Scotland’s hopes kept alive – Scotland 2 Macedonia 0

Scotland kept their dreams of World Cup football alive with a vital win over minnows Macedonia – which also relieved some of the pressure building upon manager, George Burley.

And the under-fire Scotland boss has James McFadden to thank for his stay of execution in the post – after the midfielder he axed after the embarassment in Norway returned to fire his country to glory.

The Birmingham City man picked the ball up in the centre circle and only stopped running after his wild celebrations. He nutmegged Goce Sedloski, rounded goalkeeper Jane Nikoloski and slotted the ball into the vacant net, sparking comparisons with one of George Best’s weaving wonders.

Best’s son, Calum, was present at Hampden Park, and watching McFadden’s mesmerizing 60-yard run must have evoked strong memories of his late father.

But McFadden’s wondergoal was underserving of comparisons from yesteryear. It deserved praise of its own – a rare high point in a qualifying campaign equally as beset with lows as it is littered with highs.

James McFadden: Elation to agony

How cruel it would be for McFadden himself, if he was to watch helplessly from the stands as Scottish hearts were broken; in almost exact comparison to the elation which gripped Hampden Park when the ball casually left McFadden’s boot and nestled in the back of Nikoloski’s net.

And, true to form, a spectacular low point duly arrived in the shape of a yellow card for McFadden, which rules him out of Scotland’s crucial clash against Holland tonight. Victory against the Group Nine winners must now be achieved without their talisman if Scotland are to harbour any hopes of making the plane for South Africa next year.

How they needed their talismanic forward against Macedonia. Scotland were dull – and showed no signs of overcoming their lowly opponents. Burley frequently shuffled his pack in the hope of finding a breakthrough, but he owed much to the brilliance of his goalkeeper Craig Gordon as he denied Goran Pandev three times, with three top-drawer saves.

It took until injury time at the end of the first half, however, for the game to explode into life. Celtic midfielder Scott Brown enranged the visitors by booting a drop ball off the legs of Igor Mitreseki to win a corner, and had to be protected by the referee as half-a-dozen players confronted him.

McFadden picked up his potentially costly booking in the ensuing melee, but it certainly fired up Burley at the half-time break and Scotland came out flying in the second period.

They waited just 11 minutes for that elusive breakthrough to come; and what a goal it was – especially for Brown, his first for his country.

After a wonderful move involving six players, Burnley striker Steve Fletcher crossed for his former Hibernian team-mate Brown to glance a header past Nikoloski and just inside the far post. 

Eyes on the ball: Scott Brown

Far from wanting to protect their lead, however, Burley’s men continued to press their advantage as they looked to avenge last year’s 1-0 reverse in Skopje. 

The ghosts of Oslo, when Scotland were demolished 4-0 by a rampant Norway, were suddenly banished as Kenny Miller, McFadden and subs Steven Whittaker and Shaun Maloney all went close to doubling the lead.

But with Gordon still in business at the other end of the field, Scotland knew that they needed the safety net of a second goal. 

Scotland prayed; McFadden answered.

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His six-yard finish may have lacked the audacity of some of his longer-range Scotland goals; but no-one yet knows just how vital this one was. 

Scotland: Gordon, Hutton, McManus, Weir, Davidson, Darren Fletcher, Alexander, Brown, Miller, Steven Fletcher, McFadden.

Macedonia: Nikoloski, Noveski, Mitreski, Sedloski, Popov, Stojkov, Shumulikoski, Despotovski, Georgievski, Pandev, Naumoski.

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