STEPHEN MCILKENNY INVESTIGATES…
IT has been a weekend of dejection and disappointment for Scottish sporting fans after the football team failed to qualify for Euro 2012 following the rugby team’s failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup quarter finals for the first time in its history.
Scotland don’t do the last two minutes of any sporting contests (except perhaps the football match against Liechtenstein at Hampden last year). In the 90th minute of Scotland’s Euro Qualifier against the Czech Republic the national team conceded a soft penalty. In terms of rugby, Scotland would have finished top of the group if a rugby match finished in 78th minute instead of the regulation 80. With such a patriotic and devoted fan base, many fans must be hunting desperately to find a silver lining.
Scotland’s rugby team was praised for a brave performance against England, which saw them concede a crushing late try. Simon Danielli and Joe Ansboro were standout performers for most games in the tournament, possibly cementing their positions in the squad for the upcoming Six Nations next year. Mike Blair was once again consistent, but the usually assured boot of Chris Paterson was somewhat wayward with high winds and some torrid conditions in Invercargil affecting his normally assured deliveries. This directly affected Scotland’s all- round performance, with Dan Parks often not finding touch and being occasionally wasteful with one of our major styles of play being kicking to gain territory.
Scotland mustered a measly 73 points, from four matches, averaging only one try per game. That points tally in terms of the tournament table left Scotland in 13th out of 20 teams, highlighting once more, the problem Scotland seem to have crossing the try line. Scotland are now 9th in the world following the agonising defeat to Argentina, who replace Scotland in 8th in the overall rankings. The other teams in the group were 4th, 18th and 14th in the rankings making 73 points against them, relatively poor scoring form.
In terms of performance on the pitch, Scotland fans and pundits always say the same thing; that we get punished for poor performances in friendly matches, which directly affect our world ranking, and poor European performances from domestic teams also add to our misery. It could be argued that there is a simpler reason. We can’t defend. Having attended the Scotland V Czech Republic game, it was clear that Scotland seem incapable of clearing their lines. Towards the end of the match, Darren Fletcher was clearly suffering from fatigue yet Craig Levein didn’t take him off. Numerous people feel that the penalty incident was the downfall of the Scottish campaign, but it must be said that it was the away leg at the Czech game that cost the Scots so much. The 4-6-0 formation ultimately cost Scotland when they could have taken a point off the Czechs at least. Despite a heroic effort against Spain at Hampden, it is the same old story for Scotland, with their fate lying in the hands of other teams who would seal Scotland’s exit from Europe and add to the fourteen-year wait for a major championship.
There are a few talking points to take away from this football campaign, but if any, the highlights must be the way the team has opted to try and change the style of play. Despite this costing us goals, it is more entertaining than the football played by Scotland in the recent past. The addition of youth players gradually emerging into the first team will no doubt have many Scottish fans licking their lips in anticipation. Despite a man of the match performance against Lithuania, it is still too early to see if Barry Bannan will become the player that we are hoping.
So what now from Scotland? The fans remain faithful, following everywhere they can get to in order to see a match, but the time for fans being the only ones caring for the shirt is over. It is time for the players to take note and lead the line, and lead the nation into a championship once again.
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