Saturday, 17 November 2007

Heartbreak at Hampden

What can one say? Scotland are out of the European Championship, but hardly deserved to lose against Italy today, especially to a goal in time added on which came from one of the most blatantly unjust refereeing decisions I've ever seen. The Spanish linesman was yards away as Rangers' Alan Hutton - Scotland's man of the match - was barged off the ball. It was a clear foul against him. Yet Italy were awarded a free kick, from which they scored. Quite astonishing.

Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez
had a controversial game in other respects, too. Arguably, two of the goals scored (one by each team) were offside, and one not awarded (for Italy) onside. There was also the strong Scotland penalty claim for an Italian handball offence in the area, which with other officials might well have been given. What's more Scotland played exceptionally well: better, commentator Alan Hansen suggested, than in the two outstanding victories over France. I'll take his word for it, having seen only the meagre highlights offered by the BBC at 10.20pm tonight.

Indeed I spent the latter part of the day in the famous Likely Lads scenario ('No Hiding Place', episode 7) - seeking desperately to avoid the results before getting home. Two young lads on the train from London to Exeter had a radio, so I knew Barry Ferguson had equalised in the 65th minute. Fortunately they got off at Reading. But nothing could prepare one for the gut-wrenching finale. Still, a 1-1 draw would have been even more cruel in some ways, leaving us on tenterhooks until the inevitable elimination on Wednesday.

To make matters worse for many Scots, England got given an unmerited 'get out of jail' card by Israel, who won 2-1 against Russia. They still need a point against Croatia, of course. But the odds are now stacked in their favour. Commiserations also to Northern Ireland, whose magnificent 2-1 victory against Denmark still leaves them needing to beat Spain and hope that Latvia pull off a miracle against Sweden. Stranger things have happened in football. But not that many.

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