JAMES MORRISON knows Scotland are in need of a miracle if they are to have any chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, but the midfielder is adamant that they have it in them to at least prolong their unlikely dream with victory in Belgium tomorrow night.
The Scots travelled from their Welsh base to Brussels today still scarred by the traumatic events which saw their already slim hopes of making it to Brazil take a further turn for the worse when they lost 2-1 in rain-lashed Cardiff on Friday night.
With calls for manager Craig Levein’s head intensifying and a general air of gloom surrounding the national team following three qualifiers which have yielded only two points, there are few people who genuinely believe Scotland have any chance of repairing the damage in their remaining seven games.
The first of those comes in the King Baudouin Stadium – the old Heysel – in the north-west of Brussels tomorrow evening. If the Scots, who are 10/1 long-shots with bookmakers to get a victory, fail to come home with three points, they will face the unprecedented – and dispiriting – scenario of having six competitive games left in which they will essentially be playing only for pride.
Morrison, who scored Scotland’s goal in Wales, knows the dream is slipping away, but professional pride ensures there’s no chance of him throwing in the towel just three games into a ten-match series.
“You never know,” said the West Bromwich Albion player, when asked if they have any chance of getting back into the mix for a top-two finish in this wretchedly-difficult qualifying section. “We just have to keep believing. It will be tough now, but we’ve got to win in Belgium, end of story. We’ve got to get the Wales game out our system and put in a big performance. Belgium are a great side. They’re probably the favourites to win the group, so it will take a hell of an effort, but we’ve got players who are capable of doing well out there.”
While the players may indeed believe in themselves, it is impossible to escape the feeling that they are a downtrodden bunch. Already scarred by the wrongly-awarded penalty 13 months ago which ultimately cost them a Euro 2012 play-off place, the Scots are now carrying a sense of grievance to Belgium over the disallowed Steven Fletcher goal in Cardiff which would have seen them home and hosed at 2-0 as well as the softly-awarded penalty which allowed the Welsh to equalise.
“The big breaks went against us again,” lamented Morrison. “The ball never went out for Fletcher’s goal. I don’t know what the linesman’s seen but action should be taken there because it cost us three points. Even their penalty was soft, they seemed to be trying to buy a penalty off the referee all game.
“That’s back-to-back campaigns now where dodgy decisions have done us in big games. When are we going to get a bit of luck? It’s so disappointing because we were nearly there. When you’re not doing so well, the luck seems to go against you and that’s what’s happening to us at the moment.”
Despite the perceived injustices, Morrison was honest enough to admit that the Scots didn’t help their own cause either. “We were two different sides between the first half and the second half,” he said. “We were in control in the first half and dominated the play but in the second half Wales dominated. We let ourselves down.”
One of the main plus points from the Cardiff defeat was the way Morrison, playing in his usual advanced midfield role, linked up with Fletcher, the Sunderland striker who impressed in his first outing following a well-documented two-year international exile. The duo combined for Morrison’s goal, while they also worked in tandem to create a second chance for the West Brom man just before the break as he spooned his effort over after Fletcher had nodded a cross down into his path.
“Steven’s done well for his club and we’re glad to have him back,” said Morrison. “I was really pleased with the way we linked up. The one that Fletcher headed down for me just wouldn’t come down enough for me, but I was happy with the one I tucked away.”