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Wales 2 Scotland 1: World Cup dreams dead after second-half collapse
A DOUBLE from Welsh talisman Gareth Bale left the Tartan Army shattered and their hopes of reaching Rio in 2014 in tatters.
SCOTLAND’s World Cup hopes were shredded in Cardiff last night when the Tartan Army’s songs of praise turned to wails of despair.
Three World Cup qualifying matches played and only two points in the account. That dream of playing bounce games on the Copacabana is bankrupt.
Craig Levein’s talk of progress is little more than empty rhetoric. A win in a sodden Cardiff would have been a step in the right direction and for a while it seemed possible that his players would get the victory they, and we, desperately sought.
James Morrison’s extremely simple but immensely encouraging first-half goal suggested all might not be lost after all. When his shot beat the Welsh keeper and the Scotland fans erupted all around the stadium, belief began to nudge its way through all our doubts.
Could this be the night it all came good for Scotland and Levein? The match that ignited the drive to the World Cup finals?
The manager had certainly been bold enough. He started with Steven Fletcher and Kris Commons while there was space for Shaun Maloney and Morrison.
It looked good. His side appeared set up to take the game to Wales and they did. But they didn’t dominate for any long periods and a bunch of Welsh players, who looked forlorn as they trudged off at half time, dragged
Shaun Maloney (left) and Steven Fletcher (right) hail Scotland scorer James Morrison Shaun Maloney (left) and Steven Fletcher (right) hail Scotland scorer James Morrison
It might have been different had a Steven Fletcher header been allowed to stand – the German officials said Charlie Adam’s delivery had strayed out of bounds before looping back in – or had Gareth Bale, who had been taunted mercilessly by Scotland’s fans, not been awarded a cheap penalty.
But he was and who are we, who benefited from a Joe Jordan handball which gave us a penalty against Wales in a World Cup qualifier in 1977, to moan a bout that. The Welsh were, if you like, just getting even. Finally.
But they wanted more and Bale gave them it with a stunning second goal minutes from time.
That strike broke Scotland who were almost good at times but never completely assured.
It might also have broken Levein who must know the game is up.
Unless Scotland beat Belgium on Tuesday night in Brussels there will be no hope but wait...
What are we saying? There is no hope. Last night killed our chances and once again we’ll have to travel the globe fulfilling fixtures but going nowhere.
We know it and so does Levein who stands amid the rubble of another failed campaign. In the end the pressure and the strain told on too many of his players and change will be required.
The crowd was a few thousand short of the ground’s 27,000 capacity but the atmosphere was all that you would have expected from a match with so much at stake. Scotland’s fans dominated but of course they needed their team to do the same on the pitch.
Steven Fletcher’s first touch was exquisite, so too was a raking crossfield pass from Commons but David Vaughan slid in to make a mark in midfield. The Sunderland player caught Scott Brown, who glowered and dismissed the handshake.
Scotland fans cheer on their side in the stands Scotland fans cheer on their side in the stands
The scene was set. This was a battle of will. A contest between two sides trying to reach their full potential and breathe fresh, vibrant life into their World Cup dreams.
You could feel the tension which refused to be diluted despite the heavy drizzle. No player wanted to make a mistake or put a foot wrong but Maloney did when Scotland were trying to edge forward in nine minutes and suddenly Bale was free wide on Wales’ right.
Danny Fox had motored upfield and was caught out but, even so, Christophe Berra should have come across to cover. He didn’t, Bale darted, cut inside and curled a shot just a foot wide of Allan McGregor’s right-hand post.
The tempo slowed after this opening flurry of activity and it became even more apparent that players were cautious and edgy. But Alan Hutton combined with Steven Fletcher on the right and the full-back was able to cut inside and let loose.
His shot was too high but the Scots needed more surges like this, although it was Wales who sped forward.
Commons gave away possession to Joe Allen, who fed Aaron Ramsey before running on to a return pass just inside Scotland’s box. He twisted, found space and shaped to shoot but Gary Caldwell threw himself long and blocked.
It was a let-off but minutes later Scotland were even more fortunate when Bale again took advantage of an absent Fox. The Spurs winger sprinted down the right and his cross was met at the far post by Steve Morison but the striker’s header flew wide.
Wales's Aaron Ramsey (left) and Scotland's Darren Fletcher (right) battle for the ball Wales's Aaron Ramsey (left) and Scotland's Darren Fletcher (right) battle for the ball
The Welsh manager Chris Coleman couldn’t believe it as he slapped his hands up to his head but McGregor booted the ball up to Steven Fletcher, who headed on to Morrison. He was alert, his marker wasn’t.
Morrison strode a few steps and then simply prodded the ball into the net beyond the reach of Lewis Price. It seemed all too easy but it sent Scotland’s fans into delirium.
This was the reason they take holidays and throw sickies from work.
This was why they pull on their garish uniforms and travel behind their team. Just for moments like this one and to laugh and hurl scorn at opponents like Bale, who belted a 22-yard free-kick way over McGregor’s bar.
That was from a set-piece awarded after Joe Ledley had been downed by Caldwell. The Wigan defender was shown a yellow card but with only six minutes of the half remaining both Maloney and Fox were shown a clean pair of heels by Bale, who again was off down that right flank like a train.
His cross was weighted perfectly for Allen who volleyed over.
Morrison did the same at the other end a couple of minutes later from Fletcher’s knock-down as Scotland made it to the break with their lead intact.
Levein made a change at the break, bringing on Adam for Brown, and almost saw his side go two ahead when the Welsh defence gifted the ball to Morrison. The midfielder could have squared for Steven Fletcher but went for goal and his fierce drive was parried by Price.
Wales blew a much better chance when Scotland’s defence was posted missing and Ramsey was allowed to race clear on McGregor.
The Arsenal midfielder should have levelled the score but lost his composure and clipped the ball wide as McGregor came out to meet him. Scotland survived another two scares when Wales had two penalty appeals turned down, with Christophe Berra particularly lucky to escape punishment for wrestling Craig Davies to the ground.
Scotland's Steven Fletcher holds his head after a disallowed goal Scotland's Steven Fletcher holds his head after a disallowed goal
It was then Scotland’s turn to feel aggrieved as Fletcher thought he had scored from Adam’s cross.
But as the Scots celebrated the referee blew, indicating the ball had curled out before reaching Fletcher’s head.
It didn’t seem as though the ball had gone out of play but Holger Henschel, the first assistant, said it had and the goal didn’t stand.
It would have made all the difference. The rain was even heavier but the players didn’t notice. They were all locked into their jobs yet it was Wales who were forcing the pace and they won two corners in quick succession. The Scots, though, defended them and the clock was down to 10 minutes.
It was getting fraught and one wrong move could mean agony or ecstasy.
It was the former for Scotland a minute later when Bale, in a race into the box with Maloney, tumbled. He appeared to have gone down easily but the penalty was given.
Bale got up, composed himself and stroked in the equaliser.
Scotland sent on Jamie Mackie for Commons and Kenny Miller for Morrison but it was too late.
Not for Wales, however. With Scotland just trying to hold on for the draw the Welsh dug deep and came up with a diamond of a goal in 88 minutes.
Bale wriggled free, looked up and curled a sweet shot over McGregor and into the net.
Belgium is just around the corner but Brazil is out of reach. It’s over.
Taken from the Daily Record