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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Scotland's reality check
By Clive Lindsay

One minute world-beaters, the next falling flat on our faces.

Maybe that's just typical Scotland. Then again, it is also the way of things in international football these days.

One howler of a miss from Kenny Miller. One mis-kick in front of his own goal by Paul Robinson. On such fleeting yet decisive moments do matches turn, such is the fine line between success and failure.

Kris Boyd consoles Kenny Miller after the striker's miss
Scotland's luck ran out in Ukraine

That's why it is so surprising that many Scots once again fell into the Argentina '78 trap.

We had blown away the Faroe Islands at home. Hardly unexpected.

It was followed by a narrow win in Lithuania. But, even during the darkest days under Herr Berti Vogts, such a result was not inconceivable.

And yet, suddenly, one magnificent result against France, against the odds for sure but also against the run of play, and the airwaves were full of normally sane pundits ready to stake their reputations on Scotland qualifying from one of the hardest European Championship groups imaginable.

Yes, a victory in Ukraine was not beyond a team brimming with the kind of resilience and team spirit displayed under Walter Smith.

But, given that their opponents were so recently World Cup quarter-finalists, it was also still fairly unlikely.

In Lithuania, and even more so against World Cup finalists France, we had rode our luck. It well and truly ran out in Kiev.

When the impetuous James McFadden picked up a well-deserved yellow card that rules him out of the next game, and Darren Fletcher followed, it seemed like the dice were turning against us.

Miller undid all his hard graft up front with an awful miss when he could have brought us level. And then a certain Andriy Shevchenko did the rest, with a bit of help from Swedish referee Martin Hansson.

Sure, Steven Pressley made contact with the Chelsea striker as he powered menacingly towards goal.

But Shevchenko had time enough to drive a double-decker bus round the outstretched leg, never mind show his undoubted athleticism by hurdling it.

Instead, he chose to run into the obstruction and Hansson produced the red card even though Gary Caldwell's presence ensured that Pressley had not been the last line of defence.

Kenny Miller heads wide from six yards in Kiev
Miller squandered a wonderful chance for Scotland

Moments later, you would have thought Inspector Clouseau had been tussling with his martial arts sidekick, Cato, the way Shevchenko flipped to the ground under pressure from Robbie Neilson as a cross ball flew harmlessly 10 yards above their heads.

It would have been just as comical if the fall - and subsequent penalty kick - had not slammed the door shut on the Scots' hopes of salvaging the game.

Ninety minutes earlier, the talk had been of Scotland virtually ending Ukraine's hopes of qualification. One defeat and now Oleg Blokhin's side can pull level if they win their game in hand.

That's how cut-throat Group B is going to be. It was something Smith, his backroom staff and, hopefully, all their players knew all along but which some forgot in the euphoria of one fantastic Hampden night.

There's no doubt that progress has been made under the present regime. The improving world rankings are proof of genuine grounds for greater optimism.

But, unless Scotland can control a game for longer than 20 minutes of the second half against France and for that short spell after going 1-0 down in Kiev, they are going to need lady luck firmly back on their side for the rest of a hazardous campaign.

And those who booked their hotels in Austria and Switzerland for summer 2008 on the strength of Gary Caldwell's winner against France surely now realise how high a footballing mountain still has to be climbed.



SEE ALSO
O'Connor explains Scotland snub
13 Oct 06 |  Internationals
Smith rues missed chance in Kiev
11 Oct 06 |  Internationals
Ukraine 2-0 Scotland
11 Oct 06 |  Internationals


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