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4 of 009

Liechtenstein 0 Scotland 1: match report

Roddy Forsyth

By Roddy Forsyth, Vaduz

The avalanche warnings have not yet been posted for the Alpine peaks that were just about visible through the lowering rain clouds around the Rheinpark Stadium and, sure enough, Liechtenstein were not buried by a cascade of Scottish goals in Vaduz on Saturday night. However, the first half header from Craig Mackail-Smith which crowned his first full appearance for his country, saw the Scots leapfrog the Czech Republic into second place in the Group I table.

For Craig Levein’s squad to earn a play-off place they must now beat Spain in Alicante on Tuesday, unless the Czechs lose to Lithuania in Kaunas. It was a close run thing, not because Liechtenstein were especially dangerous, but because Scotland’s seemingly perpetual shortage of firepower prevented them from putting this contest to bed.

The Scottish line-up was – with the exception of Kenny Miller – the selection Levein would have chosen on the day he announced his squad and the contrast with Liechtenstein’s resources was startling. The Scots started with eight Premier League players and two from Rangers, with only Mackail-Smith from a lower division.

Mackail-Smith’s inclusion was described as a like-for-like replacement for Miller. The difference, though, was that Miller is Scotland’s top scorer with 15 goals from 57 games, Mackail-Smith was making his debut.

Levein had stressed the need to play at pace and the Scots complied with an opening that pressed Liechtenstein defenders back on their own lines as Mackail-Smith and Alan Hutton forced two corners before as many minutes had been played.

Scotland continued to flood upfield in style and forced Peter Jehle into his first big interception when he dived to punch clear an angled drive from Charlie Adam.

It was from an Adam free kick – after Barry Bannan had been tumbled – that the Scots’ first clear chance fell to Steven Naismith but his header skipped past the post. The sight of him clutching his head in frustration became a motif of the first half as he saw another header blocked by Jehle before he had a golden chance to put the Scots in front.

Had he scored it would have been perfect material for the 'what happened next’ sequences on sports quiz shows. Naismith gathered possession in midfield and threaded a pass through the Liechtenstein back line towards Mackail-Smith. The Brighton forward was, however, offside and he and the two closest defenders left the ball as the assistant on the main stand side raised his flag.

Naismith, though, realised that play had not stopped and ran on to his own pass – at which point the flag was lowered – and veered around the goalkeeper. He could not, however, master the angle needed to squeeze the ball over the unguarded line and his effort billowed the side netting.

By the half-hour mark, it was easy to see why Spain had rattled six past Liechtenstein last month, but the Scots found their efforts fruitless. Alarmingly, too, a moment of collective carelessness invited Liechtenstein to land a sucker punch when Thomas Beck was allowed to meander 30 yards and leave Adam and Bannan trailing before he uncorked a dipping drive that Allan McGregor just managed to tip over his crossbar.

Reprieved, the Scots resumed their activity around Jehle and at last forced the breakthrough with the simplest of all ploys. Phil Bardsley, just inside Liechtenstein territory, hoisted a lob towards the penalty spot where Mackail-Smith outjumped Nicolas Ritzberger to loop a header over the goalkeeper to trigger bedlam among the Tartan Army.

To add to an already eventful evening, Mackail-Smith was promptly cautioned for a foul on Ritzberger, but the game then entered a more tranquil period which saw the Scots to half time with their precious lead intact.

For the Tartan Army to be able to relax, Scotland needed to score again, but as the match wore deep into the second half without Jehle being unduly troubled, raw nerves began to show. In the end, though, Scotland edged a vital victory.

On Sunday they fly over the Pyrenees to prepare for Tuesday’s outing in Alicante, but nothing will loom larger than the prospect of having to face Spain on their own soil.

Match details

Liechtenstein (4-4-2): Jehle; Ritzberger, Martin Stocklasa, Kaufmann, Rechsteiner; Hanselmann, Polverino, Buchel, Beck; Hasler, Frick.
Subs: Buchel (g), Eberle, Michael Stocklasa, Flatz, N Kieber, W Kieber, Bicer.
Booked: Polverino.
Scotland (4-1-4-1): McGregor; Hutton, Caldwell, Berra, Bardsley; Adam; Bannan, Fletcher, Morrison, Naismith; Mackail-Smith.
Subs: Marshall, Robson, Cowie, Wallace, Whittaker, Forrest.
Booked: Mackail-Smith.
Referee: Tom Harald Hagen (Norway)

Taken from

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