Christophe Berra savours goal as Scotland cope in Koper
CHRISTOPHE BERRA spoke of his pride at scoring his second Scotland goal after his first-half header gave Craig Levein’s side a 1-1 draw against Slovenia in their friendly at the Bonifika Stadium in Koper.
Midfielder Andraz Kirm had given Slovenia the lead in the 32nd minute with a header from a Miso Brecko cross. However, seven minutes later the Scots were back on level terms with a similar goal when Berra buried the ball past Samir Handanovic from Charlie Adam’s corner.
The former Hearts captain, who also scored against Wales in the Carling Nations Cup last May, said: “I’ve been at Wolves for three years and I have not scored yet in a competitive game. To score two for Scotland in 12 months is a great achievement and I am very proud. If we start the next qualifying group the way we finished the last one for the European Championships then we have a right good chance. Slovenia are a good team. They have been to the World Cup twice in the last ten years and a lot of them play in the top division in Italy. So to come over here and get a draw and limit them to very few chances is good. In the first half we played really well. We had a lot of the ball and had a few chances. They dominated the ball a lot more in the second-half, but we sat a bit deep and limited them to few chances.”
The “invaluable” draw in Koper means that the only defeat in the last seven games for the Scots remains the 3-1 loss to world champions Spain in November. Manager Craig Levein was delighted with Scotland’s performance for the first hour as they kept possession well with central midfield trio Charlie Adam, James Morrison and James McArthur impressing. Levein also reserved special praise for James Forrest after the Celtic winger was one of Scotland’s most impressive players in Koper after being promoted from the Under 21s.
“It was a worthwhile experience,” said Levein. “Maybe for 15-20 minutes in the second half the game died a death a little, we both made multiple substitutions and then the pattern for both teams broke up a bit.
“But prior to that, in the first half, we played some excellent football and made some good chances. The inexperienced players will have gained enormously from this experience. The last 30 minutes, the game wasn’t great but the first hour was good. We passed the ball very crisply in the midfield area. Charlie, considering he played 120 minutes on Sunday, was excellent, as was James McArthur and James Morrison. That balance worked really well. We passed it well and kept possession away from home against a team who are ranked 17 or 18 in the UEFA rankings. There were a lot of encouraging things. Young James Forrest deserves a special mention. I gave him a task to get on the ball and get up the pitch, and drive at the full-back and create opportunities. He did all those things and I was really pleased for him. He’s a young lad with tremendous ability. I wish we had another ten like him. In time he’s going to be a really fantastic player. He’s very exciting and we need as many players like that as possible. We have others with technical ability who will improve with age.”
A static Russell Martin failed to attack a cross ball as Kirm got in front to head the opener, after Charlie Mulgrew had gone to ground in failing to stop the cross. But Levein was generally pleased with the pair on their first starts after losing first-choice full-backs Alan Hutton and Phil Bardsley to injury. “Strength in depth is important,” Levein said. “We lost two really good players in the full-back area and the two boys who came in I was really pleased with. Charlie Mulgrew has been on top of his game with Celtic, and Russell Martin as well, I thought they were excellent.”
Scotland ended the game sitting deep but they had the majority of the possession in the opening half hour against a side ranked 21 places ahead in the FIFA list. Levein believes the week will help in competitive games against the likes of Serbia, Macedonia and Croatia.
“This experience is invaluable to the players,” Levein said. “When we come away in similar situations in the World Cup qualifying campaign, it’s good to recall this and remember we played a good match. We have got the players together for three or four days, we have had a good experience and cemented some relationships on the pitch.”