I watched Scotland play in Norway the other night and despite the apparent hatred between the English and the Scottish I actually wanted Scotland to do well. (I think the hatred is always more towards England from the Scots rather than the other way round).
For the first half hour or so of the game Scotland did pretty well and with a bit of luck they could have been a goal to the good and NorwayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s John Arne Riise could have been sent off. Despite the growing clamour of the Scots supporters for George Burley to be relieved of his duties, it looked as though he had team selection and tactics pretty much right. Then, all of a sudden, it all went very horribly wrong for the Scots.
Two stupid challenges by Gary Caldwell saw him sent off, maybe harshly, but certainly correctly by the letter of the law, and within seconds, Riise, who was lucky to be on the pitch, put Norway ahead.
Before half-time Norway had gone two up and were totally in control. Riise missed a sitter and Carew was fouled in the box for what should have been a penalty. It could have been a whole lot worse than 2-0 at half-time and Steven Caldwell might well have joined his brother in the stands after two potentially bookable offences as well.
The second half saw a spiritless performance from Scotland and two more goals gave the scoreline a fairly accurate reflection of the last hour of the game.
The defeat leaves Scotland in third place in their group and with a mountain to climb if they are to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. They need to probably win their last two games to have any chance of making the play-offs. Those two games are at home, but they are against Macedonia and Holland, the two teams currently above them.
The defeat in Norway means Scotland remain level with Macedonia on seven points but slip from second to third in qualifying Group Nine on goal difference. Group Nine consists of five teams, one less than the other pools. When calculating the best runners-up, therefore, matches played against the sixth-placed finishers in Groups One to Eight will not be taken into consideration. With the eight best runners-up from the nine qualification groups progressing to the play-offs Scotland almost certainly need to win their remaining two games.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, manager George Burley was trying to look on the bright side after what was a fairly disastrous night for his team.
“Whatever could have gone wrong tonight went wrong. It has been a disastrous result, to lose by four when we were looking to cement our position in second place but we will be in there fighting. We lost, but we still have two games left. If we win those, I still feel we can be in the play-offs. I said before the game that I thought we needed six points to make the play-offs, so nothing has changed. We have two games left and they are both at home, so we have to pick ourselves up and show the character necessary to get into second place and the play-offs. Norway would like to be in our position just now and I have no doubts that we can beat Macedonia at home. Holland was always going to be difficult but they have qualified so I believe we have the players who can win both games. If we can’t win our two games, we don’t deserve to get in the play-offs.”
Burley felt that the defeat against Norway was harsh on his players.
“Before the sending off, I thought we more than held our own, we had three half chances and were slightly on top. Then they scored right away and it was a wicked deflection off Scott Brown for the first goal. Steven Caldwell was complaining about his groin at half time and we had to then bring him off. We moved Alan Hutton in to the middle and then Christophe Berra, who had come on, picked up a hamstring injury and Steven Whittaker came on, so we had five different defences. It was a horrible result but it is gone now. You can’t say it was a disaster because we still have a chance.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In relation to the sending off of Gary Caldwell, Burley didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t agree with the decision. Although the second offence was soft, there is no doubt that it was worthy of a yellow card. I am unaware of the rule that says a second yellow card shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be given to a player who has just been given a first one!
“I thought it was very harsh. Carew was pulling Gary and Gary was trying to hold his own. I don’t think the referee realised he’d booked Gary, the Norwegian players said he’d already been booked. If the referee had realised he had already booked him before, he wouldn’t have sent him off.”
My own view is that ScotlandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team selection left a little to be desired and that some of the players are simply not up to the job of international football. The back four, even the one that started, looked ill at ease and letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not forget, Norway were bottom of the group without a win in their previous five games.
One thing that Scotland have a deserved reputation for is the ability to always show a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœnever say dieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ attitude and a fighting spirit. For me, neither of those qualities were present in this game.
Can any Scots explain why that might be?
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