A shell-shocked Tartan Army watched their World Cup hopes diminish last night in Oslo. The result hinged on the controversial decision by referee Alain Hamer to send Gary Caldwell off after 32 minutes for tugging back John Carew. John-Arne Riise’s resulting free kick took a wicked deflection off Scott Brown’s outstretched leg and flew past the helpless Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall. It was a cruel double blow which Scotland failed to recover from.
George Burley was forced to name an atypical back four, with the Caldwell brothers as the centre-back pairing and left-back Callum Davidson winning his first cap for eight years. During the opening exchanges the best chances fell to the Scots, Darren Fletcher and Kenny Miller failing to capitalise on two half-chances. Discipline was required from Scotland’s defence and despite a promising start Gary Caldwell received the first of his yellow cards for a clumsy challenge from behind. Once the depleted Scots went behind it was always going to be an uphill struggle and on the stroke of half-time Norway sealed the result when a swift move down the right flank was coolly finished off by Morten Gamst Pedersen from 15 yards.
Due to Scotland’s need to push forward in the second half, gaps appeared at the back and it was only a matter of time before a third arrived. Carew expertly held off three defenders and hit a shot that struck both posts before presenting Erik Huselklepp with his first goal in international football. An injury-time Pedersen free-kick rounded off the scoring for the Norwegians.
After the game, the Scotland coach was quick to point to the sending off as the deciding factor between the sides, telling BBC Scotland: “It has been a disastrous result, but circumstances dictated it with the injuries and going down to 10 men. We were the better side until that point.” He also maintained his side could still reach the World Cup: “Nothing has changed. We have two games left and they are both at home, so we have to pick ourselves up and show the character necessary to get into second place and the play-offs.”
Northern Ireland 1-1 Israel
Northern Ireland made it five matches unbeaten with a draw againt Israel in their preparation match ahead of the vital double-header against Poland and Slovakia next month. On 18 minutes Chris McCann put the home side in front, firing in an excellent free-kick, but it took just eight minutes for the Israelis to pull level – Elyaniv Barda scoring from close range. Israel looked the better side and Northern Ireland were fortunate to remain on par when Damien Johnson cleared off the line from a Tamir Cohen header.
Nigel Worthington made four changes at half-time and his team improved slightly. Substitute Steven Davis was the first to threaten, getting on the end of a Niall McGinn cross, but failed to direct his header towards the goal. Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty also had a chance to win the game for the home side, but headed over with the game’s last chance. Worthington was impressed with the performance of second-half substitute Niall McGinn telling BBC Sport: “Niall McGinn did terrifically well – he got us up the pitch and used his pace and ability.” However, David Healy will need to regain his goal scoring form after failing to find the net for the sixth game running.
Montenegro 2-1 Wales
Wales will hope to have Craig Bellamy back for their game against Russia next month after suffering defeat in Podgorica. Despite being a friendly, the game was characterised by some fiery challenges by the home side. Stevan Jovetic put Montenegro in front with a first half penalty after Danny Gabbidon was adjudged to have fouled Simon Vukcevic. Vukcevic was then the architect of Montenegro’s second, providing an excellent pass for Radomir Djalovic to latch on to. Gabbidon was again to blame, allowing Vukcevic time and space, but was playing only his first game for his country after 18 months out injured. In the second half Sam Vokes pulled one back, heading in a Sam Ricketts cross, but Montenegro threatened to increase the lead again before both sides began to fade in the heat.
Wales coach John Toshack was disappointed, particularly with his side’s second half performance, but remains positive ahead of the Russia game: “the system we played didn’t function” he told BBC Wales, “we never really threatened and didn’t look like getting an equaliser.” Qualifying for the World Cup looks a tall order, and this defeat to a side yet to win in their group will not be the confidence boost Toshack would have hoped for ahead of next months’ visit of Russia.
Republic of Ireland 0-3 Australia
The Republic of Ireland was comprehensively beaten by Australia at Thomond Park. A Tim Cahill brace just before half time effectively won the game for the visitors as he capitalised on a poor end to the first half from the home side. Ireland improved in the second half, although were probably helped by the departure at the interval of Tim Cahill – who had already secured the man of the match award. Keith Andrews and Robbie Keane both went close to pulling one back for the home team but, deep into injury time, David Carney fired an impressive 25-yard drive into the top corner to round off an impressive display from the Socceroos.
After the game Ireland Coach Giovanni Trapattoni remained positive, saying: “I am not worried. This is pre-season and many of the players did not have minutes behind them. Australia were in 30%-40% better condition than us. We deserved to score two goals. Cyprus will be a different game and, for sure, we can play differently.” Irish supporters will hope their experienced Italian coach is right after seeing their side taught a footballing lesson by a side which is already on the plane to South Africa.