Scotland fans are sadly, well used to failure. The last time they experienced the finals of an international tournament was in 1998, when a typical Scotland performance (spirited but unlucky against Brazil, disappointing against Norway, and hammered by Morocco) saw them go home after the group stages yet again. Since then, there’s been a couple of truly horrific managerial choices (Berti Vogts and George Burley), a couple of very good ones (Walter Smith and Alex McLeish) and some almost, but not quite, qualifying campaigns.
The Euro 2012 qualifying campaign was a particularly disappointing one, as new manager Craig Levein chose a crazy 4-6-0 formation in a match against Czech Republic in Prague, a game Scotland lost 1-0. The Czechs were the only team, on paper at least, capable of challenging Scotland for second place in a group Spain comfortably won. That defeat and a 2-2 draw at Hampden in the return leg gave the Czechs a huge advantage, and Scotland’s only wins in that campaign were against group whipping boys Liechtenstein (2-1 at home with a 97th minute winner, and 1-0 away), and a 1-0 home win over Lithuania.
Yet somehow, Craig Levein emerged from a woeful campaign relatively unscathed.
After that campaign, Scotland played a friendly against the USA, and suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat, but Levein was still in no apparent danger of losing his job. A 1-0 win over Australia in an August friendly saw Levein claim that he was getting things right ahead of the start of World Cup 2014 qualifying, but after the first two matches, that certainly does not appear to be the case.
On Saturday, Scotland kicked off the campaign at home to Serbia, and with a second match at Hampden against Macedonia due on Tuesday, there was a real chance that they could start the campaign with 6 points. But Levein again chose a bizarre formation, starting the match with a 4-1-4-1, which included Gary Caldwell (probably Scotland’s best available centreback) as a holding midfielder. It almost goes without saying that this didn’t go well, and Scotland struggled to create chances for lone striker Kenny Miller, who seemed to be hopelessly out of form. As the score remained 0-0 into the second half, the crowd started chanting Jordan Rhodes’ name, but Levein’s first substitution was a like-for-like change, swapping Robert Snodgrass (who had played relatively well) for James Forrest.
When that failed to make much difference, Levein made a double substitution, bringing on Jamie Mackie and Rhodes for Miller and James Morrison. But that didn’t really help either, and Scotland had Allan McGregor to thank for a late save that kept the game scoreless. Scotland were booed off at the end, but a bullish Levein stood his ground, claiming that he wasn’t bothered by criticisms, and would do things his way.