Gulf in class

Holland was too rich in resources and quality for Scotland which is scrambling for second place, and after this chastening experience it can only hope that its confidence has not been damaged too badly, writes Andy Hunter.

Scotland had dreamt of a repeat of Paris, and for 30 minutes George Burley's men allowed the vision to stir. Then reality arrived in Amsterdam, and the thought that this depleted and inexperienced team could punish Holland as they did France 18 months ago was exposed as fantasy. The absence of the massacre that many in tartan had feared offered little consolation. This was still an ordeal.

Holland were too rich in resources and quality for Scotland. Goals from Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool - courtesy of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt - illustrated the gulf in class vividly. Bert van Marwijk's team are coasting towards South Africa with a 100% record. Scotland are scrambling for second place, and after this chastening experience they can only hope confidence has not been damaged too badly. "It won't be difficult to lift the players after this," said the coach, George Burley. "We were playing against some of the best players in the world and, while we made some mistakes, there were some good performances out there and a lot of endeavour."

Burley cited a block on goalkeeper Allan McGregor in the build-up to the second goal, as well as a disallowed header from Gary Caldwell, as instrumental factors in the defeat. The argument was spin-doctoring at its finest. It was the timing of Van Persie's goal, with the last touch of the first-half that proved pivotal, sapping the spirit and rendering Scotland's positive opening irrelevant. The hosts were comfortably in the ascendancy when Caldwell was adjudged to have pushed his marker before heading home with 16 minutes remaining. "I've spoken to six people who have watched the goal on television and no one can see why it was disallowed," said Burley. "It is a mystery why it wasn't given and who knows what might have happened had we got it back to 2-1." Scotland's errors were the major factor in this defeat, not those of the French referee, Laurent Duhamel, and completely undermined their disciplined opening. It was Van Marwijk who got closer to the truth when he stated: "If we had played more intelligently we would have scored more."

For 30 minutes the visitors, with McGregor, Christophe Berra and Ross McCormack all making their competitive debuts, were excellent. The Rangers No. 1 had only one save to make in the opening third of the game, when he thwarted Arjen Robben at his near post as the Real Madrid winger latched on to Mark van Bommel's raking pass.

A minute later, Van Bommel swept an inviting delivery over the Scotland defence again, and this time there was no protection as Van Persie and Huntelaar drifted in behind Caldwell with the latter directing a simple header into the corner of the net. Given the display until that point, the goal was far too simplistic from Scotland's viewpoint, and worse was to come when Van Persie lost Darren Fletcher at Robben's corner and headed past McGregor with the final touch of the first-half.

The problem for Burley was not simply containing a skilled Dutch team with a defence decimated by injury but to pressurise the opponents' most obvious weakness, their defence, and a goalkeeper, in Maarten Stekelenburg, whose form prompted an appeal to Edwin van der Sar to reconsider his international retirement. Moreover, it had to be achieved with a starting XI with just 21 goals to their name, as opposed to the 60 that Holland boasted before kick-off.

Miller did have a glorious chance to open the scoring when released behind the offside trap in the 12th minute, but dwelt too long and enabled Joris Mathijsen to produce a vital challenge. It was a chance Scotland could not afford to miss.

Kuyt marked his 50th appearance for his country with the third goal, three minutes after Caldwell's effort had been ruled out.

Berra felled Huntelaar inside the area as they pursued a pass from Wesley Sneijder, and the Liverpool striker embellished his half-century with an emphatic penalty.

THE RESULTS

March 28: Albania 0 lost to Hungary 1 (Torghelle 38). Half-time: 0-1; Armenia 2 (Mkhitarian 31, Ghazarian 86) drew with Estonia 2 (Vassiljev 36 & 69). Half-time: 1-1; Belgium 2 (Dembele 65, Sonck pen-89) lost to Bosnia-Herzegovina 4 (Dzeko 7, Jahic 75, Bajramovic 81, Misimovic 86). Half-time: 0-1; Cyprus 2 (Constantinou 33, Christofi 56) bt Georgia 1 (Kobiashvili pen-71). Half-time: 1-0; Germany 4 (Ballack 4, Jansen 8, Schweinsteiger 48, Podolski 50) bt Liechtenstein 0. Half-time: 2-0; Holland 3 (Huntelaar 30, Van Persie 45+2, Kuyt pen-78) bt Scotland 0. Half-time: 2-0; Israel 1 (Golan 55) drew with Greece 1 (Gekas 41). Half-time: 0-1; Lithuania 0 lost to France 1 (Ribery 68). Half-time: 0-0; Luxembourg 0 lost to Latvia 4 (Karlsons 25, Cauna 48, Visnjakovs 71, Pereplotkins 86). Half-time: 0-1; Malta 0 lost to Denmark 3 (Larsen 12 & 23, Nordstrand 88). Half-time: 0-2; Moldova 0 lost to Switzerland 2 (Frei 32, Fernandes 90+2). Half-time: 0-1; Montenegro 0 lost to Italy 2 (Pirlo pen-11, Pazzini 74). Half-time: 0-1; Northern Ireland 3 (Feeney 10, Evans 47, Zewlakow o.g.-61) bt Poland 2 (Jelen 27, Saganowski 90+1). Half-time: 1-1; Portugal 0 drew with Sweden 0; Rep. of Ireland 1 (Dunne 1) drew with Bulgaria 1 (Kilbane o.g.-74). Half-time: 1-0; Romania 2 (Marica 51, Stoica 73) lost to Serbia 3 (Jovanovic 17, Stoica o.g.- 44, Ivanovic 59). Half-time: 0-2; Russia 2 (Pavlyuchenko 32, Zyryanov 71) lost to Azerbaijan 0. Half-time: 1-0; Slovenia 0 drew with Czech Republic 0; Spain 1 (Pique 60) bt Turkey 0. Half-time: 0-0; Wales 0 lost to Finland 2 (Johansson 42, Kuqi 90+1). Half-time: 0-1.

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