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‘I feel an injustice’ says Craig Levein after Gareth Bale shatters hopes
By STEPHEN HALLIDAY
CRAIG Levein last night blamed German referee Florian Meyer and his assistants for the shattering defeat which leaves him battling to save his job as Scotland manager and the country’s minimal hopes of World Cup qualification.
Scotland slumped to a 2-1 defeat against Wales in Cardiff, Gareth Bale scoring twice for the home side in the last 10 minutes after James Morrison had given the visitors a half-time lead. But Levein was left fuming at the 74th minute decision to disallow a goal for Steven Fletcher who, on his first appearance for Scotland in more than two years, headed home a Charlie Adam cross. The officials ruled that Adam’s cross had gone out of play before reaching Fletcher but television pictures showed that was not the case.
The defeat leaves Scotland with just two points from their first three Group A fixtures, already five points behind both Belgium and Croatia who both won last night. Levein, who accepts his team must now beat the Belgians in Brussels on Tuesday night to retain any hope of making it to the 2014 finals, left the Cardiff City Stadium nursing a sense of injustice. “Yes, of course I feel that way,” he said. “With ten minutes to go I just couldn’t see us losing the match. Getting the second goal for us was always going to be crucial though, because a 1-0 lead can be fragile. So it proved tonight. That second goal was oh so important to us. And I believe the officials made a serious error with the chalked off goal which Steven Fletcher scored. That is very hard to take.
“For me it is a huge error, coming hard on the back of the last qualifying campaign when we had a similar situation against the Czech Republic. It’s very difficult to take. The only thing we can do is go to Belgium and try and win on Tuesday. I feel an injustice again this evening but the important thing is we react in the right manner. It makes it more difficult but I think we can win in Belgium now.
“We need to win on Tuesday. Tonight is a disappointment. We have had some hammer blows and this is the lates. We have an honest, hard working group of boys who feel a bit aggrieved about what happened. We’ll try and use that for Tuesday.”
There was also a degree of controversy over the penalty kick awarded to Wales in the 80th minute when Bale went down under a challenge from Shaun Maloney, but Levein had no issue with that incident. “I’ve no complaints there,” he added. “I couldn’t see it properly myself but our players certainly didn’t make an awful lot of noise about it. You’re asking me stuff I’m not 100 per cent aware of. If he has clipped his own heels, that makes it worse, but I hesitate to make any comment on that. The players were very quiet in the dressing room as you can imagine. Whether the officials have made one, two or three mistakes is not going to help us now.”
Asked if he was now under greater pressure to deliver a victory on Tuesday night, Levein refused to be drawn into any speculation regarding his own future in the job. “It’s always the same, isn’t it?,” he said. “Any time you take the team into a competitive international match, the pressure is exactly the same. The important thing now is that I do the job to the best of my ability and get the players up for Tuesday.
“We have been subject to a couple of really poor decisions and it has a huge effect on our chances of qualifying. That makes me pretty angry but I don’t think there is any point in venting that anger here. You can understand my frustration and everyone who watched it will make up their own minds if they were poor decisions by the officials. I can only relay my feelings and I am extremely angry about this happening to us again.”
Scotland look set to be without Celtic captain Scott Brown in Brussels, the midfielder’s ongoing hip problem forcing him to be replaced at the interval last night by Charlie Adam.
Bale, who converted the penalty kick and then scored a spectacular 88th minute winner from distance, terrorised the Scottish defence for much of the night but Levein was content at the manner his team attempted to combat his threat.
“I felt we coped with him reasonably well in the first half,” he insisted. “We stopped him getting the ball and that was the plan, to stop him getting into dangerous areas. In the second half, the longer it went at 1-0, the more he started to wander and take up different positions. That is a little bit more difficult to stop. He is a fantastic player and he did cause problems for us. Later in the game, he became an issue for us.”
Taken from the Scotsman