It was defeat for the Scotland under 21’s football team against Iceland last night, but at least they showed more grit and determination than their inadequately woeful, senior counterparts.
It was never going to be an easy task for Billy Stark and his team who finished top of their qualifying group, needing a late finish to beat Austria 2-1; to seal their passage to the play offs.
In the end, two 2-1 defeats both home and away was the icing on the cake against a team compromising of the best group of youngsters, Iceland have ever produced.
Fundamentally, the most important thing that Scotland could take from this tie at Easter Road was that they actually played football. That’s right. Play Football.
The senior team’s 6-4-0 formation which oversaw the 1-0 defeat in Prague on Friday took the case of anti football to new lows and has condemned Scotland to have a lack of self belief in its football destiny.
However, from the under 21’s display, the players that were on show were footballers with craft and excitement that the fans have been crying out for years, with Craig Levein seeming to rule out flair and awareness in favour of extreme defensive selection policies.
Of course, all the talk from last night was Chris Maguire’s utterly stunning goal from the halfway line straight from Kick off after Iceland had gone ahead. Maguire himself had an impressive match and worked hard for the team, despite having a chance in front of the goalkeeper where his placement of a shot could have been faster.
Never less, Maguire has excelled himself in the matches that matter most, scoring fantastic goals for the national team. Unfortunately, his goal scoring record at club level for Aberdeen has been far from impressive, and he will hope to put that right, this season. Superb goals like last night however will help put him in the shop window, but albeit he needs to make the correct career decision for his next move and not to slog it on the bench wasted for an Old Firm team.
However, it was Aston Villa’s Barry Bannan that stole the show last night, with a performance of an old fashioned style winger, who had a willingness to take players on.
Of course, there was much more to his game than just a winger’s obvious attribute. His passing ability and his awareness to switch play, to the other side of the park showed that he is also a team player, and can bring other players to the game. It might have been a younger level of football, but currently in the senior squad, there are no traditional wingers, and the raft of skills that Bannan display harked back to the days of the passing abilities of John Collins or to an even greater extent, the fine dribbling techniques of Davie Cooper or Jimmy Johnstone.
Bannan has impressed his manager, Gerard Houllier at Club level and has already forced himself into the Villa team on a number of occasions this season, even scoring in the Europa League for them. His recent hat trick against Manchester United, albeit in the reserve team shows the potential, the player has, and in this day and age of excessive spending in the money buck galore of the English Premiership, Bannan will hope to have a career at Aston Villa, a unique club at present by handing out opportunities to young players.
Add to David Goodwillie and Jamie Murphy, who have also shown productive form throughout the whole qualifying campaign and it mocks the argument of Levein’s claim of a no need for a striker in a team.
However more importantly, what message does it serve to the younger generation of Scottish Football, about the current senior team manager’s philosophy of playing football?
Craig Levein has shown he is stubborn but surely he cannot afford to not have a look in the way that the youngsters, played continuous attacking football last night?
If Levein believes that we are not good enough to go to places like Prague and score goals, then I suggest he bloods some of the crop of the Under 21’s for the Celtic Cup, at least while they can get match experience for the future. Northern Ireland, a country with a limited football pool, capped the untried Corry Evans and teenager, Jonny Gorman still at school, which helped amass a 1-0 away at Slovenia last month. If this works for them, why not let us cap Bannan as an example? The idea of first team football is important but if this is the philosophy that Levein imposes, why not scrap this kind,
Time will tell what takes place against Spain tonight, but the public will demand a Scotland that shows guts, determination and above all, even against the best in the world, a winning mentality instead of a scared nature on Friday.