Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Sporting Moments of 2006 IV - 7th October

Hello. My penultimate choice as sporting moment is a European Championship qualifier from October...

Scotland 1 France 0

Scotland sit proudly at the top of Euro 2008 qualifying Group B after a fabulous win over France at Hampden. Thierry Henry hit the post as France dominated the first 45 minutes but Scotland improved after the interval. Gary Caldwell, who was outstanding in defence, turned goal hero when he stabbed the ball home from a Paul Hartley corner kick on 67 minutes.

All I can really say is that this perhaps is the biggest result that the Scotland national team has ever pulled off. Yes we eliminated Czechoslovakia from the World Cup (qualifying for 1978) when they were European Champions. Yes we beat the Netherlands in the World Cup finals. Yes we have beaten Spain & France (when they finished 3rd in the previous World Cup) in World Cup qualifying. But that was all when we were Any Good, and its something we haven't been for a while.

Our problems came when, for whatever reason, we stopped producing good, young players. Ironically at the point when the financial squeeze on football began to grip the Scottish game, suddenly teams had to ditch the foreign player and play young homegrown players. For example, Motherwell had been shelling out big bucks for their big name players. When they went into administration, they had to start to get rid of the high earners, and in their place came young players who no-one had heard of, and nobody knew if they were ready. Guys like Hammell, Pearson and a cheeky winger called McFadden.

While this was happening, Scotland had missed out on the play-offs for the World Cup, which then saw the end of Craig Browns tenior in charge of the Scotland side. The SFA appointed Berti Voghts as Browns replacement.

Now at this point I should point out that i thing that Voghts wasn't a bad manager for Scotland, its just that results did not go his way. I feel that the turning point for him was the Euro 2004 playoff tie with the Netherlands. We had beaten them at Hampden (1-0, that man McFadden) and we were fairly confident that we could do something. Instead, the Netherlands did something by winning 6-0. His next match was a friendly in Cardiff against Wales, which he lost 4-0. If the writing wasn't on the wall then, then it was after the first 3 qualifying games for the 2006 World Cup (a 0-0 draw at home to Slovenia, a 1-0 loss to Norway, our first home loss in the World Cup for 19 years, and a 1-1 away draw to Moldova).

Enter Walter Smith, who's debut was a credible 2-0 defeat to Italy in Milan. Even with a 4th home loss in World Cup history (Belarus 1-0, in October 2005) we had come on in leaps and bounds since Voghts left. Unfortunately the draw for the European Championships hasn't been the kindest with us facing France, Italy, Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania and the Faroe Islands.
So even with the good start (we beat the Faroes 6-0 at Parkhead and won in Lithuania 2-1). We still face an uphill struggle to qualify (and that was before our only loss of the campaign 2-0 in Ukraine). The performance in that match gives me confidence that we are turning the corner and could be on our way back!

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