Scots go to Belgium with Levein on edge
Scotland probably need to win in Brussels to save the manager's job
Sunday 14 October 2012
Scotland spent yesterday at Celtic Manor, licking wounds and nursing a sense of injustice over the events of the previous evening. Tomorrow morning they fly to Brussels where on Tuesday Craig Levein's side have to beat Belgium, the favourites to win Group A. There is little sense of expectation.
Where Belgium look a team going places – Brazil for a start –Scotland would seem to have little prospect of going anywhere but home to think again. For all Levein's post-match rage against the match officials on Friday night, his team have failed to win any of their opening three qualifying games – and they have still to play both of the group's pacesetters, the bright, young Belgians and Croatia.
Levein was appointed two days before Christmas three years ago. Anything but victory in Brussels and Scotland's qualifying campaign will be over before this Christmas, as might Levein's tenure. He is not popular with the fans and while there have been bright moments during his reign – a rousing performance, albeit in defeat, against Spain at Hampden – they have been few. The abiding impression of what Levein has done with Scotland is the 4-6-0 formation he sent out in a European Championship qualifier in Prague (that's Prague, not Madrid, or Berlin, or Rio) and the horrible scramble to get the better of Liechtenstein at Hampden a month earlier.
Under the former Hearts and Leicester City manager, Scotland have failed to win eight competitive fixtures and triumphed in only three, and those were against Lithuania and Liechtenstein twice. A pallid display in Wales cost Levein's predecessor, Craig Burley, his job and while Scotland's performance on Friday was not without its comforts for the manager, the sound of nails being hammered into coffins rang almost as loudly around Cardiff City's stadium as the boos from the many visiting supporters.
"We had some good performances but it takes the gloss off everything that we didn't get a victory," reflected Levein. "We have been subject to a couple of really poor decisions and it has a huge effect on our chances of qualifying. The only thing we can do is go to Belgium and try and win. I feel an injustice. The important thing is to react in the right manner. I think we can win in Belgium.
"We have had hammer blows and this is the latest. We have an honest hard-working group of boys who feel aggrieved at what happened. We will try and use that for Tuesday. The important thing now is that I do the job to the best of my ability and get the players up for Tuesday."
The quality of the returning Fletchers, Darren and Steven, offered some solace for Levein. It was the forward Fletcher's close-range nod that seemed to have given Scotland the two-goal lead necessary to kill the contest only for the linesman to determine that Charlie Adam's cross had swirled over the dead-ball line before curling back in. It looked the wrong call, as did the penalty from which Gareth Bale drew Wales level, but Scotland had enough chances to have secured the points.
How he must wish for a Bale. The Spurs man was the difference, producing a dynamic display of power and pace with an end result that has earned his own manager breathing space. Like Scotland, Wales are unlikely to be heading anywhere but on holiday come the summer of 2014 but will now at least travel to Croatia feeling buoyant.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Chris Coleman on his first win in the job after four straight defeats.
"We deserved it. It gives us confidence. You can start feeling sorry for yourself, thinking this is never going to happen. It takes courage to keep going and we kept going."
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