Glorious failure, so near yet so far, if only, hard luck
story, heartbreaker and a case of what might have been. Just a smattering of the hackneyed phrases wheeled out after Scotland departed the Rugby World Cup having
lost in agonising fashion to England. It was a match they probably should have won,
but somewhat infuriatingly lost.
This is nothing new. This is how Scottish teams tend to do it. Like
a vexed lover wondering where it all went wrong, could have, would have and
should have is the traditional lament of the Scots. What does it all matter if
the end results are adverse?
Heaven help those who clench a bit of tartan to their bosom
on such occasions, but it seems like we are heading for a double dip recession
this month with the football side, an infuriating lot to follow if ever there was
one. Scotland appear destined for
elimination in a couple of prickly Euro 2012 qualifying matches in Group I. The double
whammy is on its way for those Tartan foot soldiers dusting down their sporran
before encountering a half and half near Benidorm.
If results fall in Scotland's favour over the next couple of
days - with world and European champions Spain downing the Czech
Republic in Prague on Friday and Scotland usurping Liechtenstein in Vaduz a night later -
Craig Levein's team would visit the already-qualified Spaniards a point ahead of the
Czechs, but knowing they will have to match whatever result their nearest rivals come
up with in Lithuania. If the Czechs somehow eclipse Spain or Scotland lose in Liechtenstein - hardly a preposterous notion - it could be a done deal before the sojourn to Alicante.
It seems more than likely that Scotland will have to carve out
some sort of win in Spain to clinch a play-off place. Like in rugby, Scotland's
major obstacle to achieving such an assignment is the dearth of creativity in
its midst. Seven Scots manage teams in the English Premier League,
but this founding father of football is better at saying than doing.
Scotland lost their closing two games of the RWC - the key
matches of the section - 13-12 to Argentina and 16-12 to England. The
Scots led Argentina 12-6 and 12-3 against England in the second period, but forget
thoughts of Andy Robinson's side inheriting a run of bad luck at the wrong time. Their downfall was not so much in squandering
the lead, but an inability to press home territorial advantage.
That Scotland walked off the park from those two matches
without scoring a try was the crucial aspect of why they will be watching this
weekend's quarter-finals from their living rooms.
It will be a similar story for Levein's football team
when the Euro 2012 play-offs come into view, unless they discover a chemistry in their mix. Scotland rarely wallow in goals, managing seven
from six games in this set of qualifiers.
In keeping with the tradition of the past 13 years, this
campaign has delivered a sense of real frustration. It was sore start when Scotland failed to leave Lithuania with three points after a 0-0 draw. They
required the sixth minute of injury time before Stephen McManus's header salvaged
a 2-1 win over Liechtenstein.
Levein himself appeared to doubt the team's penchant for
flair when he tried to make a point by endorsing a strikerless 4-6-0 formation
in Prague, but wound up losing the match 1-0. The argument for such a grim policy was also lost.
There was a rousing 3-2 defeat to Spain at home a year ago
when the home side recovered from trailing 2-0 to equalise, but it remains
somewhat telling that the highlight of Scotland's outings to this point has
been a lost match.
Scotland were again found wanting in a 2-2 draw with the
Czech Republic at Hampden Park last month. The feeling that Scotland were
denied a win by two contentious decisions by a dodgy referee fails to analyse
the bigger picture of a country that has not made it to a major finals since
France in 1998.
"It is easier to stop a team than create," Aston Villa's Alex McLeish - then Hibernian manager - told me after Morocco stuffed Scotland 3-0 at France '98, the country's last match at a tournament of such splendour.
The technical level tells of team sport in the doldrums. A failure to roll rugby out in state schools after Scotland's Grand Slam in 1990 has
left it very much a preserve of an elitist class, which is a waste of thousands of kids who would have been ripe for egg chasing.
Losing to England in Auckland reminded older and probably wiser Scots of similar failures in football - against the Netherlands
in '78, Russia in '82, Uruguay in '86 and Brazil in '90.
Scotland have a small pool to choose from in rugby, but surely
the country's appreciation for football should leave the team better prepared for the national
squad to confront headier nations? Scotland is a small country, but Uruguay is smaller.
It seems the youth of today have put sport on the back
burner, their apathy encouraged by a lack of government investment. Computer games, eating excessively,
social networking and binge boozing paints a bleak image of what lies in store
for football. A generation of Scots have
grown up failing to watch their national side achieve anything of real note. Losing is accepted as the norm.
Scotland's toils have nothing to do with bad luck. The failure
is all self-taught.