Luxembourg 1-2 Scotland: Rhodes double secures win
IF THERE is to be a reversal in Scotland’s fortunes, it will not be an easy process. Billy Stark’s side made worryingly heavy work of overcoming a team of part-timers on a night when the interim manager learned more about his own side’s limitations than anything else.
Scorers: Luxembourg - L Krogh Gerson (47); Scotland - Rhodes (11, 24)
Another new era for Scotland had begun with a promising flourish. Sadly, and even though four players earned their first caps tonight, the Scots quickly succumbed to old habits. Two goals up inside 25 minutes, Scotland were pegged back by Luxembourg at the start of the second half after a free-kick from Lars Gerson. Afterwards, an equaliser for the home side looked a more likely prospect than a third goal for the visitors.
On a freezing night in Luxembourg City, Scotland were reminded that they are a long way from Rio. Unfortunately, this is likely to remain the case when the current World Cup qualifying campaign ends. But there was one sign of hope and his name is Jordan Rhodes.
Remarkably, Rhodes has now struck five times at this particular stadium. The striker’s brace of goals added to the hat-trick he scored here for the under-21s last year.
Stark stressed that he was not going to overhaul the system that Scotland had operated with under Craig Levein, even if call-offs had deprived the team of so many regulars from the previous manager’s reign. Rhodes occupied the lone striker’s role, with Kenny Miller – who moved level with Willie Miller on the 65-cap mark tonight – patrolling a position slightly behind, where he was supported on the flanks by Steven Naismith and debutant Andrew Shinnie.
The Inverness player wore the No 16 shirt after Kris Commons dropped out during the day. Commons had been set to start in a No 8 shirt that had already had his name printed across the back. The Celtic player’s omission came after he felt some tightness in his leg. The news would have delighted Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. Charlie Mulgrew, the other Parkhead player included in the squad, was withdrawn at half-time. Things then began to quickly unstitch.
Mulgrew’s replacement, Kilmarnock’s Liam Kelly, had an unhappy start to his international career. He conceded a free-kick with his first touch and Gerson summarily curled in a fine free-kick to cut Scotland’s lead. If Stark had been tempted to treat the second half in a more experimental vein then he had reason to think again. Scotland suddenly looked susceptible.
The away side regretted the failure to establish a more commanding lead in the opening 45 minutes. Rhodes should have been on another hat-trick by the 20th minute mark. He adjusted his sights after missing an early opportunity following a mistake by defender Guy Blaize. The Blackburn Rovers forward’s finish was surprisingly poor as he rolled the ball well wide of Jonathan Joubert’s far post.
He didn’t have long to wait for an opportunity to redeem himself, however. Although there can be no denying that it was a messy effort, Scotland’s opening goal was secured after a flowing move. Charlie Mulgrew played the ball into Miller’s feet, and he ferried it wide to Paul Dixon.
The Huddersfield Town left back was omitted from Levein’s last squad after impressing in the opening pair of qualifiers in September. Here he looked eager to make his mark again and he delivered one of his trademark crosses that are so difficult to defend against. It certainly caused Ante Bukvic some confusion. He knocked the ball against a post using his hand, and Rhodes, following up quickly, headed the rebound back towards goal. Despite his efforts, Joubert could not prevent the ball from crossing the line. In fact, the goalkeeper helped it over.
After only two goals in four qualifying games, Scotland cannot afford to be fussy about quality. Neither are they good enough to take a foot off the pedal. Mario Mutsch, the Luxembourg skipper, made goalkeeper Matt Gilks work with a downward header. Ben Payal was also give a sight of goal, but he pulled his shot wide.
Rhodes lent a degree of comfort to the proceedings shortly afterwards with another poacher’s strike. Steven Whittaker made progress down the right before cutting the ball back to Shinnie, whose shot was saved by Joubert. Rhodes, though, side-footed the rebound into the net from the edge of the six-yard box.
According to Fifa rankings, Luxembourg – placed at 144 – ought to have been twice as poor as Scotland, now languishing in 70th position. The team from the Grand Duchy have not scored against Scotland in three previous meetings, stretching back to 1947, when braces from Billy Steel and Bobby Flavell helped Scotland to a handsome 6-0 victory.
There was, though, the rather embarrassing matter of a goalless draw here in 1987, in their last competitive meeting. Scotland sought to defend a record that has seen Luxembourg fail to score against them. It was preserved only as long as the 47th minute. Gerson’s free-kick from the edge of the box, after Kelly bundled Mutsch on to the turf, was deserving of its historic
Incredibly, Scotland were now forced to hang on. Luxembourg, heartened by such a positive start to the second half, grew bolder. Most observers had expected Scotland to dominate their part-time opponents and add to their tally of goals after the interval. Instead, Luxembourg looked the more dangerous side. They should have drawn level after 73 minutes, after Mutsch made good progress down the left flank. His cross fell perfectly for substitute Stefano Bensi, whose header, though weak, was fumbled away by Gilks.
Bensi saw another effort, this time from long-range, smothered by the keeper shortly afterwards. Stark attempted to encourage some new momentum by replacing Shinnie with the in-form Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths, while Murray Davidson also made an appearance – the first St Johnstone player to do so for Scotland since the 1930s. There was, though, no further scoring. Scotland left the pitch feeling relief.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
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