A lone Scotland fan contemplates the end of a World Cup dream
By Keir Murray
BBC Sport at Hampden
Wednesday was a very popular day for marriages, apparently. The palindromic effect of 90909 had couples queuing up at Gretna to get hitched. I guess it makes it easy to remember your wedding anniversary.
But there is every chance that the day will also be remembered for the divorce of George Burley from his role as Scotland manager.
You wouldn't have had to dig too deep to see that all was not well in the relationship, but the bulk of the 51,230 crowd at Hampden were willing to put all that to the back of their minds as Scotland kicked off their final 2010 World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands to an incredible roar from the Tartan Army.
The Scots needed a win to clinch second place in Group Nine behind the Dutch and accumulate enough points to force their way into the play-offs for South Africa.
Let's be clear, the Netherlands are a far superior team to Burley's men. They had won all seven of their previous group matches and coach Bert van Marwijk isn't the type of character to have settled for anything less than a win at Hampden.
The lads from Borne have been following their team for 20 years
As the Dutch fans from Borne I spoke to before the game put it: "Van Marwijk is the guy who gives the team that extra spirit."
Yet there were little glimmers of hope for the Scots. The Dutch had won their three prior away games - against Macedonia, Iceland and Norway - by a single goal.
And, having already qualified for South Africa, maybe there wouldn't have been the same desire in Oranje hearts for the 50-50 challenge.
This was Burley's biggest match as a football manager. The pressure to deliver a win was immense: that it was against one of the best teams in the world was a side issue.
Never the most accomplished media performer, the Scotland boss has endured a torrid time in the Hampden hot-seat lately.
Questionable team selections - such as leaving James McFadden out for the match in Norway when everyone else was clamouring for his inclusion - and bad luck - the calamitous series of events that befell Scotland in that 4-0 Oslo drubbing springs to mind - have combined to make him an easy target for the hacks.
However, the Ayrshireman's love for his country and his desire to do his best for the nation cannot be questioned.
Burley gestures on the sideline as the Scots come close to scoring the opener
He has remained dignified when the tone of media questioning has been, at best, ill-mannered.
At Hampden, he was in familiar tracksuit garb, arms flailing like a demented traffic policeman as he signalled to his players where to pass, cover, run, hold and harry.
When Kenny Miller hit the bar with a beautifully weighted lobbed shot, leaving Michel Vorm helpless in the Dutch goal, Burley held his head and spun around in exasperation.
And, when Miller followed up Steven Naismith's shot, which Vorm had touched on to the post, only to see his left-foot shot from four yards miraculously saved by the Utrecht keeper, by George, you felt for the manager.
The absence of first-choice Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon because of a thigh injury was on everyone's mind as the match began.
But the worst fears of those in dark blue and tartan were allayed as Cardiff City's David Marshall denied the Dutch, tipping over a long-range Wesley Sneijder shot and making an excellent low stop from Arjen Robben.
As Stephen McManus and David Weir stemmed the occasional Dutch incursion, Miller with his speed, Shaun Maloney with his trickery and Kris Commons with a diving header kept the fans believing victory was possible.
But, when the Netherlands scored against the run of play through Eljero Elia, it cut Scotland to the quick.
Jos, Marc and Sven get into the Hampden spirit ahead of the match
Against a backdrop of a manager under intense pressure, of Scottish club sides suffering in European competition, of a national recession, of a miserably wet summer, you felt the country needed the win for more than the mere three points on offer.
Elia's goal left the fans crestfallen. Renditions of "Doe a Deer" and "Comin' Down the Road" were not sung with any gusto thereafter and the dream of sampling South African wine and beer while listening to the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was over.
Defeat was narrow and undeserved, but Scotland's failure to reach the play-offs is the painful culmination of a campaign that never, deep down, looked like sending the Tartan Army to Africa.
With elimination at the qualifying stage, Burley - decent, luckless Burley - may be in no position to lead the country, whose last participation in a major finals came in 1998, through the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012.
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