Where Now For Scotland?

Craig Levein

Craig Levein’s position is more forlorn than ever as Scotland languish in second last place of Group A with only two points from the opening three games in their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign.

For all intents and purposes, Scotland’s bid to reach the promised land of Rio is effectively dead, after the fatal blow was struck last night at a rain-soaked Cardiff City stadium.

While a win last night would not quite have put Scotland back on track for qualification, it would have preserved a glimmer of hope for the Tartan Army after two underwhelming draws with Serbia and Macedonia at Hampden last month had left them swaying unsteadily on the ropes.

Scotland were undone late in the game by a world-class strike from Gareth Bale, who himself had levelled the score from the spot a few moments before, after Scotland had initially taken the lead in the first half against the run of play.

Already, there has been much discussion surrounding several key moments throughout the game.

Firstly, the legitimacy of Bale’s penalty is the subject of debate, as it seems that there was very little or no contact from Shaun Maloney before the Welshman lost his footing, however on closer inspection in replays it appears that Maloney did in fact clip the heels of Bale.

Previous to this, Steven Fletcher had Scotland fans celebrating being up 2-0 when he headed in from close range, only for the linesman to bring the game back.

As for why the game was halted by the assistant referee, that may well remain a mystery.

Charlie Adam did appear to be slightly offside in the build-up to the goal, but the linesman continued with play before raising his flag moments later when Steven Fletcher ran from an onside position to score, causing bemusement among the Scottish ranks.

Despite the perceived injustices which conspired against Scotland, this was yet again another performance which came up short in a game where there was ample opportunity to be out of sight before Wales responded.

Craig Levein has been heavily criticised in the past for his knack of tactically closing the gate when the horse has already bolted, and he again was guilty of this last night.

Jamie Mackie was readied for action on the Scotland bench with the visitors 1-0 up; but entered the field of play with the Scots chasing the game. Kenny Miller was also introduced to the game with Scotland on the back foot and exhausted.

In truth, Scotland should have been furnished with fresh legs much earlier than they were.

And yet, somehow Levein was less culpable for the failings of his team this time than in many previous games.

He had righted a few wrongs earlier in the week, finally burying the hatchet with Steven Fletcher to reintroduce the £14 million Sunderland striker to an international fixture for the first time in around two years. On form Kris Commons was also called into proceedings after a long absence from a Scotland squad.

By including both these players and the returning Darren Fletcher in the starting line-up, there was a sense that for the first time in a long time, a full strength Scotland team was available and being utilised appropriately.

However, the end result was no different to any other game in recent times: Scotland left ruing missed chances; apathy and disbelief from the travelling supporters in the stands; and yet another flurry of calls on social media outlets for Levein to be ousted as manager.

These calls continue to get louder, and with the campaign to reach Brazil; which was ushered in with fresh optimism by the Scottish FA a mere six weeks ago; all but dead in the water, it appears that a tipping point is fast approaching.

Last month the SFA chose to ignore the clamour for Levein to be removed after poor performances and results in the first two fixtures of Group A.

They may now have to listen to public opinion and make an important decision; especially if Scotland are defeated by Belgium in Brussels, as current form suggests.

Indeed, it is difficult to see how the SFA can justify to Scottish fans the advantages of allowing Craig Levein to continue in his current role.