International football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; indeed, many of my fellow football fans actively loathe the enforced break from club action World Cup and European Qualifiers bring. But I’m not one of them. I began to support my club side, Rangers, in the late 80s after seeing Ally McCoist ensure Scotland’s qualification for the 1990 World Cup by scoring against Norway at Hampden. As such, I actively enjoy getting the opportunity to watch international matches in any shape or form, but I was a little apprehensive about Scotland playing Brazil at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.
The handsome financial incentive offered to the Scottish Football Association to take up the fixture may boost the coffers of our national governing body, but I’m not sure these type of fixtures help the team and the players much. Sharing a pitch with the fifth best international team in the World may provide a valuable experience to learn from, but you can only learn from experience by learning from it (are you following?), and I’m not entirely convinced that many of the Scotland team on the pitch today have the capacity to heed the footballing lesson handed out by Brazil this afternoon. By way of example, Gary Caldwell, a player nearer the end of his career than the start, still appears to make the same positioning and decision making errors in every game he plays, and was lucky to not be penalised for twice handling the ball inside his own penalty area. Scott Brown, the captain of Celtic appeared out of his depth, off the pace, and continually let the Brazilians run off him.
It could be argued that both Neymar’s goals came about due to negligence by Brown; the 19 year old Brazilian exploited gaps down Scotland’s right to ghost into the area and curl a shot past McGregor for his first, and accepted the responsibility of converting a penalty he’d earned himself for his second. Charlie Adam was guilty of conceding the penalty after naively getting too close to Neymar in the penalty area, but the danger had once again originated on the Scots’ right flank.
Charlie Adam has taken the Premier League by storm this season, but his performance today was more reminiscent of some he turned in while playing in the lighter blue of Rangers. Hollywood balls and slack passing in midfield meant Scotland’s main creative force had managed to marginalise himself. James McArthur has played a handful of games for Wigan this season since his move from Hamilton and seemed subdued amidst such illustrious company, Steven Whittaker was game but once more prone to switching off defensively, and this all left James Morrison trying to pin Scotland’s five man midfield together himself.
And with the midfield misfiring so badly, lone striker Kenny Miller was left even more isolated than usual, with Opta tweeting he only had seven touches of the ball in the first half. Scotland did seem to improve after the introduction of Barry Bannan in the fifty-sixth minute, mainly because the 21 year old set about putting the Brazilian midfield and defence under the same kind of pressure they had been exacting so effectively on the Scots. Indeed, Bannan was to register Scotland’s only shot on goal, with a tame free kick near the end of the match.
It’s difficult to know what to take from today’s result and performance; while Scotland were never a threat in attack, they did manage to defend fairly competently. The challenge of containing Brazil will hopefully stand the squad in good stead for the Euro 2012 qualifier away to Spain in October, if the players choose to switch their CPUs to ‘learn’. However, there’s more to international friendlies than receiving footballing masterclasses from the game’s big guns’; a national team’s choice of challenge match on FIFA sanctioned dates can have a big impact on qualification for the finals of tournaments.
This is due to the infernal machinations of FIFA’s World Rankings, which dictate which seeding pot each country ends up in for the qualifying section draws (for CONCACAF, CAF and UEFA competitions anyway). A slide down the World Rankings will see a corresponding plummet in pot, with A being where it’s at and F the place to avoid, especially with the draw for the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers imminent. As I write this, Scotland are currently ranked at 50th in the World, and can thus expect to be seeded in Pot D, which is far from ideal.
So how do the World Rankings affect seedings? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure, and I don’t know if anyone outside FIFA is either. The bottom line however is that if you lose a match, be it friendly or competitive, you get no ranking points at all. This has been Scotland’s downfall over the last ten years; we’ve arranged ill-advised friendlies, lost morale and ranking points, tumbled down the rankings and seedings, lost more morale and a vicious circle thus entails. With this in mind, Scotland agreeing to play a friendly against Brazil, a game in which we were virtually guaranteed to lose is perhaps not the best decision from a long-term footballing point of view.
After the game, Brazilian goalscorer Neymar claimed he had suffered racist abuse during the game, saying “This atmosphere of racism is totally sad…we leave our country to play here and something like this happens…they were jeering me a lot, even when I was about to kick the penalty the entire stadium was jeering”. His team-mate Lucas Leiva confirmed he removed a banana from the pitch and observed “Europe, which is considered the first world, is the place where this thing happens more.”
It remains unclear as to who actually threw the banana on the pitch, although at least one source has claimed it was a Brazilian.