Scots grasp for positives after narrowest escape

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Scottish Football Association issued an apology yesterday, but it was not for the woeful performance of the national side. Instead it said sorry to Liechtenstein for the booing of the principality's anthem, which has the same tune as "God Save the Queen". Booing was the overriding accompaniment of a trying evening for home supporters at Hampden Park on Tuesday as Scotland avoided, by the narrowest of margins, the biggest embarrassment in a history that is not short of such contenders.

It was a result they did not deserve against a side ranked 100 places beneath them, but on the day after the nightmare before, the picture looks rosier, according to the players and manager Craig Levein, who was perhaps minutes from being out of a job after just two competitive games.

"You need to look at the positives," said Stephen McManus, the scorer of the winner after 96 minutes and 27 seconds. Scotland sit on top of Group I after the Czech Republic, favourites to finish behind Spain, lost at home to Lithuania. They are unbeaten after two games. Kenny Miller ended his run of 12 games without a goal. And those are the positives.

The rest was dire. Kris Boyd presented further evidence that he may well be Scottish football's answer to Graeme Hick. McManus was made to look like something much worse than the Championship centre-half he supposes to be as Mario Frick gave Liechtenstein the lead, and apart from the ever-willing Darren Fletcher there was nothing to enthuse about in a performance epitomised by the rash, wasteful display of Alan Hutton at right-back.

Scotland host Spain next month and there will be some flickers of concern in the world champions' camp – not about facing Scotland, though – after a 4-1 defeat in Argentina. "We aren't used to losing," said Pepe Reina, who made a rare start and made no case for another after an error allowed Carlos Tevez to score.

Germany's case for challenging Spain for their European crown in Poland/ Ukraine in two years' time was strengthened after they scored six times against Azerbaijan. It was another fast, fluid performance from a young side. Michael Ballack will struggle to return to the side as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira suggested yet again that only the Spanish can boast a better central midfield in Europe.

"It's fun watching this team play," said Joachim Löw, Germany's coach. But if the Germans – and England – are two of the more impressive starters, there is no shortage of stuttering sides. France at least have a win. "This can be the start of something good," asserted Laurent Blanc after the 2-0 win in Bosnia, his first as French coach.

Portugal are doing their best to assume the crisis-country mantle with one point from two games, while Dick Advocaat's Russia too are struggling, but Bulgaria's Stanimir Stoilov became the first coaching casualty of the campaign after they followed defeat by England with a home loss to Montenegro.