Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Glorious failure...again...

There is no one out there with any sort of human feeling who did not want to put an arm around Kenny Miller and David Weir at the end of the Holland game, surely?

In one moment in the first half, vindication beckoned at last. The Dutch keeper made a complete dog's breakfast of Stevie Naismith's long range shot, it bounced back off the post, and from six yards an empty half of the goal faced Kenny Miller and his left foot. Vindication for Miller, the much-maligned forward forever tainted by the almost oxymoronic maxim, "a striker who doesn't score goals", who had the chance to fire Scotland into a critical leaf. Vindication, possibly, for all George Burley's tactics and team selections...heck, let's just say for his whole nearly two year spell of international management.

And then Miller smacked it straight at the prostrate goalkeeper. And all the hope and anticipation crumbled into dust. And didn't Miller know it. Never mind that a few minutes earlier he had produced an audacious lob out of nothing which smacked off the bar, never mind that he nearly fluked a goal in the second half that spooned out of the keeper's hands Scott Carson-style, only to spin the wrong side of the post. The Rangers striker will be haunted by the gift-wrapped, gold-plated, chance-with-a-cherry-on-top that he spurned.

Weir, meanwhile, seemed to have shed ten years just for this match. He was an absolute titan on the Hampden pitch, following one of the film 300's great statements; "give them nothing, but from them take everything". Then came one loose ball over the top, one tired, confused header at a stretch from the centre-half, and he could be seen sitting on his knees, head bowed, as Eljero Elia raced through to break our hearts. And, again, people will forget that up to that point the veteran was utterly magnificent. But his one error will live in infamy.

And on such breaks do international football teams rise and fall. In club football, the length of the season means that things tend to even themselves out. But World Cup qualifiers are seldom as forgiving. And if we fairly rode our luck in the Euro 2008 campaign, George Burley has instead appeared to be totally deprived of good fortune. For, excepting the last twenty minutes when Scottish legs ran out of puff, Scotland matched Holland in a way that we certainly did not, for example, match the French in 2006. And in a fairy tale world, all the endeavour and spirit, against a Dutch team playing only for their own pride, would have conquered all.

But the real world, or at least the real footballing world, is a cruel place.

Anyway, I thought, to a man, Scotland were phenomenal tonight. Burley got his tactics right, and every player gave all he had for the cause. That was the best I remember ever seeing Darren Fletcher play for his country, while the efforts of the aforementioned Weir and the completely unfit Steven McManus were a sight to behold. Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker rose to the occasion and will surely be in the frame for the start of Euro 2012 qualifying. But, while little is gone right for Burley in this campaign (not least Iwelumo-gate), the SFA cannot let their judgement be clouded by the fact that the last match and a half have produced the best performances of his reign. As I stated previously, it has got to the point where the "glorious" means nothing, and the "failure" means everything. We need, I repeat, need to be at Euro 2012. Is Burley the man to get us there? I'm not convinced.

But on the other hand, he's still a damn sight better than Souness!


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