Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Principality of Liechenstein. Population 35,789. Fifa world football ranking 141. UEFA ranking 50 and one of the teams you could rightly regard as minnows in the world of football these days.

As we know, there are fewer and fewer of them these days - or so we keep being told by the media. It would appear that Scotland, 41st in the FIFA rankings and 23rd in UEFA, are doing their damndest to get down there amongst them.

There were 37,050 fans at Hampden Park tonight. More than the population of Liechenstein itself. I don't think any of them, not even the Liechenstein fans amongst them, expected the events that unfolded this evening to take place.

In the end, Scotland avoided what could easily have been classed as our most embarrassing ever result at international level, but they made hard work of it.

Forget Peru, Iran and Costa Rica. Those results would have been nothing compared to a loss, or even a draw, at home to the whipping boys of Liechenstein. At least those results happened in the World Cup where the sides had beat the best in front of them to be there in the first place.

Even that embarrassing 2-2 draw in the Faroes years ago would have been better than dropping points to Liechenstein. At least that was away from home.

When Stephen McManus brilliantly rose to head home the winner in the seventh minute of stoppage time, the relief around Hampden, and of Scottish fans the world over, was clear to see. A 2-1 win secured and Scotland amazingly top the group!

How did it even get to that stage?

The first half was dire. Scotland threatened little, Liechenstein grew in confidence and had chances as Scotland allowed them to break 3 on 3 at times. The best Scotland had to offer was a cleverly worked corner just before the break.

So scoreless at the half, but even as the team trooped off to more boos than Liechenstein's "God Save The Queen" soundalike national anthem received at the start, you felt it was just going to be a matter of time and if Scotland could break the deadlock early it would be a comfortable 3-0 or 4-0 victory.

Maybe in days of old when Scotland actually had a team and a home record that put the fear into the opposition. Not now.

Before many at Hampden were even seated for the second period, Liechenstein's 36 year old captain Mario Frick curled a beautiful goal from the edge of the box past Allan McGregor and into the top corner of the Scottish goal for a shock lead after 46 minutes.

Now, Liechtenstein have on occasions pulled off some shock results. A 2004 2-2 draw in a qualifier against Portugal is right up there when it comes to their best ever result, as is their 3-0 win over Iceland in 2007. Beating Scotland at Hampden would arguably go down as their best ever though.

The way the Scots were playing, it didn't look like we were going to have an easy route back and when Kenny Miller volleyed home after 63 minutes, it was almost unexpected.

As Liechenstein wasted time and fouled for their lives, Scotland just couldn't find a way through and Liechenstein had a few breaks and chances themselves to seal a shock win as we got a bit sloppy at the back.

The tackle on Alan Hutton near the end was a shocker though and he was lucky not to have a broken leg after that. No booking as the Ukranian ref lost complete control of the match.

With five minutes of stoppage time signalled, somehow the clueless ref found a couple more minutes on top and for that we can only be grateful, as McManus salvaged a small modicum of pride and kept our already faint hopes of Euro 2012 qualification alive.

What was most worrying about tonight performance, wasn't the result, wasn't that we let a minnow score on us and defended poorly. No, what is really frightening is that that was probably the best Scotland team that Craig Levein could have put out there tonight.

When you saw the starting line up there wouldn't have been many complaints. Very attack minded, with all the Tartan Army favourites there. That is the best it's going to get for Scotland right now and that performance was what we got from them.

So who was at fault? The players for not performing? The manager for not getting the best out of them? Although let's be honest here, the latter is a very poor argument. As much as I'm not a Craig Levein fan, he did nothing wrong. He put out his best team, who even if all eleven of them had off days, should have won this match comfortably. It was the players who let us down tonight. End of.

Maybe we really should just admit to ourselves that we are currently not good enough at international level and it's going to be years and take a complete overhaul of the game in Scotland to get back to an acceptable level again. A level that actually sees us qualify for tournaments once more.

We're well of that pace and an embarrassment to the legends of the past.

Of course, we'll go on now and beat Spain at Hampden next month. Aye, that'll be fucking right! They're going to destroy us.

Scotland. We love you so much. Why must you break our hearts so often abd what is it going to take to finally make the powers that be have a good, long hard look at themselves and the game in the country and make the changes that are needed?

If they don't, we're going to be minnows ourselves.

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