Scottish sports comment: There has been much bawling and wailing since Scotland went down to Wales in the rain in Cardiff on Friday night. Some of the outcry was directed at the players and officials but the main target was manager Craig Levein.
Tonight his men are in action again against the Group A leaders, Belgium. Anything other than a win in Brussels — against a side likely to include Vincent Kompany, Moussa Dembele, Eden Hazard and a host of equally talented others — will no doubt spell the end of the road for Levein and his country’s already faint hopes of making the World Cup in Brazil two years from now.
The manager looked a beaten and bewildered figure in the aftermath of the defeat in Cardiff in which the Scots were distinctly second best for the most part. Levein has struggled from the off in this campaign because, as many point out, “he only has the players he has.”
Sure he does and they have not done the business for him. Witness Charlie Adam’s pathetically insipid attempt to close down Gareth Bale before his sumptuous winning goal.
The real charge against the coach is that he has failed to get the best out of this group and along the way made decisions that have proved costly. Much can be made of tactical idiosyncrasies but intransigence over readmitting Steven Fletcher to the national set-up and a reluctance to make the most of Jordan Rhodes when available have been the most glaring flaws.
Levein has claimed he is now close to getting things right while harbouring a sense of injustice over a disallowed goal on Friday which would have sent his team into a 2-0 lead. “We have been in football long enough to understand that things don’t always go your way,” the Scotland boss said of that decision. “We have had some hammer blows and this is the latest one.”
That’s called putting a brave face on things in my estimation. For the truth is sides of true quality — and Scotland are evidently not in that bracket — do not need fortune’s aid.
Without “getting the breaks” they are good enough to steer themselves through campaigns and come out the other end smiling.
The SFA, supporters and the media at large should not therefore seek to blame one man, who says he is “doing his best,” for all of Scotland’s shortcomings.
It would be of far greater benefit to ask ourselves exactly how and why a country like Belgium, or their neighbours in the Netherlands (neither of which have vast populations to call on) are able to produce a set of wonderfully gifted players while we toil to produce a single individual of such calibre?
Andy Murray should not been too downhearted over his defeat in the final of the Shanghai Masters to Novak Djokovic. The Scot has had one hell of a year, taking the US Open title and Olympic gold.
In the former he overcame the Serb in an epic final and in the latter robbed the great Swiss legend Roger Federer of his long-held medal dream.
I suspect we can draw two things from those facts: Murray now has no fear of Federer, whom he beat in the Shanghai semi, and Djokovic, who was born within a week of the 25-year-old from Dunblane, will be his main opponent at the top of the game for some time to come.
What Murray should try to avoid however is the histrionics and smashing of rackets which accompanied the loss of five match points against Djokovic in China.
He is right when he points out that he is an excellent reader of the game, perhaps the best there is. Keeping an even temper and out-thinking opponents has propelled Murray to much of his success in 2012. That’s not something he should be in a hurry to forget.
So it turns out that there was never a case to answer over the allegedly offensive zombie banner displayed by Celtic fans at a pre-season home game against Norwich City in July.
The Scottish Football Association had charged the club with four offences over the mocking display which showed a “zombie” Rangers fan rising from the grave as the walking dead only to be cut down by a soldier’s bullet.
No-one in their right mind thought this was anything other than a cartoonish caper of a joke about the nature of the Ibrox club’s plight in recent months.
The SFA now agree. Having dropped several charges before the hearing even took place, their judicial panel then accepted that Celtic had not breached any rules whatsoever.
Thankfully sense has at last prevailed but the whole thing can be put down as an absolute waste of time as the matter should never have been taken beyond the stands.
Football must not take itself too seriously — otherwise as a form of entertainment it risks its own demise.
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