Eight more qualifiers must be negotiated and they have the look of a slow, lingering death. More dropped points will soon confirm what has been glaringly evident over the past four days. Scotland are nowhere near good enough to be at Brazil 2014.
An opening double-header which might have yielded six points instead brought only two. This is an old, familiar horror movie. Scotland have the time to recover and qualify but that is irrelevant. They do not have a good enough team. It is neither hysterical nor an exaggeration to claim that they will not recover from this. They've dropped two-thirds of their available points without playing either of the two best teams in Group A.
A wretched night against Macedonia brought howls of derision for the embattled Craig Levein. Doubtless the SFA will resist pressure to replace the manager but, depressingly, the point already has been reached when the issue is a live debate. For all Levein's claims of marked progress under his reign, his competitive statistics are beginning to take the form of a headstone.
Only 13 points have been claimed from the 30 he has contested in two campaigns. Talk of continuing belief from the manager and players after the match was predictable, but hollow. Supporters are asked to keep believing, but even patriots can be realists too. The opening half hour last night was an eyesore. Scotland improved, but the story of the evening was captured in the fact the man of the match award was correctly given to goalkeeper Allan McGregor, whose three crucial saves restricted Macedonia to one.
Scotland had enough attacking players on the pitch but the general quality of play was flat at best, dire at worst. Levein's loyalty to Kenny Miller was rewarded by his equalising goal, but still the chants went up for Jordan Rhodes, who was given the last 25 minutes. Before he came on, supporters roared "we want a striker". Rhodes had a couple of headers and there were some other half-chances, but Scotland created too little the overall play was deeply unimpressive.
Levein had brought in Jamie Mackie, James Forrest and Shaun Maloney to replace Charlie Adam, Steven Naismith and Robert Snodgrass. The alterations looked sensible, but the performance was bleak. The passing was abysmal, the ball control awful and the decision-making terrible. If they weren't giving the ball away to an opponent they were kicking it to nowhere, or out of play, or getting caught in possession.
The failure was the players' but Levein was culpable too: if it's a manager's job to put out a team in a relaxed, confident mood then he fell well short. They looked paralysed by anxiety, especially after Macedonia chilled Hampden by scoring in the 11th minute. They worked a very well-constructed attack from a corner and opened up Scotland down the left. Ivan Trichkovski's ball across the six-yard box found Nikolche Noveski in behind Scotland's defence. Noveski was clearly offside but it was only his arms, rather than the assistant linesman's, which shot into the air after he buried a finish past McGregor.
So much for Macedonia being a counter-attacking team. They were in Scotland's faces, flooding men into attacks. Agin Ibraimi fizzed a shot across Scotland's goal and their captain and leading goalscorer, Goran Pandev, forced McGregor into a sharp save with his legs. Hampden howled its disapproval.
Fear provoked an improvement. Forrest was not immune to the general mediocrity and too often his crosses failed to clear the first defender, but at least there was energy and a ripple of anticipation when the ball was worked to him on the right. Maloney also tried to buzz, and it was his corner which Webster met with a looping header toward the top corner.
It wasn't much, but Scotland needed a foothold, anything to get them in the game. Their passes began to find their men a little more often. Maloney worked the goalkeeper with a free-kick and then, just before half-time, Miller equalised. Morrison's through ball reached Mackie behind the Macedonia defence. Miller was making a parallel run – for a moment they were a front two – and Mackie's unselfish low pass allowed his partner to tap in.
The goal was calming, but Macedonia were not finished. McGregor kept out a Daniel Georgievski shot with his legs and from the subsequent corner the ball fell for Marki Ivanovski to rattle a shot off the bar.
A winning goal was required but when Miller was replaced by Adam, who has never scored for his country, the decision by Levein was roundly booed. Mackie moved from midfield to striker but there were seven more minutes before Rhodes came on. He almost buried a near-post header from a fine Adam delivery, but it flew wide. There were other half-chances, for him and others, but none came as close.
Back in 1974, Scotland went out of the World Cup finals without losing a game. The current team is not a patch on that one, but last night it felt like it achieved something similar.
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