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Nov 18, 2007

Rae's Say: Scotland have plenty to be positive about

After one of the cruellest defeats I've ever witnessed , it might be tempting to spend a few days wallowing in self-pity. 'It's nae fair' is the terse way we Aberdonians would be expected sum up Saturday's Hampden heartbreaker against the world champions.

The Scottish temperament changed significantly following the damaging Argentina '78 World Cup experience. A generation stopped getting carried away for fear that it would invite humiliation and ridicule. The Tartan Army still travelled in massive numbers to follow Scotland of course, but the main mission was to have a big knees-up. There were no grandiose predictions about the national side.

Then during this campaign, we started believing again. Here was a young, purposeful side, ready to mix it with the big boys of Group B - and they don't come much bigger than France and Italy.

There will be those who, having witnessed what they'll regard as 'another glorious failure' who will retreat into the 'let's nae get ower excited' club. Surely though, it's high time we consigned that negative outlook to the dustbin of history.

Under first Walter Smith and now Alex McLeish, the Scottish players have displayed the kind of resolve normally reserved for a grip and grapple session with King Kong. It's incumbent upon the rest of us to learn from the gallus (a great Scottish word) approach of James McFadden. Fail Scotland might again, but let there be no inferiority complex.

Actually, I think we Scots have much to look forward to. Whereas Scotland went into Group B as the fourth seeds, come the draw for next year's World Cup qualifiers, they'll likely find themselves in the second pot. The section should be much more agreeable.

Plus, let's not forget, the young players are coming through again. Craig Gordon, Alan Hutton, Stephen McManus, Scott Brown plus Kris Boyd and the afore-mentioned James McFadden should be around for the best part of a decade. This is a new, vibrant Scottish team with the capacity to qualify for major finals again.

A key piece to the puzzle though will be keeping Alex McLeish at the helm. Having lost one excellent Scotland manager to club football this year, we can ill afford to say goodbye to another.

McLeish is ambitious and understandably would relish a crack at the Premier League in England. Many a club down south would be interested should he become available. SFA's able chief executive Gordon Smith must use all his powers of persuasion to ensure that McLeish is still in charge when the World Cup qualifiers begin next autumn.

Am I gutted as I write this? Naturally: I'm a Scotsman. We didn't deserve to lose to Italy.

However a new day is about to dawn. It must be seized.


I've brought up the subject of Spanish referees in this space before. Commentating on La Liga every week for ESPN, leads one to conclude that as a group they're very poor. There's no other way to describe Primera whistlers.

Having watched the hapless Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez and his assistants butcher Saturday's game at Hampden, I think we're entitled to ask if they'll now (as a group) be removed from all major international matches for good.

To get such a crucial free-kick decision wrong in the last seconds of a European Championship qualifier is unforgivable. This was sheer incompetence. Mind you, it came on the heels of two other botched decisions, both to the Scots' benefit.

When officials are this inept, they should be given their jotters immediately. The frightening thing is, these fellows are the best Spain has to offer. I'm not joking!


Having earlier emphasised the power of positive thinking, I also feel it's time for us Scots to start wishing England well, rather than ill. Yes, it's natural to believe that the English get all the luck that deserts the Scots, but let's grow up.

Scottish confidence should have nothing to do with the rise and fall of England's national team. Instead it's time to begin thinking like the independent football nation Scotland is, and has always been in. I sense that this is happening more and more, (not coincidentally) at a time when support for the break-up of the union is at an all-time high north of the border.

Being nationalistic doesn't mean hating the nation on the other side of the border.


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