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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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By ESPN Staff

McLeish still in a rage over decision

Scotland boss Alex McLeish has called for the official who helped destroy his Euro 2008 dream to be removed from the top level of the game by UEFA.

Spanish referee Manuel Gonzalez, on the signal of his assistant, awarded Italy an injury-time free-kick near Scotland's touchline after Alan Hutton had been barged over by Giorgio Chiellini.

Andrea Pirlo swung the ball over and Christian Panucci headed home to give Italy a 2-1 victory, sealing qualification for both the world champions and France.

McLeish blamed assistant referee Juan Carlos Jiminez for the decision in his post-match comments.

The Spanish official flagged in Italy's favour after the incident unfolded yards from his position next to the corner flag.

And the Scotland boss today called for UEFA to question the official and consider his future role at the top level.

'The official gave the decision, unbelievably, a terrible one, no doubt about it,' McLeish told Sky Sports. 'And UEFA people must ask him why he gave that and say that's a terrible decision.

'If it was a player making a terrible decision in a game or a big mistake he probably might not play in the next game. That official, they will have to look at and say 'should they be officiating in a game such as that?'

'I think he has made a horrendous mistake, I don't know why he did it. The guy, for me, doesn't deserve to be officiating at a high level.'

Despite the last-minute knockout blow, McLeish insists the qualifying campaign has been a success.

The former Rangers boss hit out at suggestions it was another 'glorious failure' in the history of the national team.

'Please don't say that,' McLeish said. 'I hate to hear that and I don't like the cynics of this world.

'It's not something I want to hear, the `glorious failure', because it wasn't a failure. This has been a success, this campaign. We have got the team up to 13 in the (world) rankings. I think we are in pot two for the World Cup draw.

'We have failed to qualify but it has not been a failure. We are trying to get the Scottish psyche to a level where we can do rather than say `we can't do'.'

And McLeish's overriding emotion when he looks back on a campaign where Scotland twice beat France is pride.

'Pride in my backroom staff, the camaraderie, the spirit of the players, and I really believe the technical ability that they have shown was brilliant,' he said.

'We tend to put ourselves down in the British Isles in terms of that trait but it was there in abundance with this group of players and I'm so gutted for these lads.'

Scotland will find out who they get in the World Cup qualifiers next Sunday when the draw is made in South Africa.

And McLeish feels second seeds Scotland will need to continue to grow as they will go into most games expected to win.

'We have put ourselves in a position where we are a scalp,' he said. 'We have got to face the other teams as favourites in most games, but we have faced that most of this campaign and handled it well.

'The maturity of the lads has been fantastic and I think every one of the players has risen in mental strength.'

McLeish's success with Scotland has boosted his profile and he has been linked with jobs at Manchester City, Bolton and Wigan since the end of last season.

And the 48-year-old included a caveat in his pledge of commitment to the 2010 World Cup campaign.

'You can't tell in football but I'm really looking forward to going to Durban for the World Cup draw,' he said.

And McLeish, who left Motherwell and Hibernian before the end of his contract, added: 'I'm committed to the cause with Scotland but you never know in football what can happen.'

Defender David Weir also faced questions over his international future but the 37-year-old was unwilling to consider his future availability in the immediate aftermath of yesterday's game.

But the Rangers defender is still firmly in the thoughts of McLeish.

'It's up to Davie,' the former Aberdeen defender said.

'I wouldn't write anybody off. If there is a better man there then Davie will get pushed aside, but I don't see a better man. I am full of admiration for Davie.'