Kutuzov crushes Scotland's revival

Scotland 0 Belarus 1
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The Independent Football

The impressive momentum built up over the last five games halted as the Sampdoria striker benefited from a ricochet off Christian Dailly. Smith's ambition of remaining in the equation for the runners-up spot that brings passage to the play-offs evaporated, but the stark truth, is that those hopes were seriously damaged by Berti Vogts' tenure at the start of the campaign.

"Belarus showed what a good side they can be," said Smith graciously. "However, we played as poorly as we have done since I took over. I said we had to win our last two games and we can't now."

The confident, raucous mood among the fans at Hampden Park was almost ignited in the same fashion as the pre-match fireworks as Scotland drew a save out of goalkeeper Vasily Khomutovsky inside 10 seconds. Lee McCulloch's knockdown was seized upon by Kenny Miller, who advanced into the box only to see Khomutovsky spoon away his shot.

However, when an early goal did arrive it was met with silence by the 50,000 fans as Kutuzov put Belarus in front after six minutes.

A neat turn inside by Denis Kovba created a threat that Darren Fletcher tried to cut out with a slide tackle. However, the Manchester United player's lunge only knocked the ball off Dailly and it ricocheted into the run of the fortuitous Kutuzov, who steered a composed right-foot finish beyond Craig Gordon.

Scotland almost fashioned a response after 15 minutes, when patient passing eventually saw McCulloch try to pick out Fletcher with a cross. However, that brief cameo aside, Scotland's game plan of cautious football had gone out the window.

Belarus seized control of the midfield, with Alexander Hleb's movement hard to track. The Arsenal midfielder displayed great vision as he exchanged passes with Kutuzov, who then peeled away from Steven Pressley but wasted the chance by shooting wide of Gordon.

The Sampdoria striker ought to have condemned Scotland to an early grave when he met Hleb's corner just before the half-hour. Kutuzov's right-foot shot thundered against the bar and bounced down before Dailly cleared it away.

When Scotland reached the dressing room at half-time without further damage, it ought to have been considered an achievement after such a tame display. Smith recognised that his system had failed him and introduced Shaun Maloney for Ian Murray. The Celtic youngster almost paid an instant dividend as he pounced on a knock-down from McCulloch and surged into the box, only for a Belarus leg to take the sting out of his shot.

The Scotland crowd sensed a shift in the tide of the contest and lifted their backing. Maloney almost produced a roar of acclaim after 54 minutes when he fashioned an overhead kick after Fletcher and Miller cut Belarus open. The ball was going in at Khomutovsky's near post but struck the prone figure of McCulloch on the line and stayed out. That was wretched luck. The chance that slipped away five minutes later was wretched finishing, as Miller raced away on to McCulloch's flick from Gordon's long ball. The striker, who had scored four goals in his last three internationals, was left with just Khomutovsky to beat but thrashed his shot over the bar.

Scotland, though, refused to throw in the towel. A foul on Miller drew a free-kick that allowed Maloney to curl a sublime kick over the wall only for Khomutovsky to paw the ball wide of the post. As the hosts took risks in search of the equaliser, they left gaps at the back. Kutuzov had two more chances to score and Hleb hit the side netting as a frantic finale ensued.

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