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Levein's dream dies in six minutes as Silva stars in Spanish winBy Peter Jardine
Six minutes was all it took to kill Scotland’s Euro 2012 dream stone dead here.
As if the news filtering through from Kaunas that those damned Czechs had scored after two minutes wasn’t painful enough, matador David Silva plunged a sword through Tartan Army hearts as he swept the ball past a less than convincing Allan McGregor.
Hard to believe, even against these mesmerising Spaniards, that many Scots fans had barely taken their seats before a nation’s great expectations were effectively snuffed out.
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.
Booked: Sergio Ramos.
Goals: Silva 6,44,Villa 54.
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.
Booked: Fletcher, Goodwillie, Morrison.
Goals: Goodwillie 66 pen.
Ref: Stefan Johannesson (Sweden).
If the Scottish bull was in its death throes so early in the contest, its carcass was already being carried out of the building by the time we heard that Jan Rezek, the man who dived to win a penalty at Hampden, had put the Czech Republic two up.
Sixteen minutes in and were were looking at 16 years of painful football exile from the major stages. By the 44th minute, that man Silva had scored again to rub salt in our wounds.
When Craig Levein did all the mental equations in La Manga ahead of last night’s make-or-break Euro 2012 showdowns he must have hoped at the very least his team would still be in with a shout at half-time.
But let’s be blunt here: Scotland’s planning for the World Cup campaign looming 11 months down the road had already started at the interval.
David Villa added a third shortly after the break as Vicente del Bosque’s men signed off from Group I with a 100 per cent record, chalking up an international record of 14 successive competitive wins.
Substitute David Goodwillie’s 66th-minute penalty – his first goal for Scotland – ruffled the Spaniards’ strutting plummage just a little, albeit he should later have squared for Craig Mackail-Smith to set up what would have been a grandstand finish. But we’re clutching at straws here.
True, Scotland were not humiliated in Alicante. Spain routinely destroy better teams than us. But losing the early goal made a Herculean task, in this ground where Hercules play, a mission impossible.
Scotland’s second-half resurgence was heart warming but, as ever, it was too little too late and Levein’s men will know qualification was jeopardised in the earlier games in this group. Much to the joy of the Czechs, of course, who now await their play-off opponents after eventually winning 4-1 in Lithuania.
If Scotland could be said to have world beaters in our midst at all, it’s surely among the ranks of the Tartan Army who provided an incredible pre-match atmosphere inside the stadium, evoking memories for those of a certain vintage of Scotland’s 1982 World Cup sojourn to this same country.
That particular adventure, with Jock Stein in charge, was one of five successive World Cup qualifications. Anyone who felt blasé about that glorious sequence at the time has now surely been disabused of the notion during the wilderness years following France 98.
We feel the absence so much that we’re now guilty of turning qualifying ties into the finals themselves: both in media attention and among the paying public who travel the length and breadth of Europe to watch the games.
How sad, then, that those same fans had the life and spirit knocked out of them by Spain’s sixth-minute goal.
What a goal it was, however. Del Bosque’s team passed the ball around seemingly forever as Scotland chased after it like greyhounds pursuring a hare.
Eventually, as the pass count neared 40, left back Jordi Alba found space down the left after Barry Bannan had failed to track his run. The cutback was duly turned in by the magnificent Silva albeit McGregor looked at fault as the ball was squeezed past him.
Seconds later Alan Hutton had to block a shot from Villa but, remarkably, Levein’s men had a ninth-minute chance to respond - Bannan hitting a great delivery from wide left and Steven Naismith just a yard short of reaching it with his head.
As Spain reasserted themselves, Santio Cazorla drove at the Scots defence before sending in a low drive which McGregor grabbed at the second attempt. Moments later, the Rangers man was forced into making another save from Pedro.
The pattern had already been set: a red tide heading towards the Scotland penalty area with pace, precision and expert passing.
True, Scotland had their best chance of the half when Naismith’s backheader found Darren Fletcher - the skipper volleying over from 12 yards - but they were largely spectators for the first 40 minutes, scurrying after Spanish shadows in vain.
McGregor was called into action again, diving low to his right to tip a powerful drive from Villa away for a corner, while four minutes from the break he made another great save from Cazorla.
Just as the sanctuary of half time beckoned, however, that man Silva struck again.
Working a one-two on the edge of the box, the Manchester City wizard calmly bent home a superb shot, with Scotland powerless to stop arguably the best player in the Premiership right now.
Emerging after the break, the Scots nearly fell even further behind when Naismith gave the ball away deep in defence, allowing Pedro to set up Silva for a shot which went high and wide. In truth, it was only delaying the inevitable.
Silva may have made way for promising Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara on the hour mark but not before he had found space in the penalty area to set up Villa for the third goal of the night.
Bannan tried to respond, but his effort from the edge of the box was saved easily by Victor Valdes before McGregor was forced into another save from Villa.
Goodwillie and James Forrest were sent on for Bannan and Charlie Adam and, almost immediately, Mackail-Smith was bundled over by Valdes following a header down by Christophe Berra.
Confident Blackburn youngster Goodwillie converted with aplomb and, six minutes later, had a great chance to set up an exciting finish when Hutton knocked on a McGregor goal kick. Faced with squaring the ball across goal to the better positioned Mackail-Smith, the former Dundee United striker went for glory instead and blazed over.
Levein’s side were at least showing some commendable spirit during this second half resurgence – just as they had at Hampden in the 3-2 defeat to the world champions earlier in the campaign.
Spain finished as they started and almost grabbed a fourth goal in the 83rd minute when Cazorla’s chipped shot over McGregor landed on the roof of the net.
The roof had already caved in, of course, leaving the Tartan Army to wander off into the Alicante night singing songs of what once again might have been.