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Scotland crash in Sweden despite Allan McGregor's fine return

Sweden 3

* Ibrahimovic 4,
* Bajrami 39,
* Toivonen 56

Scotland 0

* Ewan Murray at the Rasunda Stadium
*, Wednesday 11 August 2010 21.52 BST
* Article history

Allan McGregor Scotland's Allan McGregor, left, looks dejected after Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored after four minutes Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Action Images

There were two positives for Craig Levein to take out of this match. Sweden only scored three, and Allan McGregor enjoyed an impressive return to the Scotland team. For the manager, that was about the sum total of this visit to Stockholm. "I didn't get a lot out of the match," Craig Levein conceded afterwards.

The Scotland manager also took the blame for the nature of the defeat, which would have regressed into a rout but for wastefulness by the Swedes. "We didn't defend anywhere near as well as we can," he said. "I take the responsibility for that.

"Some of my plans went out the window with the withdrawals we had from the squad, so I decided to have a look at some different players. I won't read too much into this."

Which is just as well, for the sake of his own sanity. Levein has been blunt about the fact that a defensive style is required to revive Scotland's fortunes, yet a basic inability to keep possession or defend adequately resulted in this Swedish canter. Systems and tactical approaches are meaningless when such failings appear. "There were perfectly valid excuses for what happened out there," Levein said. "One of them was the way in which Sweden played."

However, even more formidable opposition in the form of the Czech Republic and Spain lie in wait for Scotland in the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

McGregor's return to the Scotland set-up, after his part in the Boozegate debacle triggered a 16-month gap in his international career, was as much of a pre-match debating point as how the visitors could cope with Sweden.

Any fears over the reception McGregor would get from the 2,500-strong Scottish support proved unfounded. His name was roundly cheered when announced before kick-off; perhaps the travelling contingent had an inkling that he would need all the confidence he could get.

McGregor pulled off one terrific save in each half, leading the manager to label him "excellent". Yet McGregor's first act of his international return was to collect the ball from an empty net, with Sweden's returning hero the cause.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, making his first start after reversing his recent decision to retire from national service, stroked home from six yards after a fine move resulted in a Pontus Wernbloom cut-back.

If Sweden's dominance and menacing attacking touch had not been demonstrated by the goal, Emir Bajrami changed that before the interval. Charlie Adam cheaply conceded possession before making only a lame attempt to win it back, with Bajrami lobbing the ball past McGregor at the second attempt.

Levein, who once punched a team-mate when playing for Hearts, would be forgiven an equally furious mood last night. Scotland's generosity would have been seized upon by opponents far inferior to Sweden. It was presumably as some form of punishment that the same 11 players were sent back out for the second period.

Controversy surrounded Sweden's third goal, deserved as it was for the outstanding Ola Toivonen. Kim Kallstrom appeared to run the ball out of play before his cross found Toivonen's head, the PSV player caring little about that as he nodded past McGregor.

Kris Boyd, at least lively as a substitute, watched Scotland's best opportunity of the night saved by Andreas Isaksson. By that stage, Levein had long since diverted his concern to the other end of the pitch. He knows there will be no place for excuses three weeks tomorrow, when Scotland's attempt to reach Euro 2012 begins in Lithuania.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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