The Vogts-wagon

Berti Vogts takes an experimental squad to the Far East after his home debut at Pittodrie against Nigeria.


 

Korea Change


Scotland’s tour of the Far East ended with a morale-boosting 4-0 victory over a Hong Kong League X1 after defeats by South Africa (2-0) and South Korea (4-1). The final match isn’t classed as a full international but it was a useful outing for Berti Vogts’ side and allows them to return home with a victory under their belts for the first time since the German took charge. I suspect that was the intention all along, though there is no doubt that Vogts was shaken by the performance against the Koreans and disappointed by the result against South Africa.

FIFA (and UEFA) have had a lot of criticism of their ranking system – sometimes justified, Colombia are currently ranked ahead of Italy, Spain and Portugal for example. But in general the rankings are sound. And so far Scotland, under Vogts, have played and lost to teams ranked well above us. Away to the reigning World Champions France and co-hosts South Korea we were soundly spanked.

The home loss to Nigeria was closer but the result was never really in doubt. For this writer the most intriguing fixture was the match with South Africa. Here we were up against a side that had qualified for the World Cup Finals but, ranked in the mid-30s in the world, not one to be troubling Asian hotels with requests for an extended stay. Much like Scotland used to be in fact.

We played them on neutral territory and lost 2-0, though the free kick award preceding the first goal was debatable and the second came deep in injury time as the Scots were battling for the equaliser many considered would have been a fairer reflection of the game. My own view is that South Africa deserved to win but that the 1-0 scoreline would have been a more accurate account of the match.

So what are the negatives of the Vogts reign so far? That we have been beaten by teams that are better than we are? I don’t think so. That demoralisation can set in following a string of defeats? Arguable. But coming home after a 4-0 win is much more satisfying and there is logic in the way these fixtures were agreed. Never mind that the opposition were modest. So too are the Faeroes and Lithuania. I think we’d all settle for 4-0 away from home in those games.

There are plenty of pluses to come out of this tour once we set aside the mentality that treats even friendly matches as if they were cup finals. The players have been together for a while and must have bonded as individuals and as a team. A lot of players have received a chance to show what they can do.

Some individuals, notably Maurice Ross, Scott Dobie and Lee Wilkie have demonstrated that they have the capability to play in international football. Though I confess that I am unhappy that players who don’t get a regular game with their clubs are being selected for Scotland. One would hope that once the Euro 2004 qualifiers get under way, that Vogts would pick players who are performing for their club’s first team every Saturday
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If Vogts can get his regulars back, expect the starting line-up for the next match – a Hampden friendly with Denmark in August – to be not a million miles away from this 3-5-2 eleven. Sullivan, Dailly, Matteo, Weir, Lambert, Ferguson, Burley, Ross, Gemmill, Dobie, McCann.

Of course, we can all pick our own line-ups and I would drop Weir, and play Ross and Wilkie in a back four, replace Scot Gemmill (who for one fleeting moment in Hong Kong played like his father – unlike most of the time when he plays like his mother) with Colin Cameron, and partner Dobie with the overlooked Robbie Winters.

Winters’ omission remains strange. As do the absences of Gavin Rae and Gary Holt who was discarded after just twenty minutes in Paris. Derek McInnes will surely come into the reckoning too while Don Hutchison can’t get fit soon enough. Add in Stephen Hughes and hope for a return to the form that made reputations for Kenny Miller and Mark Burchill. Mix that up with a transfer to the Premiership for Gareth Williams and the continuing consistency of Robbie Stockdale and there is the outline of a squad, which should, even in present circumstances, finish second in our group and give us a chance in the play-offs.

Kevin Kyle, Michael Stewart, Gary Caldwell, et al can remain with the under-21s for the time being until they begin to hold down first team places
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One really worrying area is in goal. Rab Douglas was given his chance on the tour and made the kind of handling errors he could get away with at this level but which would be seriously punished in major competitions. Put it this way, if he produced his Scotland performances for Celtic, he wouldn’t last long at Parkhead.

It’s disappointing because we really needed Douglas to do well and put some pressure on Neil Sullivan. Paul Gallacher was given a run-out for the last fifteen minutes in Hong Kong but he too has a lot to do to prove he is ready for international football. Maybe it’s time to blood Neil Alexander for 45 minutes against Denmark and see what he has to offer.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world focuses on the World Cup as we press our noses up against the shop window, eyeing the goodies inside with envy. This is only the second time Scotland have missed out since 1970 but it’s the first time since then that we’ve missed out when THEY haven’t. Old songs are going to have to have new versions.

For Sweden: "Om du hatar det javla engelsk appladerar hander"
For Argentina: "Si usted odia los ingleses de mierda aplauden sus manos"
For Nigeria: Well, seeing as English is the official language of Nigeria, let’s just say it starts: “if you hate…” and ends with “clap your hands.”

Shower of Scotland

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the performance by the Scotland team in South Korea proves it can. Scotland’s 4-1 loss wasn’t just a defeat, it was a humiliation. True, we were without our only two truly international-class players, Barry Ferguson and Paul Lambert (and by international-class, I mean players that top countries would consider having in their team). We were also missing experienced regulars like Craig Burley and Neil McCann. And of course Don Hutchison is injured.

That’s almost half a team but even so, the promise showed against Nigeria (and didn’t their victory in Dublin show that our Pittodrie result against them was certainly no humiliation) wasn’t built on in Busan. There are a couple of other mitigating factors. The heat, for one. The fact that there was no time for our players to get acclimatised. Or indeed to adjust to the time difference. Even so, this was a deeply disturbing performance.

Of course, if South Korea do the same to England and France in their next warm-up matches, or go on to reach the last eight in the World Cup, then that opinion will have to be revised.Somehow, though, I don’t think I’ll be stretching for a pen to write a retraction. The South Koreans looked a competent team, no more. Scotland gave away too much of the ball, were on the back foot for almost the entire game and the scoreline, embarrassing as it was, could have been a whole lot worse.

So what can Berti Vogts have learned from his three games in charge? That we are far worse than he could possibly have imagined, for starters. He is undoubtedly doing the right thing in throwing players in at the deep end – what other options are available? He’s also right to have taken this tour. The more games under the squad’s belts, the better. But managers like Alex Ferguson and Bobby Robson aren’t stupid. There are reasons why players like Michael Stewart and Gary Caldwell are not first-team regulars or are farmed out on loan. The main one being they’re not ready. And if they’re not ready for their clubs, then they’re not ready for their country.

I’m not trying to knock the youngsters – if they’re good enough, they’re old enough as far as I’m concerned – but if their club bosses reckon they’re not the finished article yet, then the international stage should wait a bit longer too.

That said, it was the experienced players who were most at fault in Busan. Christian Dailly, captaining the side, was anonymous. David Weir was at fault for the first goal. And as for Scot Gemmill, well I tend to go along with what guest correspondent Jim Hamill wrote here a few weeks ago – whatever else he may have inherited from his father, it wasn’t his footballing ability. Allan Johnston looked way out of his depth. There was no one to put his foot in and win the ball like Lambert and no one to spray passes around like Ferguson.

Neil Sullivan couldn’t be blamed for any of the goals. Scott Dobie took his only chance to score but none of the strikers can really be judged, as the service they received was abysmal. A pass mark for Maurice Ross who proved he can operate on either flank – the one bonus for Vogts from this game.

Is there any hope? There always is. Consider these words: “Since internationals began, Scotland has never been so deep in gloom. All sorts of theories have been put forward for our woeful series of failures, but, in actual fact, we have been short of players of the old standard.”

Those words could have been written this morning. In fact they were penned by Jonathan Oldbuck in the Sunday Chronicle Football Annual in 1948!

Within a year Scotland were celebrating one of their greatest Wembley triumphs. Similar sentiments were expressed after the 9-3 defeat by England in 1961. Within two years, Scotland had beaten England twice and won 6-2 away to Spain.

Maybe, just maybe, one of Berti’s babes is the new Baxter. Or a second Denis Law. Who knows? This time next week we could be celebrating a hat trick against South Africa. Or watching the RAF Red Arrows (Porcine Division) doing a celebratory fly-past outside the bedroom window.

Berti’s Babes

It has been a long time since a Scotland defeat has produced such a positive reaction, as was the case after the 2-1 loss to Nigeria at Pittodrie. Yes, we lost, but there was much to be proud of in our performance. For the first time in seemingly eons, we had a go. You know what would have happened under Craig Brown. The trusty old warhorses would have been saddled up once again as Scotland put in a defensive shift and hoped for a breakaway or a set piece.

Under Berti Vogts, the new-look team actually ventured into the opposition half. There were more attempts on goal in this one match than in the entire World Cup qualifying campaign. Or so it seemed.

But there’s no sense in getting carried away. It was still a defeat. Against decent opposition, true. But Nigeria are not the world-beaters some sections of the press have painted them as. The rebuilding process will take time – a lot of time. Taking the players off on a summer tour is an excellent step. It will enable them to bond as players and blend as a team.

But we must be prepared to face some bad results en route. The short-term aim must be to secure second place in our Euro 2004 group and go into the play-offs with a chance of success. Even with the limited means at our disposal we should be capable of that. Long-term, the 2006 World Cup finals are the objective. That’s why Vogts was brought in. He must be given the chance to get us there.

But already carping voices can be heard. Suggestions that Vogts should be dismissed after two games are ludicrous. Sure, some of the man’s selections have been curious. That’s what happens when you appoint someone who isn’t steeped in the poisonous bigotry of the domestic game. Is that a bad thing?

Here at scottishleague.net, we have opinions too. Why select O’Connor of Hibs and ignore McFadden of Motherwell if the object is to pick a young SPL striker and blood him in the international arena? Why omit Robbie Winters – far and away the most prolific Scots-born striker playing in domestic football? Gavin Rae? Derek McInnes? The list may not be endless but at least we are now talking about the ins and outs of the squad. Craig Brown’s squads picked themselves.
This is the first time in many years that the selection of the national side has actually motivated the fan in the street. Interest in the team is growing. Over 20,000 at Pittodrie is testimony to that. Long may it continue.

And in that vein, one major talking point is Berti’s adoption of the “granny clause.” It’s nothing new. Neil Sullivan and Matt Elliott have been regulars in the past few years. Going back a generation, when eligibility was restricted to parental nationality, argument raged over the merits of Bob Wilson and Bruce Rioch.

Our position is that while we would dearly like every player that pulls on a dark blue jersey to be Scottish born and bred, we are not in a situation where that is a practical option. As Vogts said, nine of the French team that thumped Scotland 5-0 were born outside of France. In the past the great Alfredo Di Stefano played international football for THREE different countries. Eusebio was born in Mozambique (then a Portuguese colony).

More recently Jack Charlton skilfully used the rules to turn the Irish Republic from a backwater side into one of the most respected in the game. If Berti Vogts can do the same for Scotland you won’t find any complaints here.

We have just two caveats. Players brought in must be better than those they displace. And they must WANT to play for Scotland. Duncan Ferguson is as Scottish as they come. But the man has no fire in his belly. If Robbie Stockdale has, then let’s play him.

 

 

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