It’s a 45 minutes that Scotland fans will be wanting to forget very quickly. Even by 7pm on Sunday evening, fans were trying their best to put the result and the reality of the situation to the back of their minds. But the pain of another failure will never disappear. By Jamie Braidwood
We’ve been here before, haven’t we? It’s a story we’re all familiar with but it’s one that needs to be told. Scotland just had 45 more minutes of their World Cup qualifying campaign to negotiate. Just one more narrow lead to see through. But they’ve again fallen just short, and have again done so in the most heartbreaking of ways.
Ahead through Leigh Griffiths’ opener, Gordon Strachan’s men had the win they so needed. A commendable recovery was in reach, from an opening four points from four games and from the depths of Group F to 2nd place and a playoff berth, this was Scotland at their best. It wasn’t easy, they didn’t make it look easy, but they had found a way.
Then that second half happened – and it wasn’t pretty.
It also wasn’t surprising. Scotland were a different team when they reemerged from the tunnel. They sat so deep and Griffiths looked so lost. The removal of Chris Martin, which immediately followed Slovenia’s equaliser, didn’t help. A much maligned figure this campaign, but a hero on Thursday night, Martin was rewarded with a start in Ljubljana and had done alright. How Scotland performed without him was the biggest indicator of his impact.
For some reason, car crashes and bad football defeats are seemingly the same thing. I’ve never seen a car crash, but if you asked me to describe one I would show you the twenty minutes between Slovenia’s two goals.
I would imagine a deep, depressing feeling of helplessness. Watching, frozen to the spot, as the horror unfolded before my eyes.
You could see it coming from a mile away. Scotland were no longer capable of threatening. Their attack had completely dried up and they became stuck on the edge of their own box. The win they so needed had never looked so far away. But while the crash was inevitable, nothing prepares you for the impact, the crushing blow that grabs at your heart and yanks it until it’s torn.
In many ways though, being behind was better than being level. Slovenia’s second led to the release of genuine anger. Anger at Strachan, anger at the players, anger at the points dropped to Lithuania last year, anger at finding ourselves in the same situation again, anger at yourself for ever thinking that this year could have been different.
Scotland’s second was nothing but a cruel glimmer of hope. Unnecessary really, for a country and a fanbase that had surely suffered enough. And that was how it ended.
There will be plenty of discussion and debate to come; over Strachan, over the campaign as a whole, over the future of the national team. It’s nothing but the usual soul searching that goes on at the end of a failed qualifying campaign, but what will our reflection tells us about ourselves this time. Is it time for change? The team is heading in the right direction, but who’s fault is it that it took so long to be?
This is undoubtedly the worst state to be in. Looking at the wreckage and wondering what could have been if things had happened slightly differently. It’s hard to avoid the “what ifs” in moments such as these, but it’s now all we’ve got. Oh, how happy we could have been.