Elia strike dashes Scotland's hopes

Scotland 0 Netherlands 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Tartan Army had hoped for an auspicious alignment of numbers in Group 9 on 9/9/9, but alas, nein. Scotland will not be going to the World Cup after losing narrowly here last night to a late goal by the latest Dutch prodigy, Elijero Elia.

On an evening of passion, commitment and even flair, the Scots put up a brave fight in which they conjured some excellent chances, albeit chances that went begging.

Instead the Dutch maintained their 100 per cent record thanks to Elia, 22, who plays for Hamburg after an £8m summer move from FC Twente. With all the cool and composure one expects from the Oranje, he dashed on to a wayward late defensive header, rounded the Scots' stand-in goalkeeper, David Marshall, and slotted in.

With Norway winning against Macedonia to finish as group runners-up, Scotland were denied second place in the section – as well as any chance of reaching the play-offs. If they had played at this level throughout this campaign, second spot would have been bagged games ago. The knives have been out for George Burley for a while and he could be on his way quickly.

Burley said afterwards that he wants to remain in charge – "Of course," he reiterated – although the SFA has already said his job will be reviewed so he cannot take his post for granted. He was upbeat anyway: "I felt we deserved something and we came off the pitch with a lot of pride," he said. "We just needed a break and unfortunately we didn't get it." Facing a full-strength Dutch side is never a breeze and Scotland's task got harder when Craig Gordon failed a late fitness test. Marshall was drafted in, and while he had shipped 11 goals in his three previous caps, he did well, making some superb saves.

The Dutch team testified they were here for three points, with Wesley Sneijder back after injury in an attacking foursome alongside Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt, whose early shot beat Marshall only to smack the post.

A deflected Kenny Miller shot soon afterwards spurred on the hosts, Darren Fletcher finding Alan Hutton, who crossed to Scott Brown, storming in but not connecting cleanly at the far post. Burley's men were up for this, that was now clear, but in every Dutch foray their technical superiority and control in confined space gave them more chances from less.

This was illustrated when Robben dashed past three opponents on the left and passed to Kuyt, who laid it back to Sneijder and his 25-yard dipping shot was pushed over by a flying Marshall.

Just before that, Fletcher had shown urgency in chesting and chasing a ball from midfield, only to be thwarted by a diving Michel Vorm and then Maloney dashed free and slipped the ball to Miller, who was closed down.

Van Persie set Robben free into the box for a one-on-one with Marshall, who saved again. Miller then took possession in the Dutch half and waited for Brown, who dinked a pass over the top. Miller ran on to it and volleyed a dipping effort that skimmed off the crossbar.

Miller went closer still with the best chance by far of the first half. Stevie Naismith surged down the left channel and shot, forcing a low dive from Vorm, who parried the ball along the ground on to the post. Miller ran on to the rebound with the goalkeeper on the floor, only to smack the ball straight into a prostate Dutch body. Vorm held. Miller really should have scored but at least the blood was up.

Unfortunately, the interval served only to let Tartan pulses settle and it was the visitors who came out firing on more cylinders and looked threatening. Kuyt could have done better with a free header two yards out just before the hour but sent it over. Then Robben, bearing down on Marshall with the goal open, fired without precision. Marshall, standing tall, somehow pushed the shot clear.

Miller went close again in the 70th minute, after Naismith's knock-back across the box but the shot was weak and Vorm, crouching, fumbled the ball successfully away at a trickle to safety.

Maloney swiped at air before Elia broke 50,000 Scottish hearts in the stadium.

Scotland (4-1-4-1): Marshall (Cardiff); Hutton (Tottenham), Weir (Rangers), McManus (Celtic), Whittaker (Rangers); Hartley (Bristol City); Naismith (Rangers), Brown (Celtic), D Fletcher (Man Utd), Maloney (Celtic); Miller (Rangers). Commons (Derby) for Hartley 67, O'Connor (Birmingham) for Maloney (83).

Netherlands (4-2-3-1): Vorm (Utrecht); Van der Weil (Ajax), Ooijer (PSV), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); De Zeeuw (AZ), De Jong (Man City); Van Persie (Arsenal), W Sneijder (Internazionale), Robben (Real Madrid); Kuyt (Liverpool). Substitutes used: Elia (Hamburg) for Robben 73, Van der Vaart (Real Madrid) for Sneijder 77, Huntelaar (Milan) for Van Persie 85.

Referee: C B Larsen (Denmark).