As other nations turn their minds to preparations for UEFA Euro 2012, Scotland’s failure once again to qualify means that they are focussing, earlier than hoped on the next campaign. With just two more planned friendlies before the FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifiers begin in September, last night’s game against Slovenia represented one of the final chances for Craig Levein to look at new players.
The starting line up named by Levein in Koper featured six players who had five or fewer caps to their name including one, Charlie Mulgrew, who was making his debut. Had uncapped Blackpool winger Matt Phillips not pulled out of the squad with a hamstring injury, he would no doubt have been included too, meaning that there is a certain feeling of inexperience around the current Scotland set up.
That’s no bad thing, the old guard have perhaps tried and failed once too often, and it’s certainly encouraging to see Levein casting the net as far and wide as possible in the search for Scottish qualified talent. And a game against a side whose rise up the rankings Scotland should be looking to emulate was a good test for the new faces.
Slovenia failed to qualify for Euro 2012, finishing as Scotland did just two points from a play-off place, but their solid showing at FIFA World Cup 2010 showed what is possible for a small European nation, one which has a population roughly half the size of Scotland. They showed flashes of that talent last night, mostly through Dynamo Dresden striker Zlatko Dedič and the wondrous left boot of Genoa’s Valter Birsa.
The final score of 1-1 was about fair for a game which, like many international friendlies, lacked inspiration, but there were certainly positives to be taken for Scotland. While the goal conceded will not be one that Russell Martin wants to look back on – he was caught unaware of the run by from goal scorer Andraž Kirm and beaten to the header – the new boys in the side generally acquitted themselves well. Mulgrew in particular impressed, looking very composed on the ball and making people wonder why he’d had to wait until the age of 25 for his first cap.
There was still a tendency to hit the ball long to Craig Mackail-Smith too often, but both James Morrison and James Forrest showed promise when running with the ball and the industry of both Mackail-Smith and Jamie Mackie was pleasing to see. The side still suffer from the lack of a proper ball winner in midfield, last night Charlie Adam and James McArthur sat deep while Morrison pushed on in support of Mackail-Smith, and it’s one problem position which doesn’t look like being filled any time soon.
The two goals, scored six minutes apart, both came from headers, and both would have been frowned upon by the coach of the team conceding. Full back Mišo Brečko got a cross in from the right but Kirm should never have been allowed the space he was to beat Martin to the ball and head past Allan McGregor. Likewise, Slovenia’s manager Slaviša Stojanović would doubtless have been irritated by the fact that Christophe Berra got above two defenders to meet Adam’s well delivered corner for the equaliser.
Reaction from elsewhere:
Alan Pattullo felt that Scotland gained valuable experience ahead of the World Cup qualifiers (The Scotsman)
“Yet Scotland, missing key men in Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown, held their own on a trip which helped provide an indication of what they can expect to experience on forthcoming adventures in Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia. This is one reason why Levein chose to play Slovenia, who provided a stiff south-east European test.”
Craig Levein was full of praise for young Celtic winger James Forrest, who was winning just his 5th cap. (STV Sport)
“I gave him a task tonight to get on the ball and get up the pitch, and drive at the full-back and create opportunities.
“He did all those things and more so I was really pleased for him. He’s a young lad with tremendous ability. I wish we had another 10 like him but we don’t.
“In time he’s going to be a really fantastic player. All credit to him and Celtic for the way he has developed.”