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17 of 021

Scotland captain Barry Ferguson left chasing shadows against Argentina

It was, as they like to say in footballing circles, a big ask.

Ewing Grahame

Barry Ferguson hadn't played for Scotland for a year, had in fact completed 90 minutes only twice for Rangers since returning from the summer surgery which reconstructed his ankle, and here he was being asked to stem the tide against Argentina.

That would have been tricky enough in the most favourable of circumstances but King Canute might have thought twice about accepting such a role. The visitors would have been a tricky enough proposition but, pumped up by the desire to make a lasting impression on new coach Maradona, they went for the jugular from the outset.

Maradona had claimed beforehand that Argentina don't play friendlies: perhaps Scotland just shouldn't. The last time the Tartan Army celebrated a victory in a friendly at Hampden was 13 years ago, when Australia were put to the sword.

On a night when driving rain and a swirling wind served as a reminder of how poorly constructed the national stadium is, the South Americans were the ones who made themselves at home and the early goal from Maximiliano Rodriguez soothed any nerves Maradona may have felt.

Tellingly, Ferguson wasn't in the vicinity when the Scots defence was filleted. There is much still to come from the 30-year-old at this stage of his comeback and he largely contented himself with playing in a 30-yard radius between each half.

It had been hoped that the whiff of cordite from the pre-match fireworks display might have aroused the skipper's combative instincts but if proof were required that he had increased the steepness of his recovery graph it arrived after only 35 seconds when he found himself dispossessed by Javier Mascherano 35 yards from his own goal.

Then, when Fernando Gago burst past him, the Atletico Madrid midfielder was felled by a despairing lunge from behind.

By contrast, Mascherano, who had been awarded the armband by Maradona, while displaying a similar economy of effort, was considerably more influential.

That Argentina were possessed of superior technique did not come as a great surprise but what did seem to startle the crowd was the manner in which they were prepared to ally a more European physical aspect to their game.

Consequently, the Scots found themselves being outmuscled as well as outplayed, which proved to be an unedifying sight for the home crowd. Ferguson would have had more success chasing pigeons but he was hardly alone in that respect: Scott Brown and, in particular, Paul Hartley were equally unsuccessful when it came to attempting to combat the passing and movement of the opposition.

His use of the ball was tidy enough. He rarely gave the ball away cheaply but, perhaps understandably following his lay-off, Ferguson decorated the match instead of dominating it.

The pattern remained unchanged after the break, with Ferguson, if anything, becoming more of a peripheral figure as the play raged past him. Common sense prevailed when Ferguson was replaced by Dundee United debutant Scott Robertson after 59 minutes.

Ferguson was met on the touchline by manager George Burley, who shook him warmly by the hand and the veteran stayed in the technical area to lend his moral support instead of heading straight to the dressing room. He had, as usual, given his all. Unfortunately, while it was indeed a big ask, Ferguson isn't yet ready to provide a big answer.

Taken from

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