Craig Levein is done for as Scotland manager.
There is no other conclusion to be reached after the 2-1 loss to Wales, which surely ends Scotland’s hopes of reaching the play-offs for the 2014 World Cup.
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The truth of the game in Cardiff was that Scotland were ripped apart by one man – Gareth Bale. This Welsh flying machine, in slaying Scotland with two goals, also all but ended Levein’s tenure as Scotland manager.
Next up for Levein and his players is Belgium in Brussels on Tuesday night. The Scotland boss, I have no doubt, will continue to breathe fire and optimism, but the Group A arithmetic is now hopelessly stacked against him.
Scotland now sit on two points from a possible nine, with two qualifiers already having been played in Glasgow. That is bad enough without the thought of it becoming two points from 12 come the end of 90 minutes on Tuesday against the rampant Belgians, who won 3-0 in Serbia to sit top of the table with Croatia on seven points.
It feels cruel to say it – but Levein is finished in the job. He cannot possibly survive such constant setbacks on the field. Following Tuesday night in Brussels there will seem little point in him lingering in his position.
The Scotland manager’s competitive record now reads: P11 W3 D4 L4. Even with a win in Belgium – and Levein will need divine intervention for that – he could hardly hope to turn this Group A campaign around.
The fact also remains that this qualifying group appeared to give Scotland yet another decent chance of reaching a play-off – but it has been blown already. With a previous failed campaign already under his belt, Levein is starting to look not so much unlucky as unable.
There were many pluses for Levein’s team in Cardiff: the Scots took the lead through James Morrison, created other chances, and were only robbed by Bale’s winner at the death. But we are now past the stage of hearing Levein argue that “this group of players is showing real progress”.
The progress that Levein sees is an arcane kind. It is certainly not the type that makes a team win football matches on the field.
He will be vilified by sections of the Tartan Army, many of whom have never taken to him in the first place. And misfortune is always a factor. Not for a first time Levein will dwell on what might have been, given the way a 1-0 win and even a 1-1 draw were snatched from him in the closing minutes in Cardiff.
Yet the truth is, so much pressure was already heaped on Scotland due to the failure to beat either Serbia or Macedonia in Glasgow. Moreover, these two draws weren’t just poor results for Scotland, but poor performances as well.
I’ll happily say it again, for what it’s worth – Levein has got guts. So often panned for being stubborn and pig-headed, he was big enough to swallow his pride and bring Steven Fletcher back.
Levein is also known to be cool towards Kris Commons’ attitude, but the Celtic player was also hauled back into the squad and given a starting berth in Cardiff. For Levein, this amounted to a very public backing down.
Yet his team had nothing as talented as three players in Welsh colours – Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen – with Bale a player Scotland simply could not stop. The Welsh, over the balance of play and chances, deserved their 2-1 win, even if it took them until the dying minutes to claim it.
This is the death-knell for Craig Levein as Scotland manager. The search – certainly in the media – will now begin for his successor. Gordon Strachan is the name on most people’s lips.
The business is blunt and unforgiving. This is how it is.