Scots' feeble surrender

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The Independent Football

Glaswegian football lore tells of a Celtic fan seeking to back his team at a London bookies before a testimonial at Arsenal. Told that bets on friendlies were not allowed, he replied: "Celtic dinnae play friendlies." Scotland's 2-0 capitulation to Australia suggested the national side adhere to the same philosophy.

Glaswegian football lore tells of a Celtic fan seeking to back his team at a London bookies before a testimonial at Arsenal. Told that bets on friendlies were not allowed, he replied: "Celtic dinnae play friendlies." Scotland's 2-0 capitulation to Australia suggested the national side adhere to the same philosophy.

Not for the first time during Craig Brown's seven-year reign as manager, the Scots' performance in a non-competitive fixture contrasted embarrassingly with their form and attitude during qualifying or tournament games. A month after taking their points tally to seven from three World Cup away matches with a rousing draw in Croatia, Scotland feebly surrendered to an Australian side bereft of their few big-name players.

Brett Emerton, who scored the Socceroos' opening goal, summed up the Scottish lethargy when pressed to identify the difference between the teams. "We showed a lot of enthusiasm and knocked the ball around well," he said, adding the damning indictment: "I thought it might have been a bit tougher."

The watching Mark Viduka rightly gave credit to unsung players like Emerton and the Middlesbrough midfielder Paul Okon. Unusually for any team coached by Brown, Scotland seemed unprepared for the quality of opposition, and there was something lacking in their approach, as the Leeds striker observed: "They seemed below the pace from the start."

There was an argument for Brown using the game to experiment, perhaps with a 4-4-2 system like the one used by their next World Cup opponents, Belgium. However, the reasons for Scotland's failure to compete went beyond formations or tactics and into the realm of psychology.

Put bluntly, the Scots looked complacent. The absence of Viduka, Harry Kewell, Mark Bosnich and Rangers' Tony Vidmar and Craig Moore left the Australians with a rump of players from England's First Division and lesser-known clubs in Belgium, Norway and even Japan. Brown will have cautioned against viewing them as a soft touch, but it was almost certainly a factor.

Likewise the draining effect of the schedule many of the Scots have endured this season, with high-pressure matches every few days in a relentless programme of domestic, European and international fixtures. Consciously or not, some of the Scotland side took their foot off the gas.

Traditionally, the Scottish psyche is to treat friendlies with less vigour than they bring to "proper" games. The Scots relish a challenge and the role of underdogs, hence the disparity between the win over England at Wembley last year, or the draw in Zagreb, and results like Wednesday's. However, such explanations will be scant consolation to the 31,000 who supported them on a cold, damp night.

If the Australian defeat has any bearing at all on the Belgians' visit in March, it will be to instil a desire to do better. Scotland will surely not allow any Belgian to dictate play from his own half, as Okon did. They will also have been reminded of the importance of keeping the ball moving, in which respect Australia were exemplary, rather than continually stopping it.

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