By Melanie Hughes
On a night when David Villa made himself the best striker in Spain’s history Scotland were heartbroken in a battle for pride. The Scots made the most of the Hampden crowd and managed to rid Spain of a 2 goal lead only to be undone by substitute Fernando Llorente in the 78th minute.
Scotland manager, Craig Levein, has come under fire recently for his choice of tactics but people will feel that he made the right decision tonight in going for a 4-5-1 formation to combat Spain’s 4-3-3. Scotland were magnificent when they used the width of the pitch and the Scottish attacks were heavily based around players getting wide.
Xabi Alonso showed how important he is to the Spain squad; when their floor passing game was obviously struggling to make an impact on the score line the midfielder lofted a lovely ball over to David Silva who failed to connect fully with his volley. In one through ball both McManus and Weir were taken out of the game.
Spain were gifted a penalty just minutes before half time as Steven Whittaker’s raised arm made contact with the ball in the box and David Villa was handed the chance to better Raul’s scoring record from the penalty spot. Whittaker was booked and despite McGregor’s best efforts he could not keep the low shot out of his left hand corner.
Spain continued to dominate possession and press down the left hand side where they usually found Naismith struggling to track back and complete his defensive duties after Scotland attempted a counter-attack. After a small scramble in the box the ball fell to, World Cup hero, Iniesta who spotted the gap after being given a bit too much space by his man, Whittaker.
Before Spain made their mark Scotland had a chance to go one up after Miller broke from the halfway line to the edge of the box with only two defenders near. He tried to pick the pass to Dorrans who had made a 70 yard burst in support but the chance was cut out in desperation by Puyol.
Scotland did eventually get themselves off the mark in the second half, after going 2-0 down the Scots were galvanised and within 10 minutes the scores were level. Naismith’s hard work paid off when he headed home a superb cross from Kenny Miller from the left hand side. Ramos was away from his man and Naismith was given the time to guide the ball into the net.
The second goal came courtesy of ex-Manchester United man, Gerard Pique. Again, attacking from the left flank, Fletcher exchanged a clever one-two with Morrison who fizzed in a dangerous low ball across the box to Kenny Miller which was turned into his own net by Pique.
Scotland had done the impossible. However, heartbreak was on the horizon in the towering shape of Fernando Llorente. The 6,5” striker is famed for his aerial prowess but this was a simply volley from a cross. McManus was guilty of being sucked towards the ball, leaving the forward free at the far post to calmly put the ball past McGregor; the substitute has yet to break a sweat but his contribution proves decisive.
Steven Whittaker rounded off his topsy-turvy evening by picking up a second yellow card following a bad challenge on Sergio Ramos in the dying minutes.The Scotland manager only had positive words for his team after the game, “It's very frustrating," Levein told Sky Sports, “I was immensely proud of the players tonight. They were heroes every one of them - from the first minute to the last.” Levein continued to talk about the mentality of the Spain team: “I thought they were rattled,” he added, “We had them on the back foot.” Although he also conceded that “They're a fantastic team, they knocked the ball about and had us pinned back for long spells.”
Some would say that Spain have not had a real challenge in their qualifiers leading up to the World Cup and Euros so far but tonight they were tested and they passed. As for Scotland, they left Hampden park with their pride intact, their spirit is raw, it’s just a shame that their next qualifier is 11 months away.