Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Tartan Army will holiday elsewhere again next Summer

Supporting Scotland has always been a labour of love with a history of glorious failure. The difference in yesteryear however was that we at least got to go for the first two weeks of a tournament before being sent packing by the might of Costa Rica, Peru or Morocco.

This blog has already written about the failings of Scottish football both at international and at European club level and the shortcomings are well known. Scots will lament wistfully over successful qualifications in '74,'78, '82, 86, '90, '98 and many famous names such as Strachan, Jordan, Dalglish and Souness, players of genuine quality. Scotish football has fallen on hard times indeed.

What frustrates about this latest failure is that it could have potentially been avoided. Scotland are clearly no world beaters but this was a poor group in truth and the fact that no one was going to take points from Spain making it a straight shoot out for second place.

Craig Levein points to the penalty awarded to the Czechs at the end of the match at Hampden and whilst he is right to feel aggrieved it is not the cause for the failure to qualify. The real reasons lie at the start of the campaign where a poor 0-0 draw away to Lithuania was backed up by a loss in Prague where Scotland didn't even attempt to win the game with their now infamous 4-6-0 formation.

Now whilst there was probably no disgrace in losing in Prague on the face of it, the lack of ambition shown and the overdose of respect given to the Czechs belied Levein's inexperience at this level and the lack of faith in his squad - possibly due to a lack of familiarity - after the draw in Lithuania.

It's doubtful how much any new international manager would know about the Czechs but presumably someone over a certain age associates the team with the likes of Poborsky, Nedved, Berger, Koller and Smicer. This current team is not even close to their like and Levein made a crucial error in judgement by overestimating his opponents.

It is always could haves and should haves in these instances but as ever it is the fractions that make the difference. There is genuine cause for optimism with the current Scottish team with some real quality in midfield and the emerging talent of Barry Bannan (who could do without the Xavi and Iniesta comparisons it must be said).

Upfront at 24, Steven Fletcher could have an excellent International career ahead of him. Levein needs to do whatever is needed to bring him back to the fold as Scotland have lacked a good centre forward of International calibre for many years now. Scotland had the same situation with Duncan Ferguson and it is to the benefit of no one.

The qualifying group for the World Cup will be tough but it will always be so, especially as Scotland are so far down the seedings rankings, it is however a group where all the teams can take points of each other and a runners up spot is not out of the question which would at least secure a play off position.

There can be cause for genuine hope (rather than just the false variety) of emerging from this group as all the sides are beatable at Hampden, as opposed to when Scotland were placed in a group with Italy, France and Ukraine for the qualification stages for South Africa.

Much will depend on how much Levein has learned from his first campaign in charge and whether he can back up his soundbites with some real tactical victories against teams that whilst being better than Scotland, remain beatable, that is where the manager makes the difference and that will decide whether any flights to Rio are required - No Nonsense.