. Way too close.

And tomorrow morning he will step on board a flight to Reykjavik knowing the end could be nigh.

Should Scotland stumble to a second successive Group 9 defeat against Iceland on Wednesday then Burley might be better off staying in the frozen north than returning home.

He'll certainly be assured of a warmer reception.

Just one game gone and already the dream of reaching World Cup 2010 is in serious danger. Nothing less than a win will do if Burley is to keep this team of ours in the mix and although he left Macedonia mumbling about Scotland being "outstanding" the truth is he had just overseen our humiliation.

Scotland were not outstanding. In fact, they were barely ever upright for much of the first half as a bang average opposition forced Burley and his players to their knees.

It was heartbreaking to watch.But it was also terrifying.A repeat performance on Wednesday and we are done for. Burley might well be too.

The question is: Can Scotland's manager get us all out of trouble before it really is too late? The signs did not look good at the weekend. That's for sure. There were precious few indications that he is even firmly in control of his own players let alone his own destiny.

Burley's first blunder - apart from his great, smashing, super, interview in the VIP lounge at Glasgow Airport - was a failureto prepare his team properly for the scorching heat of Skopje.

Scotland's plane touched down in the Balkans just five minutes and 24 hours ahead of kick-off, which was not only perilously close to a breach of FIFA regulations but also a monumental mistake on behalf of the management.

They should have had their players out there working in the searing heat to give them a chance of acclimatising. Instead, Burley took training at the City Stadium some three hours later when the temperature had dropped to just below stifling.

So when it was time to get serious in the blistering sunshine on Saturday afternoon Scotland's players were already wilting. It was as if they had been taken by surprise by the ferocity of the afternoon heat.

And then there was the game plan.

Burley set them out in a 4-4-2 formation which was bold and courageous and admirably adventurous. But it was also desperately naive.

Afew years ago Walter Smith looked at this group and decided, just as he did at Rangers last season, they were simply not well enough equipped to maraud around the continent with all guns blazing.

Smith believed they'd be shot to pieces if they did and Alex McLeish was smart enough to follow the blueprint when he came to the helm midway through the last qualification campaign.

But Burley? He is working to his own plan. He thinks he has worked out something that was lost on the last two managers.

Now that's all very brave and noble but, four games into his tenure, he's still waiting on his first win. In fact, this all new attack-minded approach has yielded just two paltry goals from 360 minutes of football. This is not what Burley sold us from the brochure.

And maybe even more worrying is the rather helpless, hopeless demeanour which is quickly becoming Burley's trademark as he shuffles around on the edge of his technical area watching it all go wrong.

So far he has made a damn good job of resembling Steve McClaren without the umbrella but he had better hope he finds some shelter on Wednesday night or else all of our dreams will be washed away into the North Atlantic.

Burley stood there on Saturday with his arms folded around his neatly-pressed, SFA issue short-sleeved shirt. Every now and then, as the points slipped away, he would jab out a finger and point into empty space.

He was shouting his instructions too but, as he stared into the middle distance, no one was even glancing back in his direction. Burley was a man all alone and looking more and more desperate.

It was depressingly feeble and horrible to watch. Almost as bad, in fact, was watching his team in the first half.

Now that really was painful viewing, especially as we have become accustomed over the last few years to watching Scotland operate in a far more competent fashion. It might not always have been pretty but it has got the job done. Time and time again.

Burley's bunch, however, never even looked capable of rising above the mediocrity of Macedonia. They were being outplayed by acollection of international no-hopers.

And the manager did nothing.

Rather than change his system he stuck to it doggedly. There were holes appearing all over his midfield but Burley didn't seem to notice as the Macedonians poured through. Up front James McFadden was hardly contributing.

But Burley chose to do nothing when he could have told his talisman to drop deeper or perhaps run one of Scotland's flanks. Anything to help get the numbers up in midfield where Scotland were being overrun and at times embarrassed.

They were doomed after only five minutes when Craig Gordon brilliantly palmed a free kick from Goce Sedloski on to the base of the right-hand post only for Ilco Naumoski to follow up and fire Macedonia's winner.

Five minutes into a two-year campaign and Scotland were already staring at the end.

Were it not for the heroics of Gordon and Gary Caldwel - both of whom were in outstanding form - then we would have been obliterated from the map, probably before half-time.

Burley watched on as his players gasped for air and began to frazzle. Rather than make changes he looked on and hoped for the best. But all he got was one of the worst first-half performances from any Scotland side in recent memory. And yes, that includes the lost years under Herr Berti.

Macedonia thought they had won a penalty in 31 minutes when Goran Maznov went down in a one on one with Gordon but mercifully ref Pavel Kralovec took Scotland's side and booked the striker for diving.

The Czech official would,however,deny Scotland the chance to level from the spot in 70 minutes when he turned a blind eye to fouls on both Kenny Miller and McFadden as the front two piled into Macedonia's box.

It was an outrage that Kralovec did not spot at least one of those misdemeanours and perhaps, if he had, then Burley might have escaped with a point or even more as the home side were a busted flush long before the end.

Scotland's players were fitter and stronger and when Shaun Maloney was eventually sent for, they finally had a creative spark about their forward play. Maloney really ought to have been on much sooner than the 75th minute when he replaced Barry Robson but the little man made a difference and may well have played his way into the side for Reykjavik.

Scotland certainly improved in the second half but they were a long, long, long way short of being "outstanding".

The bottom line? It's not too late for Burley and his boys to turn this campaign around. All of Scotland will wish them well in Iceland on Wednesday and if they should get off the mark with a win we might still have a manager on our hands and and a reason to believe.

The alternative? Well that is too desperate to contemplate. Quite simply, it is now or never.


Craig Gordon (Scotland)

Magic Moment: Caldwell's sensational first-half tackle on Maznov that denied Macedoniaa certain second goal.


5th min...GOAL

Goran Maznov wins a dubious free-kick 25 yards out after the referee adjudges Stephen McManus to have brought him down. Keeper Craig Gordon saves on to the post after Goce Sedloski is teed up and smashes low to his right. But Gordon can't prevent a goal as Ilco Naumoski nets the rebound.

8th min Graham Alexander is obstructed by Robert Petrov 30 yards out. Barry Robson mis-hits a tame free-kick through to Petar Milosevski.

18th min Scott Brown brings down Naumoski. The free-kick is squared to Velice Sumulikoski but his long-range shot is wide.

24th min Agood Macedonia move ends with a cross from Goran Pandev which McManus heads clear. Pandev then smashes a goalbound volley which hits Gary Caldwell.

27th min Sumulikoski is booked for bringing down Darren Fletcher.

30th min A fine run in the box by James McFadden is foiled when his left-footed shot is blocked by a sliding Vlade Lazarevski.

31th min The referee awards a corner despite Macedonia claiming Gordon brought down an onrushing Maznov.

37th min McFadden's snap-shot from a throw-in almost catches out Milosevski who concedes a corner.

39th min Alast-ditch tackle from Caldwell prevents Maznov making it 2-0 after a superb Macedonia breakaway.

49th min Milosevski is forced to tip Robson's inswinging corner behind.

51th min Brown lashes a loose ball straight at Milosevski from 20 yards.

54th min Cross from Gary Naysmith almost reaches Fletcher. Miller can't convert the loose ball from tight angle.

57th min Sumulikoski's vicious firsttime 30-yard drive is brilliantly tipped over by Gordon.

66th min Naumoski is allowed to swivel and shoot in the box but fires Gordon parries.

71th min McFadden is booked for protesting after both he and Kenny Miller appear to have been fouled in the box.

74th min Miller is unable to keep his header down from Robson's corner.

77th min Commons' fizzing cross is spilled by Milosevski.

86th min McFadden dances his way into the box but his cross only finds a defender.

90th min Maloney's swerving drive is punched clear by M ilosevski.

Taken from the Daily Record

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