McFadden frustrated as Slovenia hold firm

Scotland 0 - Slovenia 0
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The Independent Football

Scotland summoned the passion that a raucous crowd craved last night, but they could not muster the goal that would have launched their World Cup campaign with a victory to send Berti Vogts' stock soaring and Slovenia packing.

Scotland summoned the passion that a raucous crowd craved last night, but they could not muster the goal that would have launched their World Cup campaign with a victory to send Berti Vogts' stock soaring and Slovenia packing.

The Scots' ascendancy petered out into parity after half-time, when even the inspirational James McFadden was becalmed. Despite Slovenia's more assured display and threat on the counter-attack, they were thankful for a world-class save by Borut Mavric from Nigel Quashie with 15 minutes remaining.

Vogts sought to put a positive spin on Scottish frustration. "That was progress," the manager insisted. "It was much better. All that was missing was a goal. But we'll fight until 2005 when we play the last match in Slovenia."

The German bases his optimism on what he predicts will be a dogfight for second place behind Italy. Norway's failure to beat Belarus at home tends to bear him out, while hinting that the Belarussians may themselves be in contention.

Slovenia's coach, Branko Oblak, argued that Scotland played too many high balls, although the ploy certainly caused problems in the first half. His parting shot was to forecast that "no team will win at Hampden", but this result increases the pressure on the Scots to defeat Norway in Glasgow next month.

Oblak's own side could have proved him wrong, Scotland's goal enjoying a charmed life at one stage. In Craig Gordon, Vogts thinks he has a custodian of quality. Perhaps, more importantly, he has found a lucky goalkeeper.

In the first half, however, Gordon was largely a spectator as Scotland responded to the fervour in the stands and McFadden led the charge. After five minutes, Mavric had to arch acrobatically to touch the ball over after it reared goalwards after a challenge between Paul Dickov and Aleksandr Knavs.

McFadden looked to be fouled in the penalty area, but was unperturbed by the referee's refusal to grant the award. Showing freshness rather than rustiness after playing only 45 minutes for Everton this season, he curled one shot inches wide, while his understanding with Gary Naysmith frequently played the full-back in behind the defence.

Darren Fletcher headed narrowly over from the best cross by Naysmith, who also jinked through like an old-style winger only to see his shot deflected behind. But the Slovenes were warming to their task, testing Gordon from long range at first and then visibly moving up a gear after the break.

As Scotland struggled to maintain their momentum, Slovenia conjured an increasing number of touches and feints. Milenko Acimovic, in particular, reminded us that they once contributed to the formidable Yugoslavia team. Unfortunately, it was often offset by gamesmanship and foul play.

Simon Seslar, Amir Karic and Knavs were all cautioned. The heaviest challenge, by Jalen Pokorn on Naysmith, went mysteriously unpunished, even though the Scot soon gave way to Gary Holt.

In the 55th minute, Malky Mackay and Gordon collided as a centre swung in. The ball ran to Ermin Siljak six yards from goal, but the lack of venom in his shot enabled Mackay to head it into Gordon's arms.

Acimovic promptly showed what Tottenham supporters seldom saw, executing a sublime turn and shot that brushed the bar, while Gordon had to dive to prevent Nastja Ceh's drive trickling over the line after parrying it. Quashie's 30-yard drive at last looked set to break the deadlock, but Mavric sprang high to his left to deepen Scotland's disappointment.

Scotland (4-1-4-1): Gordon (Heart of Midlothian); G Caldwell (Hibernian), Webster (Heart of Midlothian), Mackay (Norwich City), Naysmith (Everton); McNamara (Celtic); Fletcher (Manchester United), Quashie (Portsmouth), Ferguson (Blackburn Rovers), McFadden (Everton); Dickov (Blackburn Rovers). Substitutes: Holt (Norwich City) for Naysmith , 59; Crawford (Plymouth Argyle) for Dickov , 80.

Slovenia (4-3-1-2): B Mavric (Greuther Furth); Pokorn (Hapoel Nazareth Elit), M Mavric (Molden), Knavs (VfL Bochum), Karic (Torpedo-Metallurg); Komac (Gorica), Seslar (CMC Publikum), Ceh (Club Btruges); Acimovic (Lille); Siljak (Dalian), Dedic (Parma).

Substitutes: Lavric (Dynamo Dresden) for Siljak, 65; Sukalo (Unterhaching) for Dedic , 80.

Referee: C B Larsen (Denmark).

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