Diving row hits Scotland

By Phil Turnbull

The Scotland versus Wales friendly match tomorrow is threatening to be overshadowed by the continuing row over diving.

In a week where Liverpool striker David N’Gog dived to win a penalty in a Premier League game against Birmingham, the diving row has now reached the international scene.

While Scotland hitman Kevin Kyle conceded he personally would take a dive in attempt to influence the outcome of a game, national team-mate James McFadden yesterday hit back, saying: “No way, I couldn’t dive”.

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James McFadden (picture credit: skysports.com)

Birmingham striker McFadden said: “You try to play as fair as you can. You can foul for tactical reasons but I don’t think you can get away with a tactical dive.”

“I would not deliberately do that and try to con a penalty or to get a benefit because in the end you look stupid.”

Earlier in the week Kilmarnock striker Kyle admitted he would dive in a match if it helped Scotland to win.

Asked if he would take a tumble in the box, Kyle said: “I probably would because you go out on a Saturday afternoon just wanting your team to win at any cost and you take every opportunity that’s available to you.”

Kyle’s views are at odds not just with McFadden, but also SFA Chief Executive Gordon Smith.

Smith has been at war with FIFA over players diving ever since Arsenal star Eduardo dived to win a penalty against Celtic in the Champions League Qualifiers, eliminating the Glasgow side in the process.

It is not known how SFA bosses will react to the conflicting points of view from their star strikers.

Meanwhile Scotland captain Darren Fletcher has been passed fit for the clash in Cardiff.

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Darren Fletcher (picture credit: independent.co.uk)

The Manchester United playmaker had missed training on Wednesday, but has now been given a clean bill of health by the Scotland medical staff.

The decision will come as a relief to manager George Burley, who is already without Old Firm quartet Steven Whittaker, Kevin Thompson, Scott Brown and Shaun Maloney.

Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon also misses out due to a broken arm.

Scotland’s last friendly match, against Japan in Yokohama, was dogged by call offs that entered into double figures.

While the Scots have no such problems this time round, Wales have been hit by a raft of withdrawals.

Eight players, including £14 million Manchester City star Craig Bellamy, have pulled out of the Welsh squad, forcing manager John Toshack to select Swansea City centre-half Ashley Williams as his new captain.

Williams will be Toshack’s 11th skipper used in his five-year tenure as national team manager.

Wales versus Scotland kicks off at 3pm tomorrow at the Cardiff City Stadium, and is live on Sky Sports 1 from 2.30pm.

Burley faces date with destiny

By Stewart Primrose

Scotland surely face a “must win” match on Wednesday as they take on Iceland after their humbling defeat by the Dutch at the weekend.

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Kirk Broadfoot scored for Scotland against Iceland in 2008

Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Amsterdam means the Scots have moved down to third place by virtue of goal difference.

Iceland, the team directly above them, come to Hampden Park this week, meaning it is even more important for manager George Burley to gain all three points.

A victory would propel them upwards and hope of reaching next years World Cup will be restored. Defeat, on the other hand, would severely weaken the nation’s chances of major tournament football for the first time in 12 years.

It would also heap pressure on Burley, who is starting to show signs of the strain he is under. Saturday’s game was seen as a write-off by the Scotland camp, but Burley seemed to concentrate on the referee’s performance rather than that of his own team, perhaps a signal that everything is not rosey for the former Hearts’ boss.

A frustrated George Burley for Scotland

A frustrated George Burley for Scotland

“There were one or two decisions that went against us. Allan McGregor was blocked for the corner and then we scored a perfectly good goal and no one can work out what the referee has given a free kick for.”

Results have not been good for Burley. Goals have been hard to come by and he only has one win to his name – against Iceland. Anything other than a win will intensify calls for his removal from office. It is doubtful this will happen, but another defeat could be the beginning of the end for a man who has not been fully accepted by fans and the media.

One defence for Burley’s performance so far in his short tenure is he has never had a full squad to choose from. From day one he has had constant call-offs, which remind you of the dark days of bungling Bertie Vogts. To take the Holland match for example,  6 definite starters were injured including Alan Hutton and James McFadden. When this happens to Scotland they are bound to struggle as there just is not the same strength or depth as in previous years. To be blunt Scotland need their first eleven out if they are to stand any chance against decent opposition.

Against Iceland, Hutton will be fit alongside defender, Stephen McManus. This will surely boost the backline, but it is still goals that the Scots lack. Two goals in their opening four games is just not qualification material. Kenny Miller has experience of scoring in the big games,  but his old ways are returning after his miss on Saturday. He simply is not reliable enough to guarantee goals. With Kris Boyd already stating he will not play again under Burley, it is hard to see where the goals will come from.

The pressure is on Scotland to deliver. Even the opposition knows what it means.

“I’m sure there is more pressure on them than there is on us,” said  Eidur Gudjohnsen, Iceland’s star player.

“Expectations of the Scottish team are much higher than of Iceland.”

A bad result will make the hysteria of 18 months ago in Paris seem a distant memory. Scotland simply must improve or the consequences will be hard but fair.

You’ve Scot to be joking Chris!

By Ross Hart

With Hampden Park all set to go crazy in celebration, 50,000 Scotland supporters slumped into their seats in disbelief as debutant Chris Iwelumo missed a sitter to deny Scotland victory over Norway.

The Wolverhampton Wanderers striker, on as a second half substitute, contrived to side foot the ball wide of an open goal from only 3 yards out when it was easier to score.

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It was a day that the 30 year old had long dreamed of but it turned into a nightmare that would come back to haunt he and Scotland’s beleaguered manager George Burley after an indifferent start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.

The 0-0 draw leaves Scotland second in group nine behind leaders Holland but they have amassed a mere four points from their opening 3 matches.

The Tartan Army rolled up in their droves expecting to see an attacking Scotland side that would defeat their visitors and effectively rule them out of the running for a qualification place for South Africa in 2010.

But Burley elected to start with a solitary striker, talisman James McFadden, while being supported by wide men Shaun Maloney and James Morrison, tactics which worked well in the previous victory over Iceland.

But they failed to pay off as Norway took the game to Scotland and, led by giant forward John Carew, caused the home side all sorts of problems.

Time after time he threatened and but for poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Craig Gordon he could’ve wrapped up the points for his team on his own.

In the first half, he forced Gordon into a smart stop with a powerful shot after he evaded defender Gary Caldwell but fortunately Bjorn Helge Riise hammered the rebound over the crossbar.

Scotland had little to show for their efforts as Carew continued to terrorise their defence until the second half until the introduction of Iwelumo and Hibernian’s Steven Fletcher saw the Scots play with two forwards.

Barry Robson went close with a stinging shot from 20 yards which forced Norway goalkeeper Jon Knudsen into his first save of the game.

Then came Iwelumo’s moment, as infamous as Billy Bremner’s miss against Brazil in the 1974 World Cup that cost Scotland victory over the then world champions.

Gary Naysmith broke forward from full back and cut into the box from the left hand side and his ball across the box fell to Iwelumo who amazingly missed with the net and the glory gaping.

It was a horror show for Scotland and it would’ve been worse had it not been for the heroics of Craig Gordon to deny Steffen Iversen from close range and as well as having luck on their side.

Norway defender Kjetil Waehler thought he’d scored with a header but it hit the side netting while Carew raced clear of David Weir and with only Gordon to beat, he spooned the ball over the bar.

It was a disappointing day all round for Scotland and for Iwelumo, it was a dream realised but a nightmare lived out.

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