Scotland fail to deal with Dutch class
Netherlands 3 Scotland 0
Monday 30 March 2009
Two small nations. Two magnificent sets of fans. One enormous gulf in class. Forget about Scotland's lengthy injury list, and the pros and cons of the one-striker system, and whether it was risky for George Burley to give Cardiff City's Ross McCormack, 22, a first start in such an important game. The gulf in class is what made the difference on Saturday.
In their current squad alone the Dutch have more genuinely elite players – who can hold down regular places at Europe's best clubs – than Scotland has produced in 20 years. Quite why that is the case is a long, convoluted debate for another forum, but Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, to name just the four "forward" starters in the 4-2-3-1, are so much more technically talented than any Scottish player it is no laughing matter.
Robben's brilliance alone is worth the ticket price on his day. Huntelaar scored the opener with his head and won the penalty for 3-0 to highlight his versatility. The form of Kuyt, who scored from the spot, and Van Persie, who outjumped three markers to head in for 2-0, has been good enough lately at Liverpool and Arsenal to see both start ahead of Real Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder, and Liverpool's Ryan Babel among others.
The Oranje will win Group Nine at a canter. They are weaker the further back you go in the team, allegedly, but you have to test a goalkeeper to check that, and that did not happen in the Amsterdam ArenA. The best chance for Scotland, aside from a header in the net by Gary Caldwell, which was disallowed for a push, fell to Kenny Miller. Free on goal, he hesitated far too long before shooting and the ball was cleared.
The Rangers forward explained: "It was a very sticky surface and it was hard to get moving with the ball at your feet. I was trying to get the ball in front of me and get a shot in. Unfortunately, the defender got back and blocked the shot so I didn't get the chance to test the keeper."
Unfortunately, for Scotland, the hosts did not appear to find the very same surface sticky at all. They made it look slick. It could be that Scotland's thinking on strikers is sticky.
Miller has his supporters, and they include his managers at club and international level. It is easy to argue why that is the case. He is super-fit, runs for hours, toils alone up front without complaining, and must be very annoying to defenders, distracting with his constant buzzing. That seems to be the point of Miller a lot of the time; distraction. But he is a striker who does not score an awful lot of goals, and he is not a non-striking striker in the Emile Heskey mould, not someone who is physically imposing and holds the ball up and then pops it on a plate for someone else to convert, when not scoring himself.
Scotland need goals so perhaps it is time to field strikers, plural and up front, who score goals. It is a risk but Scotland's World Cup qualifying campaign is in danger of failure with games to spare. The Scots have scored just two goals in their group, both in Iceland in September, one by a defender, the other by a midfielder on the rebound from a penalty. The last time a Scottish striker scored in a competitive game was in October 2007.
In the absence of the injured James McFadden, and with Kris Boyd in a self-enforced wilderness, Burley's main options are McCormack (with 18 goals this season for Cardiff), Chris Iwelumo (16 for Wolves) Steven Fletcher (eight for Hibernian) and Miller, whose 11 Scotland goals in 41 caps is okay but not stunning. McCormack played on the wing on Saturday, not up front. A more attacking mentality will be needed against Iceland on Wednesday at Hampden, a "must-win game", even according to Burley, if there is to be any hope of qualification.
Goals: Huntelaar (30) 1-0; Van Persie (45) 2-0; Kuyt (pen, 78) 3-0.
Netherlands (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg (Ajax); Van der Weil (Ajax), Ooijer (Blackburn), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); Van Bommel (Bayern Munich), De Jong (Man City); Kuyt (Liverpool), Van Persie (Arsenall), Robben (Real Madrid); Huntelaar (Real Madrid). Substitutes used: Sneijder (Real Madrid) on for Van Persie, 65; Afellay (PSV) for Huntelaar, 80; Schaars (AZ) on for De Jong, 80.
Scotland (4-1-4-1): McGregor (Rangers); Alexander (Burnley), Caldwell (Celtic), Berra (Hearts), Naysmith (Sheff Utd); Brown (Celtic); McCormack (Cardiff), Fletcher (Man Utd), Ferguson (Rangers), Teale (Derby); Miller (Rangers). Substitutes used: Fletcher (Hibernian) on for Miller, 71; Hutton (Tottenham) on for Alexander, 74; Morrison (West Bromwich) on for Teale, 85.
Referee: L Duhamel (France).
Booked: Netherlands De Jong, Huntelaar.
Man of the match: Robben.
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