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The reasons Scotland were left feeling the heat in Alicante are not too hard to qualify

hugh macdonald

12 Oct 2011

analysis Results against Lithuania and the Czech Republic cost Craig Levein’s side a play-off spot

THE optimists insisted Scotland had their destiny in their own hands. Much as the same way, one supposes, as a sufferer from delirium tremens has a flask of nitroglycerine in his trembling hands.

It all blew up early, and inevitably, for Scotland last night. Once upon a time Scots alighted in Alicante prepared to experiment with a foreign culture, most particularly with sangria, and relax in the sun.

This should have been the purpose of the nation’s footballers last night. This final Euro 2012 qualifier with Spain should have had no bearing on Scotand’s chances of reaching a play-off.

One does not arrive in the home of the world and European champions with a points tally but with a points total. To belabour the point, there are no points to be gained away to Spain, certainly for a side of Scotland’s quality.

\ The bottom line for Levein is that he took 11 points from a group which was far from daunting

The consideration of last night’s match should therefore be limited. Scotland lost their chance of going to Poland and Ukraine on pitches far from the one in Alicante. The predictable events in the Estadio Jose Rico Perez were watched with a mixture of quiet dread and even quieter admiration, but without any rational hopes of success.

It is, of course, obligatory to laud Spaniards. David Silva, whose two goals rendered the match officially as a non-contest, was a delight, Santi Cazorla was an insistent, pacy presence and the rest of the side combined to put on a display of football that produced possession statistics at times in excess of 80%. The Spanish cat was playing with the Scottish mouse.

There is no shame in this for Craig Levein’s side and excessive criticism of last night’s performance is both unnecessary and ultimately pointless. The world champions won easily, almost routinely.

However, the road forward for Scotland is not to consider how they can prise three points from Spain away from home. It is to reflect on just how opportunities against the Czech Republic and Lithuania were squandered. The disappointment for Scotland is not the concession of three goals to an increasingly relaxed Spanish side. This campaign did not wilt in the heat of a Spanish resort city. Rather, it stuttered and stalled against considerably less sophisticated opposition.

The bottom line for Levein is that he took 11 points from a group that was far from daunting. Lithuania, frankly, are a poor side, bereft of pace and craft. The Czechs are mediocre with only Tomas Rosicky standing above the workmanlike. Liechtenstein are so much the minnows that Scotland should have pursued them with a fine-mesh net.

A fulsome appreciation for last night’s defiance and for the 3-2 defeat to Spain at Hampden only serves to obscure the failures of the campaign. Liechtenstein were narrowly beaten twice but one should accept the six points without too much muttering about the fashion in which they were obtained.

But Levein and his side must be judged severely for their failings in Lithuania, and against the Czech Republic in Prague and Glasgow. A victory against the Lithuanians away from home would have set the tone for the campaign but instead Scotland were hesitant and unconvincing.

The matches against the Czechs, though, were the crucial test of character and Scotland failed the examination. Levein’s strategy in Prague has been the subject of a multitude of comments. Not one of them has been positive.

The 4-6-0, or whatever one likes to describe it, was a massive error of judgment. Levein over-estimated the opposition and further suffered a defeat that drained Scotland of impetus and the manager of a substantial element of goodwill.

The match against the Czechs at Hampden has subsequently taken on all the elements of injustice that marked the Dreyfus case. Yes, Scotland were the victims of a poor penalty decision but there must also be the acceptance that the limited Czechs were more than worthy of the draw.

An excellent campaign for the Scots would have been to have taken full points from Liechtenstein and Lithuania, shared the six points on offer with the Czechs, and lost with honour to Spain at Hampden and away from home.

This scenario hardly belongs in the realms of fantasy and would have given Scotland 15 points and a tilt at the play-offs. It would also have rendered last night’s match as an opportunity for the Tartan Army to indulge in some rest and recreation without indulging in the haverings of trying to convince each other that a result was possible against the Spanish.

Immediately, of course, Levein will talk of positives and look forward to the campaign to reach the World Cup in Brazil. He certainly seems to have instilled a spirit whereby players want to play for the team. He has a good goalkeeper in either Allan McGregor or Craig Gordon, a host of pleasing options in midfield and more than a hint of promise in strikers David Goodwillie and Craig Mackail-Smith

All this will be accentuated this morning as the sights are now set on a new challenge. Levein and his staff, though, should take a peek over their shoulders. The past offers lessons.

The most painful one is the realisation that this was a group that offered Scotland an excellent chance of a play-off spot. This was scorned long before a balmy night in Alicante.

Taken from the Herald

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