Two years ago hopes were high for a bright Scotland future
By Colin Moffat
On this day two years ago a bedraggled Scottish side trudged round Hampden to perform a weary lap of honour as proud fans refused to leave the national stadium.
A stoppage-time header from Christian Panucci had cruelly snuffed out hopes of reaching Euro 2008.
But Scotland had pushed heavyweights Italy and France all the way in what had been a stirring campaign, memorable for home and away successes against the French and a comprehensive victory over Ukraine in Glasgow.
Hopes were high for the future and a second place seeding in a favourable draw for World Cup 2010 had us looking out Bantu phrase books in real expectation.
So why are we now looking on in envy at the play-offs for the finals in South Africa and licking our wounds after friendly defeats to Japan and Wales?
George Burley inherited an apparently capable squad 22 months ago but seven of those stripped to face Italy on 17 November 2007 were involved in Saturday's embarrassing 3-0 defeat in Cardiff, the final act of the manager's troubled reign.
"Not many of the players could look George in the eye and say 'I did you a good job' and that's a big problem," Craig Burley told BBC Scotland.
Who is going to stake their reputation on a few of the buffoons they are putting out in Scotland jerseys at the moment?
Craig Burley Former Scotland midfielder
The nephew of the sacked boss, capped 46 times for Scotland, added: "These guys have got to look at themselves. They are over-hyped, under-performing players, who have a high opinion of themselves way above their station.
"We've got a bunch of guys who have been over the course now for three, four, five, six years and these guys have continually shown that they are unable to get to a major championship.
"So who's going to want this job? Who is going to stake their reputation on a few of the buffoons they are putting out in Scotland jerseys at the moment? They couldn't do the basics against a team of mediocre youngsters (Wales).
"I played in teams that qualified for major championships and it wasn't pretty to watch but we got the job done.
"I've been there in 1996 and '98 and it's the greatest thing to be involved in. These guys don't care enough about it and that shone through in their performances."
Graeme Souness takes a similarly dim view on the current crop of players.
Prior to Burley's departure, the former Scotland skipper said that even managers of the calibre of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger could do little to enhance the prospects of the national side.
But Greece, led by the astute Otto Rehhagel, set the bar for teams without star names when they unexpectedly triumphed at Euro 2004.
And as an irate Craig Burley pointed out on BBC Radio Scotland: "There are other countries out there with similar populations, with similar standard of leagues, with similar financial problems and with a similar quality of players who have managed to do a lot better than we have."
Denmark, Slovakia and Switzerland will be in South Africa, while Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovenia and the Republic of Ireland are involved in the play-offs.
Burnley's Steven Fletcher is a promising Scottish striker
Burley's predecessors Alex McLeish and Walter Smith adopted the no frills, safety first approach that got us within sight of the finishing line two years ago and the new manager is likely to be urged to adopt a similar outlook.
Burley talked of attacking formations, while his teams did little attacking. Scotland scored eight goals during his 14-match run, with half of those coming in two games against Iceland.
The departed manager used 53 players but did hand debuts to Steven Fletcher and Ross McCormack, two forwards who look like they could enjoy fruitful careers at this level, while Lee Wallace is another promising youngster.
The new man in charge can also expect Darren Fletcher, Craig Gordon, Alan Hutton, James McFadden, Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson to hold their own on the international stage.
The next Scotland boss is not going to be anywhere near the class of Ferguson and Wenger but can he prove Souness wrong and make a telling difference?
Let's hope so. The memory of a rocking Hampden on a cold November evening in 2007 remains fresh and, with that, a germ of hope remains.
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