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James McFadden's flash of genius cannot disguise lack of Scotland talent

Manager George Burley still faces uphill task to qualify for World Cup finals as Netherlands decider looms on Wednesday

George Burley had bemoaned the dearth of natural talent that has blighted Scotland for "25-30 years" before Macedonia's visit to Hampden Park, but he was ultimately saved by one of the exceptions to that depressing rule. Maybe, just maybe, with James McFadden reclaiming the talisman status he had mislaid under Burley's tenure, the manager's prospects have lifted in kind.

McFadden's goal against a Macedonian team who for too long had given the Scots a lesson in possession football will rank alongside that 40-yard spectacular against France for its beauty. Only if it leads to a transformation in belief and quality against Holland on Wednesday, however, will it take on any lasting significance.

The Birmingham City striker has been emblematic of Scotland's contrasting fortunes under Alex McLeish and Burley – although the latter is evidently tired of reminding all that under his predecessor, and every Scotland manager since 1998, the country has failed to qualify for a major international tournament. Injured, out of form or simply out of tune with Burley's instructions, McFadden has reflected the malaise in Scotland's ranks this past year. But in one glorious moment, when he waltzed around four Macedonian players and tapped into an empty net 10 minutes from time, he gave his manager respite from unrelenting criticism and a chance to transform his reputation.

It is typical of Burley's problems in the international sphere that McFadden now misses the Holland match courtesy of a booking that mystified all inside Hampden. In his absence, it falls to several established players to improve their reputations in Scotland's colours.

Until Scott Brown released the tension that was suffocating Scotland, this was shaping into another gruelling afternoon on the rack for Burley. His players seemed intent on proving the manager correct in his assertion that "the game has not been developed properly for 25-30 years. That is why we have not developed enough quality players." Let us not beat about the bush, as SFA president George Peat stated before delivering a damning assessment flawed for its timing if not its sentiment – Scotland were dire until the breakthrough. Qualification for South Africa, plus Burley's job prospects, were petering out in the Glasgow drizzle before a silent, aghast crowd.

Irrespective of the final outcome, and a victory Burley at least deserved for his dignified response to unrelenting criticism from inside and out, the manager's verdict on the lack of natural talent held true and does not augur well for Wednesday. When asked if Scotland had a chance against the Dutch, the Macedonia coach Mirsad Jonuz put it perfectly. "No chance," he stated. "You cannot be that lucky twice."

Yet Burley still had cause to expect more from the likes of Brown, Alan Hutton, Darren Fletcher and, until his late redemption, McFadden. In Fletcher, Scotland have a captain lauded for his early-season performances for Manchester United – though not by Arsène Wenger, admittedly – who appears consumed by the extra responsibility of carrying his country. Fletcher admitted on Friday that he feels burdened by the pressure to create and execute for Scotland, a far cry from his more dogged duties at Old Trafford, and that was evident here, where few team-mates could read his incisive, early passes. The big-name players would finally deliver, however. But now they must excel.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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