Belgium v Scotland: Levein looks to emulate Belgium
WHEN they touched down at Brussels Airport yesterday afternoon, the Scotland squad found themselves in a country imbued with a degree of fervour over the immediate prospects of its national team which they can only envy.
Belgian supporters and media alike are currently swept up in a wave of optimism that their vibrant young team are destined for greatness at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. It’s fair to say the Tartan Army and the press pack who have accompanied Scotland here are in slightly less buoyant mood.
For Scotland manager Craig Levein, facing the Group A leaders and favourites tonight appears like the last assignment he needs at a time when his own position is being scrutinised like never before.
But Levein believes Belgium present compelling evidence of how the long-term strategies he has implemented at the SFA since his appointment in December 2009 can still reap a rich dividend for the nation further down the line.
The Belgians’ own absence from major tournament finals stretches back to the 2002 World Cup, four years fewer than Scotland’s painful barren run which will almost certainly extend beyond the 2014 jamboree in Brazil if Levein cannot engineer a surprise result at the King Baudouin Stadium this evening.
Although Levein accepts that his continuing employment as national team coach will be determined by current results, he has called for a more balanced appreciation of Scotland’s place in the footballing world.
“People don’t want to hear about jam tomorrow,” he said. “But from my point of view, jam tomorrow is better than no jam at all isn’t it? Twelve years ago, Belgium started out to change everything.
“They looked at a mixture of the Dutch and German systems and implemented their own system. Now look where they are. For a long time, certainly in the last four or five years, Belgium have had good players. They haven’t managed to turn that into a really strong team capable of performing at a level equal to their ability so far. It’s taken time for those players to mature but they’ve been together for a while now and all of a sudden they’re getting the benefits of a plan they put in place 12 years ago.
“In Scotland, football is everything. I would love there to be a realism about where we are in the pecking order, but I don’t think that will happen. The longer we don’t qualify, the more unlikely it is to happen until eventually someone will say ‘wait a minute, something is not right here, something has to change.’
“In my opinion, the change has already happened but we are going to have to wait. In the meantime I am the one that has to get results. I keep saying this, but the longer we just rely or hope that we can go and thump one into the top corner and defend for 90 minutes, then the more chance we are not going to qualify.
“We need to have better performances both home and away from home. We are improving. We are not at the point where we are going to qualify for every major tournament but in 10 to 12 years time, there is a chance.
“In the meantime we have to be a bit more realistic about our chances. But I don’t think attitudes will change. If we don’t qualify, there will maybe be a realisation that we are not quite as good as we think we are.
“The evidence is there. We have not qualified since 1998. You can chop and change managers as many times as you want and say, ‘that manager didn’t work and that manager didn’t work and that one didn’t work’.
“What happens then is you go out and look for another manager who is the Messiah and who is going to make everything work. But the teams at the top of the tree are the ones that have actually put a system in place to produce players. This is me talking about the long game. This is not about just now.”
But few managers have the luxury of immunity from the ramifications of the here and now. With just two points secured from the first three Group A fixtures, Levein cannot ignore his desperate requirement to deliver an eye-catching result tonight.
“I really believe we have a big performance in us and we need it in this game,” he said. “We’re behind the eight-ball a little bit with regards to the way the results have gone but I don’t have any less belief in the players ahead of this game than I did before last Friday night.
“There are times as a manager where you find yourself in a situation where you do need to get a big performance. There have been so many situations which have just about kick-started us in the last couple of years, but we’re still searching for that one which changes the tide. That’s why this game is a great opportunity. It would be a fantastic way to finish the first four games, by beating one of the best teams around just now.”
Levein will be forced into at least one change tonight, with Wigan midfielder James McArthur expected to replace Celtic’s Scott Brown who withdrew at the weekend.
The manager looks likely to keep faith with the rest of the starting line-up he deployed in Cardiff and he dismissed the notion, put forward by several of his players, that they let him down in the defeat by Wales.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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