Belfast Telegraph

Scotland slump into depression

Scotland 0 Norway 0

The definition of a recession is two successive quarters of negative growth. Scotland have now been in recession in football terms for almost four quarters, ever since they beat Ukraine 3-1 at Hampden on 13 October 2007.

They then lost their final two Euro 2008 qualifiers to Georgia and Italy, to miss out on that tournament. Having failed to win any of three subsequent friendlies, they have struggled to amass four points from a possible nine in World Cup qualifying so far.

Saturday's draw – a moral defeat – guarantees a long, hard winter. As any economist will tell you, a sustained recession can become a depression. As if the Tartan Army are not depressed already.

All thoughts of Rand can be canned. Barring a miracle – or two wins against the Netherlands, which is pretty much the same thing – Scotland will not be playing in South Africa in 2010.

Topping the group is a forlorn hope. The Dutch should have that sewn up with games to spare. Even if one accepts George Burley's repeated, and perfectly reasonable, argument that Group Nine will see a "tight" fight for second place, that hardly means Scotland will necessarily be good enough for a play-off position.

Granted, the journey towards South Africa is in its early stages. Yet Scotland, second in their table now, already have a far worse record than any other second-place nation in the nine sections. And only the eight strongest second-placed nations go into the play-offs.

Not that the Scots have any monopoly even on second place. Macedonia have beaten Burley's men and are just a point behind with a game in hand. Norway and Iceland have shown they will take points in this group.

Burley's woes intensified yesterday when Kris Boyd, 25, announced he will never play for Burley's Scotland again. Burley has used the Rangers striker for less than half an hour in total in six matches. He did not use him on Saturday, preferring less experienced front men, and failing with them.

Boyd is something of a cult hero at Ibrox and among a section of the Tartan Army. At the very least his actions will heap fresh pressure on Burley and probably force divisions within a national set-up that has had its confidence battered.

Scotland have suffered with injuries during their barren run, but either Alan Hutton is a match-winning genius bar none or there is more to the Scottish decline than the Tottenham right-back's absence for the majority of their games in the last year. Hutton was important in Euro 2008 qualifying, which is where he made his leap to prominence. But the latter would be a safer bet.

So what is ailing Scotland? On a match by match basis, excuses can be found for poor results: a half-strength team in Georgia; classy opponents and unfortunate refereeing against Italy; lack of incentive and multiple player pull-outs for the friendlies; a freakishly woeful first 45 minutes against Macedonia; and now, a lack of bite in front of goal against Norway.

It has been an area of concern for some time. In Euro 2008 qualifying, Burley's predecessors thrived by being ultra cautious, and nicking goals on the break. With that approach, out and out forwards are less important. But Burley has nailed his attack-minded colours to the mast, and he will stand or fall on that, as will Scotland. Unfortunately, they lack top-class strikers with any consistency.

A draw with Norway was almost flattering. John Carew was a constant threat, forcing almost as many saves as sighs of relief when he missed of his own accord. Brede Hangeland, Christian Grindheim, John Arne Riise and Steffen Iversen were among others with chances.

Scotland had few decent ones. The best by a country mile, in the 64th minute, was blown in astonishing fashion by Chris Iwelumo on his debut. His shot wide from a few feet in the middle of an open goal will become a staple in blunder compilations from now on. "I'm obviously gutted," he stated afterwards.

It would be harsh to limit the blame to him. Burley must shoulder a lot for picking a line-up short on height, shape and killer instinct and not changing it until it was too late to make a difference.

His notional 4-3-3 stuttered, Scott Brown and Shaun Maloney aside, until it became a more clearly defined 4-4-2 with Steven Fletcher and Iwelumo up front. But the combination was forged too late; and with one cap between that pair before kick-off, it was also, frankly, too green. As was Burley at full-time, for good reason.

Scotland (4-3-3): Gordon (Sunderland); Broadfoot (Rangers), Caldwell (Celtic), Weir (Rangers), Naysmith (Sheff Utd); Brown (Celtic), D Fletcher (Man Utd), Robson (Celtic); Morrison (West Bromwich), McFadden (Birmingham) , Maloney (Celtic). Substitutes used: S Fletcher (Hibernian) for Morrison (56), Iwelumo (Wolverhampton Wanderers) for McFadden (57).

Norway (4-4-1-1): Knudsen (Stabaek); Hoiland (Stabaek), Hangeland (Fulham), Waehler (Valarenga), JA Riise (Roma); BH Riise (Lillestrom), Grindheim (Heerenveen), Winsnes (Stromsgodset), Stromstad (Le Mans); Iversen (Rosenborg), Carew (Aston Villa). Substitutes used: Braaten (Toulouse) for BH Riise (56), Pederson (Blackburn Rovers) for Stromstad (77).

Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).

Booked: Norway Hoiland, Iversen.

Man of the match: Brown.

Attendance: 51,300.

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