|Report Index--> 2008-09--> All for 20090328|
|n/a||n/a||Times ------ Scotland||n/a||n/a|
Midfield holds the key for Scotland
In Amsterdam the hour is nigh to close one’s eyes, pray, and hope. The Tartan Army have never been an overly pious lot, but with 8,000 of them said to be gathering in this city for Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Holland this evening, a little intercessory prayer surely wouldn’t go amiss. George Burley and his players are going to need all the help they can get.
Scotland go into this group nine qualifier with grisly memories of the last time they were here on business. Back in November 2003, when Berti Vogts had introduced a special brand of suicide-mission to Scotland’s foreign strategies, the team came here and tried to play an open, expansive game while being whacked 6-0 by Dick Advocaat’s side in the second leg of Euro 2004 qualifying play-off.
It was a night which cruelly reminded Scotland once more of her place in the international pecking order.
“I’m not one for dwelling on the fact that we’ve lost this or that player,” the Scotland manager said of men like Stephen McManus, David Weir, James McFadden and Paul Hartley, who are among the several Scots missing. “These are the cards we’ve been dealt — we get on with it. We’ve still got a decent side with a young and dynamic midfield. Our aim is to put on a performance against Holland.”
These are brave words, given Scotland’s tragic history — a history so tragic it has almost become something of national pride — on the football field. Remember, this is the nation that gave birth to “MacLeodism” after the tragedy that was Scotland’s campaign at the 1978 World Cup finals.
Back then under Ally MacLeod, the Scots put on a going away lap of honour at Hampden Park before the squad set off for Argentina — the presumption being that a last-four place could be taken as a given. These were heady, stupid times. “MacLeodism” ever since has served as a warning in football to Scotland, a dose of reality which now guarantees a type of Calvinist fear, not giddy expectation, before such games as this evening’s.
You become slightly inured to the surreal aspects of watching Scotland, and the proceedings in the Amsterdam ArenA may be no different. While Holland players like Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben (if he even starts) and Mark van Bommel will zip around here and there, there will be the 37-year-old Graham Alexander, wizened and a touch gnarled, shoring up Scotland’s right-back berth. For the Tartan Army, whose humour has become distinctly self-deprecating over the years, these are no occasions for delusions of grandeur.
Having said all that, Burley is surely right to talk up parts of his Scotland side, particularly its midfield. A trio of Barry Ferguson, Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown is expected to patrol the middle third of the pitch, and all three have exciting qualities.
Ferguson, despite not being in his best form for Rangers, still has a lovely composure on the ball, a crisp, neat style which the aformentioned Advocaat once said could “hold its own in any league in Europe”. Brown, a Catherine wheel from Celtic’s midfield, is a phenomenon of bustle and energy who, in the likeable Scottish phrase, is guaranteed to get “wired in” to the Dutch. As for Fletcher, sometimes the whipping-boy of Old Trafford, well, Scotland is not so well off to be able to scoff at his skill and industry on the ball.
The midfield area, as ever, may be the key in Amsterdam. If Scotland can hold its own and contain Wesley Sneijder and Van Bommel, there may be grounds for hope (notwithstanding the warnings of “MacLeodism”). Burley looks like throwing James Morrison, of West Bromwich Albion, and maybe even Gavin Rae, the Cardiff City player, into the mix, as a means of buttressing the Scottish midriff. There is unease, however, over how the inexperienced Christophe Berra will cope with Dutch raids at the centre of the Scotland defence beside Gary Caldwell.
“We have no fear, none of that,” Burley said, almost convincingly. “But what will happen is that there will be individual battles to be won all over the pitch — that is what I have been emphasising to the players. We’ll have a relatively young team on the park but it will have good legs and a good energy about it. So let’s wait and see.”
In the centre of Amsterdam yesterday, where the kilted hordes were out in force, one Scottish fan was stopped and asked what he thought the score would be tonight.
“13-1,” he replied to cackles of laughter. And then: “Naw, naw, hang on . . . 1-0 tae us.” You could make a case for saying that both predictions were ridiculous. While the group nine campaign has a few furlongs to go, there is a distinct impression here that the Scots are in this city for the carnal pleasures first — and the football quite a way second.
Taken from timesonline.co.uk