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6 of 007

Iwelumo blunder crowns Scotland's wasteful day

World Cup Euro Qual Gp 9
Scotland 0
Norway 0
Patrick Glenn at Hampden Park

The kind of booing that followed Scotland's performance here is the most articulate expression of the widespread belief that failure to beat Norway at home has probably damaged George Burley's team's prospects of World Cup qualification beyond repair. Burley himself had insisted in the days before the game that anything less than victory would 'put us in a very difficult position' and what he saw during the 90 minutes is unlikely to have caused him to change his mind.

Even if the substitute Chris Iwelumo will be remembered for an astounding second-half miss on his international debut, no one could argue that the visitors did not deserve at least a point.

'It's one of those things where if you mishit it or mis-control it, it could go in,' said Burley of his debutant's miss. 'It didn't go in, but he showed he can play at this level and gave them a lot of problems. I thought in the second half we upped the tempo, changed it around and were in the ascendancy. We had a number of chances, but couldn't get that goal. '

Expectations of a close contest were never likely to be confounded by rivals whose contrasting styles might have been specifically designed to produce a deadlock. Not quite a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object - neither deserved such a distinction - but the Scots' open, short-passing surges and the Norwegians' crowding, stoical defensiveness from middle to back meant long periods of mutual nullification.

The exception, predictably, would be Shaun Maloney, buzzing past would-be obstructions on the left, and John Carew, the maverick man-mountain allowed by his coach, Age Hareide, to maraud at will as the visitors' lone striker.

On those occasions when he simply burst clear of 'markers', the towering Aston Villa forward was frequently the most dangerous player on the field, the timing of his runs as noticeable and as disconcerting a feature as his pace.

His entry into the game was a one-two with Bjorn Helge Riise and a burst between Gary Caldwell and David Weir, the Scotland defenders, and a clear path towards Craig Gordon before Gary Naysmith came across quickly from the left-back position to make enough contact with the ball to cause Carew to screw the shot wide of the left post.

With Maloney and James Morrison supporting James McFadden in attack, Scott Brown in the holding role in midfield and Darren Fletcher and Barry Robson thrusting forward whenever possible, there was no shortage of skirmishing by the Scots in the visitors' half. But they predictably struggled to beating the tall Norwegian defenders in the air.

Tellingly, it was Fletcher's cute pass to Morrison, releasing the West Brom man into space on the right side of the penalty area, which brought the home side their most dangerous attack before the interval. Morrison's low centre towards McFadden, however, was pulled a little behind the striker and the chance went.

Burley waited only 11 minutes in the second half before conceding that his strategy was not producing, by replacing McFadden and Morrison with two recognised strikers, Iwelumo and Steven Fletcher, and reverting to a 4-4-2, with Maloney and Robson on the flanks.

The 6ft 4in Iwelumo was at least expected to be a physical match for the Norwegians, but no one could have anticipated the miss by the Wolves striker nine minutes after he had taken the field. It was the kind of opportunity the Scots had looked unlikely to create.

Brown fought to win possession on the left and his short pass allowed Naysmith to drive into the penalty area. From there, the left-back's low centre eliminated the entire Norway defence, including goalkeeper John Knudsen, and Iwelumo, staggeringly, contrived to side-foot the shot from four yards wide of the unprotected net.

Iwelumo could not disguise his disappointment after the match. 'I'm obviously gutted,' he said. 'I had a big chance and I should put them away, so I'm disappointed. I just have to bounce back and keep positive. I'm my own worst critic and it's definitely something I'll be thinking about. But I'm a big character and I'll take that one on the chin and move on.'

It was a moment that overshadowed the earlier profligacy by Norway defender Kjetil Waehler, who had met John Arne Riise's corner without a challenge and sent a header from six yards into the outside of the net. The miss was so surprising that it took a few seconds for the home fans to realise the match was still scoreless.

It was, by the finish, a small miracle that it should remain so, Steffen Iversen having driven the ball against Gordon and Naysmith having put himself in the way of the follow-up drive from Daniel Braaten. Along with Iwelumo's aberration, these incidents seemed to confirm that the match was destined to end as it had begun.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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