Burley 'the man for the Scotland job' says Caldwell
Gary Caldwell led the chorus of "Vindicated!" that rang out from the Scotland squad in the early hours of yesterday as they landed back in Glasgow, having beaten Iceland 2-1 to get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.
The Celtic centre-half's international manager, George Burley, had been under intense pressure after Scotland lost in Macedonia last week and the team were under scrutiny because of a wretched first half then.
But Kirk "limited ability" Broadfoot put Scotland ahead in Reykjavik, James McFadden won the penalty that made it 2-0 and the visitors held on after the sending-off of their captain, Stephen McManus, and the subsequent spot-kick by Eidur Gudjohnsen to earn their first points in Group Nine.
"Three points out of two away games with a home game coming up, that's a pretty good start," Caldwell said. "I've said before that these [critics] who put people [including Burley] under the spotlight don't know what it's about. They don't know what it takes to be Scotland manager, but he does and he has proved he is the man for the job.
"He knows how to play the game, how to attack and play an attractive style of football. We are taking that on board game by game and we are getting better at it."
In backing Burley, as have most of the players this week, Caldwell suggests again that camp morale has always been, and remains, upbeat under the former Ipswich, Hearts and Southampton manager. But while some of the damning verdicts on Burley after Skopje certainly went too far, verging on vindictive mockery, the contrast between the Scots' first and second group games clearly showed changes in approach and attitude were necessary.
In Skopje, four central midfielders across the pitch did not work. In Reykjavik, a version of 4-3-3 with an emphasis on width did work. In Skopje, a snail-slow start and reticence to press Macedonia was costly. On Wednesday night, the Scots were terrier-quick to get in Iceland's faces, and stayed there. At the weekend, a benign free-kick ended in a goal when everyone went AWOL. This week the Scots were challenging en masse for the ball and chances.
"We have a home game coming [against Norway next month] and then a big game against Holland next year," Caldwell said. "If we can beat Norway, we will be in a great position come the Holland game."
Most members of the Tartan Army will have started this campaign with a realistic best-case scenario of finishing as group runners-up behind the Netherlands, with the proviso that a minor miracle or two might take them higher still. Wednesday's win allows that belief to recommence. It perhaps also casts Norway, the supposed third-best side in the group, in a fresh light. They could only draw at home with Iceland, who have since fallen to the Scots.
Scotland can take heart that key players missing from the first games should return later in the campaign, not least Tottenham's Alan Hutton. Nor do they lack options to replace McManus while he is suspended. Broadfoot has the versatility to move to the centre, David Weir has experience if not youth on his side and Hearts' Christophe Berra will be in the frame. Up front, Burley has potential striking riches in the as yet untried 21-year-old Steven Fletcher.
A positive end to the international week was rubber-stamped when the Rangers midfielder Lee McCulloch, 30, reiterated with some conviction that his sudden international retirement was due to "footballing reasons" (wanting to prolong his club career) and "family reasons" (understood to be ongoing health concerns of a close relative) and definitely not anything personal against Burley.
Wednesday's results: Iceland 1 Scotland 2; FYR Macedonia 1 Netherlands 2.
Scotland's remaining fixtures: 11 Oct Norway (h); 28 March 2009 Netherlands (a); 1 April Iceland (h); 19 Aug Norway (a); 5 Sept Macedonia (h); 9 Sept Netherlands (h).