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7 of 008

Spain 3 Scotland 1

By Roddy Forsyth, Alicante

Scotland's frail hopes of claiming a place in the Euro 2012 play-offs were strangled at birth in the Estadio Jose Rico Perez on Tuesday night.

Yes, the Scots left Alicante with pride in a fighting performance and, yes, there is plausible evidence that Craig Levein has fashioned a side that should prosper when the World Cup qualifiers begin next year.

It is also true, however, that Scotland’s defining moment in this European campaign arrived 13 months ago when a declining Czech side were permitted an almost unhindered passage to a 1-0 win in Prague by the manager’s notorious deployment of a 4-6-0 formation.

As for Tuesday night’s events, Spain — courtesy of a David Silva double and another from David Villa — were their usual purring selves. A third David — Goodwillie — imprinted himself on the records by scoring from the penalty spot after Craig Mackail-Smith had been toppled by Victor Valdes.

By way of an appetiser, the world champions delivered a masterclass in maintenance of possession. In a dazzling passage that lasted for 124 seconds, the ball flowed from one Spanish boot to another no fewer than 40 times before the move finally broke down on the frantically outstretched toe of Christophe Berra.

The wonder of this balletic display was that it was presented by a side that included six players who did not start in the 2-0 victory over the Czechs in Prague last Friday.

Scotland were unchanged from the side that quarried a 1-0 victory in Liechtenstein on Saturday, the result that put them into second place in their section and encouraged hope that they might squeeze the Czechs out of a place in the play-offs. The notion lasted scarcely longer than five minutes, at which point Scotland were struck by a perfect storm.

First Jordi Alba demonstrated his dynamism with a surging run which carried the full-back from his defensive beat deep in Spanish territory to the left edge of the Scottish box. Glancing up, Alba caught sight of Silva making one of his trademark angled sprints across the goalmouth.

The cutback was perfect, the finish lethal and to make matters much worse a depression swept in from the shores of the Baltic with the news that the Czech Republic had taken the lead in Lithuania from a penalty kick conceded by former Dunfermline defender Andrius Skerla.

The Scots showed guts to produce moments of genuine menace in these circumstances and they actually came close to equalising within two minutes of the opening goal, when Steven Naismith only narrowly failed to connect with a deep and dangerous cross from James Morrison. As the half wore on with the score unchanged, Barry Bannan rammed a drive just over from a tight angle but the impression that Spain were merely waiting for the Scots to make space available along their own back line was confirmed just before the break when Silva worked his magic again.

For his next trick he shimmied into space 15 yards from goal and trimmed a shot — it looked more of a pass — beyond Allan McGregor to double Spain’s advantage. The Scottish fans’ mood was further depressed by the knowledge that the Czechs had also run up a 2-0 lead in Kaunas — and in yet another twist of the blade, the second goal was scored by Jan Rezek, the man whose blatant dive at Hampden Park last month earned a penalty kick which deprived the Scots of a decisive victory.

Those familiar with Spanish practices knew that the top side in the world rankings would seek a swift opportunity to put the contest beyond question. They duly did as much with another early strike.

Again Silva was instrumental, but this time as supplier to David Villa with a rolled ball across the penalty area that was begging to be turned beyond McGregor — and duly was — at which point Silva left the field to merited acclaim to be replaced by Thiago. Goodwillie was yet to have his memorable moment, but it was the equivalent of a single rose left on Scotland’s coffin.

Spain (4-4-2): Valdes (Barcelona); Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Puyol (Barcelona), Pique (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Barcelona); Xavi (Barcelona), Busquets (Barcelona), Silva (Manchester City), Santi Cazorla (Malaga); Villa (Barcelona), Pedro (Barcelona).
Subs: Arbeloa (Real Madrid) for Puyol h-t, Thiago (Barcelona) for Silva 55, Llorente (Athletic Bilbao) for Xavi 64.
Not used: Casillas (Real Madrid), Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao), Torres (Chelsea), Mata (Chelsea).
Booked: Sergio Ramos.

Scotland (4-1-4-1): McGregor (Rangers); Hutton (Aston Villa), Berra (Wolves), Caldwell (Wigan), Bardsley (Sunderland); Morrison (West Brom); Fletcher (Manchester United), Adam (Liverpool), Bannan (Aston Villa), Mackail-Smith (Brighton); Naismith (Rangers).
Subs: Forrest (Celtic) for Adam 63, Goodwillie (Blackburn) for Bannan 63, Cowie (Cardiff) for Fletcher. Not used: Marshall (Cardiff), Whittaker (Rangers), Robson (Middlesbrough), McManus (Middlesbrough).
Booked: Fletcher, Goodwillie, Morrison.

Referee: S Johannesson (Sweden).

Taken from

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