Magical McFadden gives Tartan Army reason to be cheerful
Scotland 2 Macedonia 0: Talisman will miss crunch tie with Holland after questionable booking
Sunday 06 September 2009
George Burley shook every last hand after this precious win kept alive Scotland's slim hopes of going to the World Cup. He embraced his players. He reached out to Macedonia's players and staff. He made sure every official got to feel his palm. If you visit Hampden this morning, you'll probably still find him walking the streets, looking for stragglers to share his glee. And who can blame the poor bloke?
After a wretched qualifying campaign, this result – secured with second-half goals from a Scott Brown header and a solo James McFadden effort – means that Scotland's destiny lies at their own feet, pretty much.
If they can beat Holland here on Wednesday, they will be certain of holding on to the second place in Group Nine which they occupy this morning. They would also stand a reasonable chance of having enough points (13) to reach the play-offs as one of the best eight (of nine) second-placed teams.
Confused? You will be. Such are the topsy-turvy mathematics of calculating the rankings (nations in six-team groups have results against the bottom sides deducted) that immediately after this win, Scotland were the third-best second-placed team in qualifying (up from ninth best).
One point in midweek might even be enough to reach the play-offs, depending on other results. Three would be much more likely to seal it.
Getting a win over the Oranje is a big if, of course, especially with a depleted team. Burley had pre-existing injury concerns and McFadden picked up a booking yesterday that will see him banned in midweek. But the Dutch are already through so perhaps won't come to town with a killer mindset. And stranger things have happened; Scotland beat France home and away not so many moons ago, although that has felt like ancient history of late.
In fact, those results felt like memories from a bygone era for most of the first half yesterday. Scotland were woeful: outrun and outplayed, lack-lustre and largely without direction or spark. It was the post-match view of the Macedonia manager, Mirsad Jonuz, that his hosts weren't much better than that over the whole 90 minutes. Jonuz was asked whether he thought, on the evidence of what he'd seen here, that Scotland could beat Holland. He scoffed: "No chance! It would be hard to be that lucky twice."
Luck did not really come into it. One might argue that Scotland were lucky not to concede a number of times to Macedonia's 26-year-old Lazio forward, Goran Pandev, but then Craig Gordon did well to make a string of saves in a two-man, match-long subplot.
One might argue that the Balkan players were unlucky not to score at other times, but they must take responsibility for some howlers. Slavco Georgievski's wild miss, blazed over the bar in the second half when his team were just 1-0 down, was especially notable.
Macedonia were by far the better side in the first half. They had their first chance in the opening minute when David Weir pulled down Pandev. Goce Sedloski took the free-kick, blocked by Brown.
Goran Popov then headed wide, Pandev had the first of several decent shots saved by Gordon, and Scotland introduced Steven Whittaker for Callum Davidson (off with a hamstring pull) before their first chance. That came after Sedloski fouled Brown just outside the box. McFadden smacked his free-kick into the wall and then Brown sizzled a low shot just wide of the left-hand post.
Brown had a rare urgency among the home players in the first half, and another of his low shots fizzed just wide midway through the opening period. Otherwise it was Macedonia, mainly Pandev, who dominated. The striker could have set up a team-mate to score in the 29th minute but failed to find Ilco Naumoski or Aco Stojkov. Gordon thwarted Pandev again soon afterwards, and then a tetchy spell of play turned farcical.
Brown was booked for a push on Despotovski, after being rounded on by six Macedonian players who were furious he had had the temerity to contest a drop-ball restart. McFadden was booked, although it was not clear why. Apparently it was for dissent but he did nothing obvious to merit it.
Scotland were almost unrecognisable in the second half; quick, committed and inventive, relatively. Brown, crouching, met Steven Fletcher's cross on the rise and the ball skimmed home to make it 1-0. Georgievski's miss meant the lead was maintained, then Whittaker became more and more prominent, bombing down the left to make his own chances if not take them.
McFadden's goal had its roots in the centre of the field. He ran with the ball, evading three defenders (albeit half-hearted in their work), and rounded the goalkeeper before slotting in. Hampden emptied to "Rocking All Over The World".
Referee: Wolfgang Stark
Man of the match: Brown
Match rating: 5/10
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