George Burley survived to fight another day as Scotland manager as goals from Scott Brown and James McFadden secured a crucial victory against Macedonia to keep their World Cup play-off hopes alive. Pressure had been mounting on Burley since last month's 4-0 thrashing in Norway left the nation's chances of qualifying for next summer's finals in South Africa in the balance. He knew defeat at Hampden Park yesterday could have spelled the end of his tenure.
After a nervous and feisty first-half had ended goalless, the Scots rose to the challenge in the second, Brown claiming his first international goal after the restart and McFadden ensuring the victory late on ahead of another crunch match on Wednesday night against Holland. There was a furore towards the end off the first half when Brown won a corner rather than allow possession to return to Macedonia, who had put the ball out of play after one of their players was injured.
Pushing and shoving ensued and several players were booked, including McFadden who will now miss the clash against Holland. Lazio striker Goran Pandev was a threat throughout for Macedonia, but, as they game went on, Scotland began to dominate and Hampden erupted when the opener arrived after 56 minutes as Brown connected with a Steven Fletcher cross to direct a header past the Macedonia goalkeeper.
As Macedonia, who were level on points with Scotland before kick-off, poured forward, Burley's men broke and McFadden wrapped up victory 10 minutes from time with a terrific solo effort. He collected the ball on the halfway line before skipping past two defenders, rounding the goalkeeper before coolly slotting into the back of the net. Midfielder Wesley Sneijder strained ankle ligaments in Holland's 3-0 friendly win over Japan and is doubtful for Wednesday's game against Scotland. Inter Milan's Sneijder was taken to hospital for checks immediately after the game and a spokeswoman for the Dutch team said a decision had not yet been taken on whether he would rejoin the squad.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk had earlier expressed concern about the injury. "Wesley told me he heard something crack so it looks serious but we have to await the outcome of the investigation in the hospital," he said. Sneijder scored his side's second goal, between strikes from Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar, in a low-key win. The Dutch have already qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the Scotland match is their last in Group Nine.
In England's Group Six, Ukraine kept their play-off hopes intact with a 5-0 home victory over minnows Andorra. * With agencies