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Opinion: Has Levein thrown in the towel in terms of EURO 2012?

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After the 4-6-0 debacle, a pitiful and lacklustre draw in Lithuania, a very poor victory over Liechtenstein at Hampden Park and throwing away the lead twice against the Czech Republic, Scotland once again need other teams to do us a favour in the hope of reaching a play-off place for EURO 2012.

Levein continues to defend the use of the 4-6-0 formation over in Prague to this day – he is the only one – and he pinned the blame on Scotland failing to beat the Czechs at Hampden on the Dutch referee Kevin Blom, however that was all smoke and mirrors as the real blame lay with the players and the manager for going defensive, when they should be going on the attack.

Now Levein has announced his final squad for the EURO 2012 qualifiers. Two games that Scotland need to get results from to have any hope of securing a play-off place. But his squad selection is geared towards playing his ‘trusted’ 4-4-1-1 formation or should that be 4-5-1?

Levein was never my choice for Scotland manager. He lacks the necessary top-flight managerial experience and does not have a European managerial pedigree. His top jobs were at Hearts – who he ditched for the big time in England – Leicester – where he was sacked from – and Dundee United – who he left to take the Scotland job.

His demeanor on the touch-line does not infuse confidence in the fans, what does it do for the players on the pitch. He fails to make the necessary tactical changes when needed – even more so against the Czech Republic at Hampden. Everyone could see the game turning in favour of the Czechs and changes had to be made to grab the game back in Scotland’s favour, but Levein only changed the personnel because of injury. As he stated later he was forced to make said changes, changes that did nothing to stem the flow of Czech attacks and we eventually saw two points thrown away.

Even against Lithuania [twice]and Liechtenstein, Scotland never looked hungry nor interested. The fans wanted fight, they wanted passion, Levein and Scotland in those three games brought us whimpering staleness and were lucky to secure two wins out of three.

The only game that Scotland showed bottle and fight in was against Spain. Two goals down against the World Champions and Scotland pull two goals back, before Spain capitalised on Stephen McManus trying to head fresh air to score a winner in a great 3-2 game at Hampden. That game buoyed Scotland fans up for the rest of the campaign, as did good results against Northern Ireland and Wales in the Carling Nations Cup, sadly it was all pie in the sky.

Levein announced his final squad to take on the EURO 2012 qualifiers and there were some notable exclusions. With the lack of first team football Liverpool’s Danny Wilson was dropped and the injured Celtic skipper Scott Brown was not named in the squad either. In their place Middlesborough defender Stephen McManus and Dundee United’s Danny Swanson were brought in.

However my main issue is with the strike force. A petty squabble between Craig Levein and Wolves striker Steven Fletcher has seen the former Hibs striker blacklisted by Levein until he apologises. He is arguably Scotland’s best striker at this moment in time alongside Rangers’ Steven Naismith – although Naismith is played more of an attacking midfield or link up player than out-and-out striker.

David Goodwillie has been called up once more after leading the line for Scotland against Lithuania, but after only five games for Blackburn he has only scored once and that was in the Carling Cup against Sheffield Wednesday. Fletcher has played five times for Wolves this season and scored twice. I might be a bid pedantic to choose a striker who has scored one more goal than a player who has been called up, but Fletcher gives Scotland an aerial presence that no other strikers can.

Two further notable exclusions are Hibernian striker Garry O’Connor and Leeds United forward Ross McCormack. Both players are in top form at this moment in time, but despite this both have been excluded from the squad. In favour of Cardiff City striker Kenny Miller and Brighton striker Craig Mackail-Smith.

Miller has the experience and does work hard which would be invaluable for Scotland in these two games, however this season he is lacking what Scotland are needing goals! In 12 games this season, Miller has scored four times and one of those coming in the 2-2 Czech Republic game. At club level he is failing to hit the back of the net consistently.

As for Mackail-Smith he has scored two more goals than Miller and most recently helped Brighton secure a 3-3 draw with Leeds United, but Mackail-Smith is lacking that top flight experience which is invaluable in these games, although he is a good squad player for Scotland.

Garry O’Connor is one goal behind the SPL top scorer Steven Naismith, despite his off the field issues with a court case pending around Christmas time for alleged possession of drugs, O’Connor’s strength, guile and the ability to hit the back of the net – 10 goals in 11 games this season – should have been rewarded with a call up. But Levein did not call him up solely down to his off the field issues, I guess his form at Hibs is suffering because of his off the field issues then?

As for Ross McCormack, there is no news of why he was excluded. The striker has been on top form also and has scored nine goals in 11 games for Leeds United but that just doesn’t seem to be good enough for Levein.

Scotland are in desperate need of goals and in desperate need of points in these two remaining games. However it seems Levein is looking towards emulating the greats of European and World Football by playing a 4-4-1-1/4-5-1 with Miller as the lone striker once again.

Mr Levein listen up. Scotland is not Brazil, Scotland is not Barcelona. Scotland do not have the players to play like Barcelona, that is why they play with the formation they do because they have the players and the management to turn it into a winning formula. When Scotland use it, they are lacklustre and poor. Work with what we have, mould the formation to the best players that we have at our disposal, not the players to the formation.

Scotland need goals and you Mr Levein has ditched two of the biggest goal threats Scotland pose at this moment in time, while a petty squabble with Steven Fletcher has excluded another top striker for two of the most important games Scotland have.

A win against Liechtenstein is a MUST! While against Spain a point would be a great result, but to fail to reach the play-off places is a disaster given how poor the other teams are outwith Spain.

His squad selection looks to me as though he has just given up chasing the goals, chasing the points needed and stuck to the players that are his favourites. Scotland need to take risks and could achieve something out of the blue, but it just looks as though he has given up the chance for qualification.

If Scotland fail and they will more than likely will fail, to reach the play-off place will you walk away and give the job to someone more experienced, someone with more bite, someone with more hunger and desire? A la Gordon Strachan or Graeme Souness.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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