Gary Caldwell was sent off as Scotland's World Cup hopes unravelled in spectacular fashion against Norway in the Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo last night.
The Celtic player picked up two yellow cards within a minute in the first half, the second of which, for a foul just outside the area, allowed John Arne Riise to fire in the opener from the resultant free kick. When Morten Gamst Pedersen made it 2-0 seconds before half-time it was all but over for George Burley's side.
A tap-in by Erik Huseklepp and a delightful free kick by Pedersen at the end completed a miserable night for the Scots, who drop to third in Group Nine behind Macedonia, their next opponents on 5 September, on goal difference.
Scotland now need wins in their last two qualifiers, they face Holland at Hampden Park on 9 September, to have any chance of a play-off spot and, on this evidence, hopes cannot be high. "It wasn't our night. Things went against us, decisions went against us," Burley said. "We've lost it but we've still got two games left."
Burley defended his tactics, saying: "Up to the sending-off, it wasn't a problem. They had one chance and we had two or three." However, the manager is adamant that the two wins are not only achievable, they will be enough to secure a play-off spot. "I think six [points] will be enough – I've always said that," he said. "Nothing's changed. Tonight's been a disastrous result but circumstances have dictated that.
"We can look for excuses, we can look for circumstances, but it's gone – we didn't get any points tonight. If we can't win our two games, we don't deserve to get in the play-offs."
Despite mounting pressure, Burley vowed to soldier on, insisting it was up to the Scottish FA whether he stayed on beyond 2009. "At the end of the day, they're my employers," said Burley, who withdrew Steven Caldwell early in the second half because of a groin injury. "Hopefully, we don't have another night like tonight."
After surving an early penalty appeal, when John Carew was brought down by Steven Caldwell, Scotland were not so fortunate six minutes later. Gary Caldwell, having a minute earlier picked up a booking after clashing with Pedersen, was sent off when the referee Alain Hamar adjudged him to have fouled Carew. John Arne Riise rifled the free kick past David Marshall with the help of a massive deflection off Scott Brown.
Norway doubled their lead seconds before half-time when Bjorn Helge Riise set up Pedersen and the game was put out of Scotland's reach on the hour mark when Carew's shot hit both posts before rebounding back to Huseklepp, who bundled in the rebound. In the final minute Pedersen neatly curled in number four.
Norway: Knudsen; Hogli, Waehler, Hangeland, J A Riise; B H Riise (Skjelbred, 85), Grindheim, Pedersen, Hoseth; Carew (Helstad, 84), Huseklepp (Iversen, 76). Substitutes not used: Jarstein, Reginiussen, Winsnes, Brenne.
Scotland: Marshall; Hutton, Davidson, S Caldwell (McFadden, 48), G Caldwell; G Alexander, D Fletcher, Commons, Brown; Miller, McCormack (Berra, 37; Whittaker, 78). Substitutes not used: N Alexander, Hartley, Maloney, S Fletcher.
Referee: A Hamar (Luxembourg).