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Page last updated at 19:32 GMT, Saturday, 11 October 2008 20:32 UK

Scotland looks on in disbelief

By Thomas McGuigan

There are times in football, admittedly few and far between, when tens of thousands of fans look at one another and almost silently say: "Did I just see that?"

Unfortunately, for Scotland fans, manager George Burley and debutant Chris Iwelumo, it happened during Saturday's World Cup qualifer against Norway at Hampden.

On as a bright-eyed, enthusiastic second-half substitute and carrying the hopes of a nation on his broad shoulders with the game poised at 0-0, the 30-year-old peeled off his marker at the back post and looked set to drive home Gary Naysmith's low cross.

Chris Iwelumo and Steven Fletcher both misfire in front of goal
Iwelumo missed a great chance for Scotland against Norway

But, somehow, with the goal at his mercy, he inexplicably slapped at the ball with his right foot and it drifted harmlessly past the post.

Hampden Park stood as one; ashen faced. St Andrews paint on supporters' faces almost began to melt with dismay.

Burley, in his smart blazer, looked on in silent fury - fit to burst.

Somewhere, Peter Van Vossen and Ronnie Rosenthal must have breathed a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that another poor soul would now have the dubious honour of missing the "greatest-ever sitter".

That miss will stay with Iwelumo long after he hangs up his boots.

Nevertheless, he should not be solely blamed for Scotland's inability to beat a solid if unspectacular Norway side.

Before kick-off, Burley had indicated that six points from the opening three Group Nine games would be a decent return.

Four points from three is less attractive, especially when the Scots' World Cup campaign is now in cold storage until an away trip to Netherlands on 28 March.

Strangely, where previous Scotland managers have been criticised for too conservative approach an at Hampden, Burley was appointed with the promise of inventive, attacking football.

And his desire to play wide players Shaun Maloney and James Morrison would have given added weight to this view.

However, whether it was a 4-5-1 that could attack as a 4-3-3, or a 4-1-4-1, the truth was the Scots looked ill-at-ease and short on attacking ability.

Save for a Morrison shot and header, Scotland offered little menace in Norwegian territory in the first-half. And Burley will have to work out how to put more pressure on opposition defences at Hampden if he is to lead his side to a major finals.

Fifteen minutes before kick-off, the Scotland fans had been given a quick blast of the "unofficial" Scottish national anthem. The Proclaimers' "500 Miles" had a few frazzled-looking Tartan Army foot soldiers dancing in the aisles.

When Hampden burns with as much passion as it did pre-match on Saturday afternoon, there can be few more intoxicating atmospheres in football.

As the teams lined-up for the national anthems, it looked as though Norway were playing the Scotland Under-15s, such was the difference in height.

James McFadden turns away from manager George Burley
Burley angered McFadden by taking the striker off in the second half

But former Corrie Ronnie Brown showed he was fired up for the cause, with a stirring version of "Flower of Scotland".

With two "come on's" he indulged in a few Iain Poulter-style fist pumps to get Hampden in the mood and it had the desired effect.

Throw in a bit of music from Rocky II, a "let's hear the Hampden roar" from the stadium MC and the place was alight.

But John Carew's spearing run through the heart of Scotland's defence in the ninth minute sucked the air out of Hampden and the home fans gave a collective sigh of relief when Gary Caldwell's well-timed challenge saved a certain goal.

James McFadden's withdrawal, along with Morrison, proved unpopular with the Scotland fans and boos were heard for the first, but not the last time at Hampden.

The Birmingham City striker had a thankless task trying to pick up scraps as a lone front man and did not look best pleased when he trotted off the pitch.

And Scott Brown would be far more dangerous in a more advanced position than sitting deep in a Barry Ferguson role, while Darren Fletcher and Barry Robson toiled without much reward.

Two evenly-matched sides traded blows before the end. But, in truth, neither side looked convincing enough to secure three points.

The game was crying out for a piece of individual brilliance. But, for long spells, both sides exhibited the same qualities and shortfalls.

Scotland went into the game on the back of an impressive home record. France, Georgia, Ukraine and Lithuania had all been put to the sword during the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Only Italy have silenced the Hampden roar and escaped with maximum points.

But a frustrating draw against Norway may prove fatal to Scotland's World Cup hopes.

Kenny Miller, Barry Ferguson and Stephen McManus will return for the Netherlands game in March and the home clash with Iceland on 1 April.

Scotland fans, Burley and a certain Wolves striker will be praying it is not too little, too late.


see also
Iwelumo vows to shake off howler
11 Oct 08 |  Internationals
Draw disappoints Norway's coach
10 Oct 08 |  Internationals
Scotland 0-0 Norway
11 Oct 08 |  Internationals


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