Iwelumo gaffe gives Scotland sinking feeling

Scotland 0 Norway 0
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The Independent Online

If there has ever been a worse miss by a Scotland player in the history of Hampden Park – or indeed at any other ground in the world – then the collective memory of the Tartan Army was struggling to recall it last night. But miss an open goal is precisely what Chris Iwelumo did here yesterday. In his first match for Scotland. From a few feet. Under no pressure from an opponent at all.

In all likelihood, a goal then would have been enough to settle this game. But Iwelumo missed. This was a "nightmare debut"€ in the truest sense. It will haunt the 30-year-old Wolves striker's sleep forever.

"How on earth?"€ It was the question immediately on 50,000 fans' lips and it will be on umpteen more for a long time to come as the moment is inevitably replayed time and again on reels of classic footballing bloopers. It came in the 64th minute.

Seven minutes earlier, the Scotland manager, George Burley, had made a double substitution, bringing on Iwelumo for James McFadden and Hibernian's Steven Fletcher for James Morrison.

The pair leaving the pitch had been part of an ambitious 4-3-3 starting XI that had toiled but not threatened their visitors nearly enough. Now it was up to two bigger, fresher strikers, Fletcher, 6ft 1in, and Iwelumo, 6ft 4in, to make their pace, power and precision pay.

Burley had, after all, included Iwelumo in his squad specifically because of his recent scoring record for Wolves: eight goals in his last six games. So to the 64th minute. Celtic's Scott Brown, playing at something like his terrier best for most of the game, retained possession under several challenges and fed in Gary Naysmith in Norway's penalty area.

The Sheffield United full-back rushed forward, on the left-hand side, and released a low, accurate cross towards the centre of the goal.

The ball arrived at the feet of Iwelumo, unmarked, about two feet away from the goal line, bang in the middle of an empty goal. He was certainly no more than a yard out.

He kicked the ball with his right foot. As he stood facing goal, the ball went wide of the left post. Thousands cheered assuming it must have gone in. How could it have done otherwise? The brain had already processed the equation. Two feet out. Open goal. Ball at feet. 1-0 surely? It was not to be.

The upshot for Scotland is that qualification for the World Cup has just become a whole lot harder, if not impossible, and Burley will be bracing himself for a tidal wave of fresh criticism, not least in electing to play Iwelumo instead of the fans' favourite Kris Boyd, who may not contribute much but goals, but at least he scores when chances are laid out for him.

Scotland have just four points from three games, and though at the final whistle that tally was good enough to put them at the top of Group Nine, the table was lying.

Holland, in second place on three points before facing Iceland at home last night, have a game in hand, while Macedonia, also on three points, also have a game in hand on Burley's side. Scotland's next qualifier, at the end of March, is away in Holland.

"We knew both teams would be looking for the win,"€ said Burley. "The first half was a stalemate with few clear chances at all.

"The second half we stepped it up, and made changes, and if we'd scored first we would have won. On 99 of 100 occasions, Chris would have scored that goal. He held his hands up afterwards and said he should have scored. But these things happen in football."

Burley agreed the draw had hurt Scotland's chances of qualifying. "You're looking to win your home games and we didn't finish them off," he said. "But it's still possible. I always said it would be a tight group."€

Morrison had two first-half chances, an early shot, held by Jon Knudsen, who was making his Norway debut in goal at the age of 33, then a 45th-minute header which went over the crossbar. In the second half, Barry Robson had a shot saved, Iwelumo missed his sitter, and then in the 90th minute both Fletcher and Iwelumo failed to meet Kirk Broadfoot's cross into the middle.

Norway had better, more frequent efforts on goal. John Carew missed or was thwarted at least five times, and half a dozen other speculative efforts from various players kept Scotland on their toes.

Substitutes: Scotland: S Fletcher for Morrison (56), Iwelumo for McFadden (57). Norway: Braaten for BH Riise (56), Pedersen for Stromstad (77).

Attendance: 51,300

Referee: Massimo Busacca

Man of the match: Brown

Match rating: 5/10

Four more howlers

Ronnie Rosenthal (Liverpool v Aston Villa, 1992)

Rosenthal picks up a long kickfrom David James, rounds the Villa goalkeeper Nigel Spink and proceeds to hit the bar with the goal at his mercy.

Ryan Giggs (Manchester United v Arsenal, 2003)

The Welshman beats Martin Keown to David Beckham's pass, glides around Sol Campbell and David Seaman before shooting over an open net.

Kanu (West Bromwich v Middlesbrough, 2004)

The Nigerian is ideally placed at the far post to take an inch-perfect pass, but he manages to kick the ball over the bar from one foot out.

Diego Forlan (Manchester United v Juventus, 2003)

The much-missing Uruguayan was presented with an open goal after a calamitous mix-up but he managed to blast it into the side netting.

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