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Spain take a wrecking ball to lingering Scots� hopes

Scotland looked on helplessly last night as Spain put an end to their Euro 2012 hopes. The world champions applied a flamenco click in this savage last dance of the visitors’ qualifying campaign.


Silva (5, 44), Villa (54)


Goodwillie (pen 66)

Referee: S Johannesson (Swe)

Attendance: 24,896

The peerless Spanish were simply too good for a Scottish side who had given themselves far too much to do. Czech Republic’s handsome win in Lithuania meant Scotland simply had to collect victory here in Alicante, but it was a forlorn hope from the very earliest moments. Vincent del Bosque’s much-changed side still managed to feature seven players from Barcelona in the starting line-up. However, it was one from Manchester City who inflicted the most serious damage. David Silva scored twice in the first half, his first arriving after only five minutes.

The goal which Scotland salvaged after 64 minutes, when David Goodwillie made an instant impact from the penalty spot after coming on as substitute, was more than could have been hoped for on the evidence of the first hour, although Spain had already stretched their lead to three following David Villa’s strike nine minutes into the second half.

But by the time the first half was over Scottish hopes lay flat, like one of the ragged sombreros discarded around the stadium by Scots who had been deprived of the party they had fervently desired.

Scotland’s fate trembled in the balance of a hazy southern Spanish dusk. But how quickly the visitors were to discover the peril of being drawn into their opponents’ web. Hope was transferred almost immediately to a stadium in Kaunas, where Czech Republic’s failure to take anything from their game was quickly established as Scotland’s only hope, and even this sunk as swiftly as the evening sun.

It took two minutes for the visitors to so much as get a kick of the ball as the peerless Spanish matadors toyed with Scotland, this team they had dragged down to the south of their country and then clearly planned to mercilessly spear on an arid belt of parched land.

Levein had named the same team as had eked out a win over Liechtenstein at the weekend, but the identity of those filling the dark blue shirts mattered little. The opponents were only being used as cones around which Spain worked their magic. When a Scot finally did wrap his foot around the ball it was to launch it into the stand. Christophe Berra had no other option but to seek some respite from this intense, almost mesmeric Spanish tactic of transferring passes back and forth across the pitch.

It was to prove a brief hiatus. Spain took only five minutes to decide to go for the jugular. Bannan failed to track the run of Jordi Alba and he was played in by David Villa’s pass from wide on the left. Alba’s cut back from the byeline found Silva, whose shot beat McGregor low to his right.

Scottish gloom was deepened by the news of a Czechs goal in Kaunas. Quickly it become two. Levein’s side, to their credit, clung desperately on as Spain sought to wrap things up as swiftly as the Czechs were clearly intent on doing in another corner of Europe.

They even carved out the kind of chance which had to be seized if Scotland were to render redundant the efforts of Czech Republic. Morrison broke free in midfield and found Bannan with a long cross-field pass. The Aston Villa midfielder had endured a torrid start but his cross to the back post was nearly met by Steven Naismith, who had made a lung-bursting run down the left flank.

McGregor, though, was Scotland’s main contributor, as had always been suspected. He saved well from Cazorla and then again from Rodriguez as Spain sought to punish such impudence from the Scots. Whether Adam’s effort from the half-way line was another display of foolhardiness or just a mis-placed pass was hard to discern. Either way, it rolled harmlessly over the Spanish by-line.

Fletcher came closer, firing over the bar from a good position inside the Spanish box. But the home side then made the notion of a Scottish comeback seem like lunacy with two minutes of the half remaining. Silva passed the ball into the far corner of McGregor’s net after another sustained burst of Spanish possession. It meant Scotland’s ambitions had to be down-graded rather alarmingly. Having set out to qualify for the Euro 2012 play-offs, they were now simply intent on avoiding a drubbing

Scotland kicked off the second half but possession was quickly transferred to Spain, with Silva coming close to claiming a hat-trick just two minutes after the re-start. His shot whistled past McGregor’s right. The Tartan Army looked on stoically. Most were grouped behind the Scottish goalkeeper’s goal. Arms folded across chests, there was no sense of enjoyment in this exhibition, certainly not when the multi-goal defeat which had been feared began to prove more likely. Spain took just nine minutes of the second half to make it three. Silva, this little tormentor, drew Berra with some more trickery and then played the ball out to Villa, who struck sweetly home past McGregor.

Silva’s withdrawal moments later was one of the only blessings to descend on Scotland last night. He was replaced by Thiago Alcantara and earned his ovation from the home fans who were relishing this rare opportunity to watch their international side in the flesh. They do, though, tend to get to savour goals.

The last time Spain visited this stadium, a decade ago, Liechtenstein were put to the sword, and conceded five times. It looked entirely possible that Scotland might suffer a similar fate until a flurry of substitutions midway through the half disrupted the flow of the game.

Xavi, the orchestrator of so much of Spain’s play in midfield, was withdrawn, while David Goodwillie was sent on for Bannan as Scotland threw caution to the wind. The visitors succeeded in reducing the deficit after 64 minutes. Mackail-Smith tumbled under a challenge from goalkeeper Victor Valdes and Goodwillie made his first touch of the ball a significant one when he nervelessly converted the penalty.

The introduction of Goodwillie breathed life into Scotland, even though, in Lithuania, goals continued to spill into the home team’s net. Goodwillie broke free down the right but his shot flew high over, and then the same player’s cross-field pass to Mackail-Smith was acrobatically cut-out by Alba, with the Scottish striker set to be clean through on goal.

It was a welcome change to see Scotland stretch Spain. However, it was the last hurrah of a campaign that had unravelled in places other than here.

Spain: Valdes, Sergio Ramos, Puyol (Arbeloa 46), Pique, Jordi Alba, Xavi (Llorente 64), Busquets, Silva (Thiago 55), Santi Cazorla, Villa, Pedro. Subs not used: Casillas, Javi Martinez, Torres, Mata.

Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Berra, Caldwell, Bardsley, Morrison, Fletcher (Cowie 85), Adam (Forrest 63), Bannan (Goodwillie 63), Mackail-Smith, Naismith. Subs not used: Marshall, Whittaker, Robson, McManus.

Taken from the Scotsman

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