Date: 21st March 2019
Media Scotland sports writer and SFSA founding member Ben Ramage runs the rule over Scotland’s horrendous Euro 2020 opener against Kazahkstan.
It’s that time of year again.
The optimism and possibilities of a new qualifying campaign have the Tartan Army dreaming of ending the long, long wait for a return to a major tournament.
There were even signs of progress heading into the opening game against Kazakhstan. A successful Nations League tournament bagged us a play-off spot before a shot was fired in earnest on Thursday.
With that Big Eck told the boys to go out and express themselves against a team that had won just twice in 30 of their previous qualifiers.
A team that had scored just six goals during the entire World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign.
What a shambles was to unfold as the TA troops watched their team ship three and capitulate to one of their most embarrassing defeats – ever. And there’s quite a few to compete with in that category
Let’s give the home side some credit. They passed the ball brilliantly and their finishing was clinical. Their play far belied their current ranking.
But the Scots were absolutely hopeless. Shinnie at left-back simply didn’t work. McKenna and Bates looked their age, with the 22-year-olds like rabbits in the headlights 4,000 miles from home. Palmer at right-back did not look anywhere near international quality.
Bain looked disinterested as the third flew into the bottom corner. The lack of caps across the back five, for a competitive international on a tricky pitch miles away from home, should have been a red flag to McLeish.
But he still decided to play three attack-minded midfielders and two out-and-out wingers. Talk about underestimating the situation.
Whoever you are playing in international football, you have to keep it tight in the first 10 minutes. Do not let your opposition get any confidence up and do not ship easy goals.
Well the hosts were 2 – 0 up within ten and that gave the hosts unbelievable confidence, with their fans lifting the team as a result.
It’s easy in hindsight but Scott McTominay’s performances for Manchester United in the Champions League, particularly away from home, made him a stick on to play an important, holding role on Thursday.
McLeish even talked him up as a future star for his country, so why not start him?
Stephen O’Donnell is not a superstar but he is a solid defender with international experience. The decision to put Palmer in for his first ever game in a defence already bereft of experience showed a total lack of judgement from McLeish.
Scotland have a habit of making easy games seem difficult. Well this one really took the proverbial biscuit.
McLeish’s men didn’t lay a glove on their hosts. The attack was blunt and uninspired. Oli McBurnie still doesn’t look big enough to play the lone front man role, and James Forrest went missing in a Scotland shirt again – not for the first time.
McLeish was unlucky to be robbed of Steven Fletcher, who had been inspired on his recall and who is banging them in for Sheffield Wednesday, and Steven Naismith – arguably Scotland’s best strikers alongside Leigh Griffiths.
But given the system he is trying to instil he has to find someone else to fill that number nine shirt. Everton striker Fraser Hornby looks like he could be that man, and while only 19 if he’s good enough, he’s old enough. Get him in the squad next time the bodies start dropping.
San Marino on Sunday now becomes an even bigger banana skin. McLeish had his critics before this result, and they’ve surely tripled at least after this pitiful result.
The SFA will surely be looking at their options after the weekend. The next game is a home qualifier against Cyprus, before the real opposition come knocking in the form of Belgium and Russia – twice.
Will McLeish be in charge then? Or will the SFA get another man in and give him the Cyprus home game in a bid to get their new gaffer off to a flier heading into the decisive games?
Time will tell, but one thing’s for sure. This was the worst possible start to a campaign and McLeish will be lucky to still be in charge going into the summer.
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