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World Cup dream intact for Scotland despite tame draw

Glenn Gibbons
at Hampden Park
LIMITATIONS are too often not even recognised, far less accepted, an attitude that is likely to wreck many an expectation. At least the majority of Scots will have anticipated the national team's finishing no higher than second in Group 9 of the World Cup qualifying. In that respect, the game, as Holmes would have said, is still afoot.
The initial shock and the seemingly fatal consequences of drawing a home match with Norway appear, in retrospect, not quite as damaging. If Age Hareide's side are generally regarded as the principal rivals to George Burley's as potential runners-up to section favourites the Netherlands, they are, as things stand, in a worse position.

Norway have drawn one match at home and one away, while the Scots have drawn one at home and won one away. The other two countries involved in the contest, Macedonia and Iceland, have both lost on their own turf, and the latest visitors to Hampden will match Scotland in games played when they face the Dutch in Oslo on Wednesday. If they were to lose then – and the betting will anticipate victory for the Oranje – their prospects will diminish exponentially.

What occurs in the remaining fixtures in the series – and the halfway stage has not even been reached – is, of course, a matter of basically irrelevant conjecture. The possibilities, however, justify the view that anyone who seeks to lay a wreath at Scotland's chances of ending the campaign as runners-up is acting prematurely.

None of this, though, is enough to console the country over the failure to beat the Norwegians, or disguise the feebleness of the performance that led to the loss of two points which are, in Burley's and his players' own words, precious in a mini-league in which the final placings are determined after only eight games.

If nothing else, the physically powerful, largely defensive and dangerously counter-attacking men in red shirts exposed pre-match Scottish expectations of three points as baseless. Few would be inclined to contradict Hareide's claim that, while the debutant Scotland substitute, Chris Iwelumo, squandered the most glaring opportunity of the match, his team had contrived and spurned the majority of the convertible chances.

Iwelumo's grotesque attempt to turn Gary Naysmith's impeccably-measured low cross from the left into an unprotected net from three yards – all of the Norwegian defenders, including goalkeeper John Knudsen, having been eliminated by the incisiveness of the pass – will, in all probability, have turned him into an insomniac, lying awake at nights recounting the numerous ways in which he could simply have deflected the ball over the line, rather than the turn of his right foot that sent it into a horrifying arc and wide of the goal.

Iwelumo's aberration, however, would merely intensify a debate that would have been triggered by his very appearance in place of James McFadden after 55 minutes. It would, predictably, concern Burley's reluctance to turn to the Rangers striker, Kris Boyd, preferring as substitutes the tall, muscular Wolves striker and Hibernian's Steven Fletcher, the latter displacing James Morrison.

The case for Boyd is founded on hypothesis, this extremely unreliable argument itself springing from the striker's impressive statistics. The numbers, however, are not sufficient in themselves to make speculation admissible as evidence. Boyd's own untrustworthiness is regularly pointed up by the numerous occasions on which his club manager, Walter Smith, excludes him and by the noticeable absence of a scramble by big clubs desirous of his services.

It is also nonsensical to try to reinforce the pro-Boyd argument with an insistence that he would have converted Iwelumo's chance. Anybody in the team – perhaps even anyone in the stadium, including the tipsy – would have been expected to complete that exercise. Iwelumo's miss was his and Burley's greatest misfortune, because he did give the visitors more bother than the pitifully neglected lone striker, McFadden.

Rationalising Boyd's uncertainties, however, will not protect Burley from widespread condemnation over a match in which his strategy patently did not achieve the expected results. But, as the match unfolded, the manager seemed not so much guilty of underestimating the strength of the Norway players as overestimating the capabilities of his own.

His vision of McFadden being productively served by the incisive running, skilful control and accurate passing of Shaun Maloney and Morrison in the wide areas and surging support from Darren Fletcher and Barry Robson from midfield did not materialise as the suppliers ran into logistical problems.

McFadden's assets are unsuited to the role he was given and Burley's decision to remove him from the fray seems to this observer to have been a mistake. In reverting to a 4-4-2 from his original 4-3-2-1, Burley may have been better served by leaving McFadden on the left of the middle four, Maloney on the right, and removing Morrison and Robson, a diligent, but uninspired, trier. Nothing Burley might have done, however, is likely to have saved the Scots from defeat if Kjetil Waehler had exploited his two close-range headers – the first, into the side net, almost as bad a miss as Iwelumo's – or Steffen Iversen, Daniel Braaten and John Carew not been denied by the excellent Craig Gordon and Gary Naysmith. The Scots had nobody who came close to Carew as a persistent menace.

The Aston Villa striker is that genuine rarity, a mobile skyscraper. Not only does he move, but with telling pace and intelligent timing, wrong-footing a potential obstacle before bursting into a potentially threatening area. In the context of the unravelling of the qualifying group and Norway's date with Holland this week, however, it was significant that Hareide should volunteer his conviction that his team is more comfortable and more effective away from home.

It is a comment that tends to support the view that, while Scotland's aspirations may have experienced some disconcerting turbulence, it was not enough to bring them down.


John Carew (Norway)

Scott Brown, Craig Gordon and Gary Naysmith would have been the contenders in dark blue shirts, but nobody on the field carried more danger than the mountainous Norway striker, his perfectly-timed runs at pace and link-up play with team-mates frequently making Scots defenders Gary Caldwell and David Weir appear about as mobile as buildings.


Craig Gordon

Proved his worth to Scotland once again. Beat away a John Carew shot in the first half and plucked another out of the air in the second. Made himself big to thwart Steffen Iversen. 8

Kirk Broadfoot

Decent display as he won his second cap and was eager to get forward. Couple of sticky moments with the ball at his feet but defended well, including one vital last-ditch tackle on Carew. 7

David Weir

Stepped in for Stephen McManus, and as usual let no-one down. One outstanding block to deny Carew in the six-yard box as Scotland sought to cope with the big striker. A great pity if this is his last cap. 7

Gary Caldwell

Like Weir, had to be on red alert at all times to shackle Carew, and for the most part did well. The highlight for him was a terrific sliding tackle on Carew as the Aston Villa striker prepared to pull the trigger in the first-half, after the Scotland defence had been spliced open. 6

Gary Naysmith

Another efficient performance from the man with 44 caps. Will still be shaking his head at the absence of end result following his thrilling surge into the box to set-up Iwelumo's golden chance. 7

Scott Brown

The kind of all-action display which helped win him a multi-million pound move to Celtic from Hibs. Brown shielded the back four as well as emerging as an influence going forward, and provided the crafty dink into Naysmith's path which led to that moment. Far and away the game's most influential midfielder. 8

James Morrison

The first Scotland player to test John Knudsen, with a firm shot after 20 minutes. Also had a headed chance which he wasted at the far post on half-time. Energetic but profitless afternoon, and substituted for Steven Fletcher after 55 minutes. 6

Darren Fletcher

Captain for the day and added responsibility did not lead to the hoped-for starring display from the Manchester United midfielder. Worked hard, but still faded out of things too often. 6

Barry Robson

Started out on the right, and then was brought inside midway through the first half in an attempt to get more from him. When Scotland moved to 4-4-2 he went back to the right, and made some thrilling runs down the flank. Set-piece delivery not up to usual standard. 6

James McFadden

Clearly not happy playing the lone striker role, and would have preferred support. Wants to play through the middle but fact is his best work was done on the wing on Saturday. Simply out-muscled on too many occasions by Brede Hangeland. Substituted after 55 minutes, to much displeasure from fans and also from McFadden himself. 6

Shaun Maloney

Looked in the mood from the off but often his crosses were made to seem harmless by lack of bodies in the box. One fizzing shot after 72 minutes skipped past the far post as Scotland cranked up the pressure. Gave Norway most to worry about. 7


Steven Fletcher

Very lively when he came on ten minutes into the second half. Harried the Norwegian defenders and showed some good touches. 5

Chris Iwelumo

All comes back to that one incident when time stood still. Would tuck chance away 99 times out of a 100. No excuses from the big striker afterwards, and he showed courage to keep battling. 4

• Ratings by Alan Pattullo

McFadden solo act muffles attacking intentions


ALL week Scotland v Norway had been billed a "must-win" game. George Burley said it, Gordon Smith said it, 51,000 Scotland fans said it as they were clicked through the Hampden turnstiles. Why, in that case, Burley chose to muffle his team's attacking threat with a 4-5-1 formation, remains a mystery and source of bemusement.

The caption on Sky Sports suggested beforehand that the manager was throwing caution to the wind and deploying a 4-3-3 system, with wide men Shaun Maloney and James Morrison supporting James McFadden at centre forward. But within moments of the kick-off it became clear that the Birmingham forward was being asked to plough a lone furrow in attack.

The tactic backfired as McFadden, through no fault of his own, struggled throughout the first half on the meagre scraps he was provided with from a midfield which could not muster enough of a creative spark to break down the well-organised Norwegians.

McFadden was simply being asked to do a job that does not utilise his strengths, and any balls that were hurled in his general direction were mostly at a height more suited to his opposite number, 6ft 5in John Carew.

McFadden has operated well as a lone striker in the past, but usually in situations where Scotland played a counter-attacking game. The 1-0 win against France in Paris last year, in which he memorably scored a sublime winner, saw him at his best in that role. He worked just as hard on Saturday, but in a home game Scotland should have been going all out to win in a demonstration of attacking football.

The second half saw McFadden become more involved and he showed a glimmer of his menace with a piercing run near the byeline – ironically moments before he was substituted by Burley. Sending on Steven Fletcher and Chris Iwelumo in a double substitution was tantamount to an admission from Burley that his system was not working, but it was harsh on McFadden that he was chosen – along with Morrison – to play no further part, having looked like the one player who might possibly break down Norway.

Burley may yet keep Scotland's qualifying campaign on track, but in restraining Scotland's attacking options he can have no complaints that all he got was a 0-0 draw.

Taken from the Scotsman

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