Thursday, September 10, 2009

It was a familiar tale by the end of it all. More heartbreak for Scotland. Another qualifying campaign ending in disappointment. The hopes of a nation left shattered once again.

We could go on and it would be hard to pinpoint which year and which tournament's qualifying campaign we're talking about. What's different about this one though is that this time it really hurts because we're left with the feeling that we threw it all away.

And what we threw away wasn't even automatic qualification, just a playoff spot.

Eljero Elia's goal with 8 minutes remaining saw Holland snatch a late 1-0 victory over Scotland at Hampden Park last night. It was such a cruel end to such a brave performance. The first half saw Scotland hit the bar, miss an easy chance and have a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. The Dutch had their own misfortunes but their class came through in the end and they ended their qualifying campaign with an impressive unbeaten record.

Scotland's display on the night was what's been lacking for a lot of this qualifying campaign. Full of passion, attacking prowess and confidence. It looked at times that a goal was imminent. If only this had been replicated in many of the other games and the lacklustre performances that were on display during them.

Of course the main focus of attention now will come down on the future of George Burley. The knives have been out and sharpened for a while now and the calls for him to go will now be intensified.

He made mistakes in this campaign, was too defensive and some of his team selections beggared belief. Even last night, he went with one up front. The players, it would seem, want him to stay on and you can't doubt his pride and commitment to the job. He went through the wringer last night on the touchline and his emotions with every kick of the ball were very evident for all to see.

It meant as much to him on the sidelines as us in the stands and watching at home. He's a Scotland fan like us, but maybe not the right man to be at the helm of the national squad to take us forward. The players have shown in last night's game that they have the ability to compete with the best so should we be asking "did George Burley let down the players or did the players let down George Burley?".

The injuries that plagued Burley's squad selections were unbelievable and continued right up to kick off last night when he lost Craig Gordon between the sticks (although a huge credit has to be paid to David Marshall who did an outstanding job coming in). Our squad depth appeared to be non existant once the main guys went out.

Then you can look at the disgrace to the nation by the likes of Barry Ferguson, Allan McGregor and Kris Boyd. The disruptions they caused didn't help the team to stay focussed.

It all boils down to the performances though and the games and incidents that shot us in the foot.

The loss in the first game in Macedonia was a killer from the word go, having gone a goal behind after just 5 minutes into the campaign. James McFadden should have had a stonewall second half penalty given in that game and ended up with a booking for diving which proved costly and eventually saw him ruled out of the crucial last game through suspension.

Chris Iwelumo's horror miss at home to Norway cost us two vital points and now, looking back, it seems even worse. The disasterous game last month in Norway was the real crippler though, allowing the Norwegian to kick start their seemingly dead campaign and eventually claim second place in the group on goal difference.

Holland were always going to win this group but our performances in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign against Italy and France saw us going into the World Cup games with high hopes. If we couldn't dispose of the likes of Norway, Iceland and Macedonia what hope did we have as being a respected footballing nation once again? Well I think we know the answer to that one now.

What makes matters even harder to swallow now is that a draw last night, and the 11 points total we would have ended on, would not only have secured us the vital runners up spot but would hold a really good chance by the looks of it of squeezing into the playoffs. No point keeping an eye on that complicated table any more though.

Before everyone jumps on the "Burley out" bandwagon, people need to look at the bigger picture. The SFA and the whole of Socttish football needs a clean out in the next few months. EVERYTHING needs reorganised and a productive youth set up needs implemented now, along with protecting our homegrown players in the Scottish leagues.

Only then can Scotland rise up and be a footballing nation again and the changes need to start from today.

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