Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Endgame for Levein as defiance peters out

Belgium 2 Scotland 0: The debate, if it has even had time to become that, is in such infancy that the key points have not even been addressed, but Scotland's people were saying “no”, rather than writing it on a bit of paper, last night.

No more of this kind of abject failure, no more of these dire campaigns, no more failure to even rev up some sort of false optimism. Two draws with minnows at home. A dispiriting defeat to a Wales team who are pretty poor themselves and then, at the King Baudouin Stadium, this, the expected final hurrah of Craig Levein. Except, and perhaps this says everything, there was no hurrah, and, by closing time, there was not even an official goodbye.



If Levein's 34 months as the manager of Scotland are coming to an end, then defeat without scoring is perhaps a pretty fitting epitaph.



The man who once played 4-6-0 (it will haunt him forever) in a qualifying game against the Czech Republic, has no more altered the demise of Scottish football than those who preceded him, be it George Burley or Berti Vogts.



The size of Scotland's population has been the last, temporary and unstable piece of ground for those who cling to the hope that the football team at least can survive being such an outpost, but even then, last night was not the time to hide behind numbers.



Belgium is no footballing giant, no superpower with an endless well from which to prune a team. It has roughly twice the population of Scotland (around 11 million to 5.5m) but it is still small fry in comparisons to the pools from which England and Spain can pick. Still, it has delivered so many more world-class players in recent years that it has galloped off into the distance.



Last night just brought more confirmation, of that and of how far Scotland have fallen. No one expected them to get anything in Brussels, and they didn't. Their best player was their goalkeeper, Allan McGregor. Levein has sorted out his differences with Steven Fletcher far too late. There has been no late charge, no Herculean effort, no suggestion that a major corner had been turned.



Still Levein sang the same song. "I want to stay on as Scotland manager, the rest isn't up to me," he said. "I'll continue to do the job to the best of my ability and we'll see what happens. I'm very proud to be the Scotland national team manager and I want to continue to do so.



"As far as I am aware, I'm still doing my job so you would have to ask other people the questions. I'm interested in staying in the job and working hard to improve things.



"I've been in football for long enough to understand when the players are trying at their maximum and they're doing their best for each other and for the team – and they did that tonight and on Friday night.



"I felt Belgium had run out of steam a wee bit and it was a terrible time to lose a goal," he said of the home side's opener. "Let's not kid ourselves, they're a very good side.



"The question was could we take our chances? In all honesty, they were too good for us. We must look at a team like Belgium and aspire to be as good as them. They changed their youth set up about 12 years ago.



"We can't keep hoping we're going to qualify for major finals and slide down the rankings. The fight's not gone out of this team and I've got to commend them for that. The fans were behind the team and made a lot of noise.



"They did everything possible to get a result for Scotland tonight. I've seen again tonight a group of players who are determined and hungry and desperate to do well for Scotland. As long as that is the case, I'm quite happy to be working with these players.-



They held out for 69 minutes last night before the inevitable, Aston Villa's Christian Benteke heading past McGregor. Two minutes later Vincent Kompany produced an excellent second, turning and driving his shot into the Scottish goal, to finish the game. Time will tell if it was the end for Levein.



Match rating 7/10.



Referee T H Hagen (Nor).



Attendance 44,047.

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