Scotland 0 - Australia 2

The pre-match wish from Scotland manager Craig Brown that he wanted to turn the National Stadium into "Fortress Hampden" had a hollow ring about it last night after this defeat at the hands of Australia. It came from an Australian side which had lost several key players - and so that nullified any excuses Scotland may have in that direction. The Leeds United front pairing of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell were not there, nor were Rangers' Craig Moore and Tony Vidmar and these losses outweighed any that Scotland suffered.

The defeat was an embarrassment for Brown and his players. And it was one that the 30,985 supporters who had arrived looking for a continuation of Scotland's successful run this year found difficult to accept. The Tartan Army, so supportive on foreign fields, were booing the team at times last night and it was hard to blame them for that. This was a shadow of the team which earned that so-important draw in Zagreb to keep the nation at the top if their World Cup qualifying section. The spirit which brought them that result was never evident last night.

Australia always looked the better team, always were the better team, and their goals proved that.

They looked more up for the game than Scotland did. They looked better prepared than Scotland did. And, in the end, they proved that beyond question.

Apart from a flurry before half-time when Don Hutchison had two attempts on goal, Scotland side were rarely able to threaten the Australians. Yet, the goals part, the Aussies were always dangerous when they moved upfield towards the Scotland penalty area.

Brown made changes in the second half but these did nothing to alter the flow of the game. In essence, Scotland never looked able to recover after the Australians scored their first goal after 12 minutes through Brett Emeton and when the second came after half time it was all over. David Zdrilic scored that one - and substitute Colin Hendry looked to be at fault - and it was a fitting reward for the Australian side. No-one can question that they deserved this win.

The questions this morning surround Scotland. Earlier yesterday, the SFA decided to turn down the opportunity of a game against Wales, another chance to play before the World Cup qualifier against Belgium. They should think again.

Scotland need another game, If not several more games to get their act together. This was not an experimental team. This was a team where Brown tinkered with the essentials and he found that even some of these essentials were not working.

The defence was always vulnerable, the midfield was anonymous and new boy Dominic Matteo, despite his Champions League adventures this season, seemed somehow overawed at this level. It was an unhappy night, one that Brown and his players will want to forget but one which the supporters will now allow them to shrug aside. The booing from the stands at the end of the game was in stark contrast to the celebrations around Europe which the Tartan Army have enjoyed this year.

Scotland went into the game without goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, who had been injured in training. But, after the first half, it seemed that too many other players were being marked absent as the team slumped in form. Indeed, when Australia scored after 12 minutes, it was no surprise. Emerton, the Feyenoord midfield player, who was pushed forward last night to support the front men, broke forward leaving his marker, Colin Cameron, trailing in his wake. He nicked the ball past a despairing challenge from Christian Dailly and, then, as Cameron failed to catch up, he struck a shot past Jonathan Gould.

Ten minutes after that, Birmingham player Stan Lazaridis struck a free kick from 30 yards which struck the bar, and still the Scots had been unable to mount any serious threat on the opposition goal. It might have been worse minutes later when Gould had to move quickly to stop a shot from Agostino.

Then, suddenly, Scotland made some impresison on the game at last. Don Hutchison saw a shot deflected over the bar for a corner and when that kick was taken, the Sunderland player tried again and his shot was blocked by Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer. It might have ben a goal and it might have given Scotland a half-time draw their play had not earned them. As if to warn them that they had not done enough, Lazaridis cut the a ball back for David Zdrilic, who somehow contrived to push the ball past a post from six yards range.

It was a let-off and Scotland knew that they would have to lift their game in the second period to preserve their recent unbeaten run. That hint of danger which came before the break eventually reached fruition in 66 minutes when the Australians scored a second goal. A deep cross from the right from Kevin Muscat found Zdrilic who headed the ball carefully and confidently into goal. Scotland, were unable to make any serious impact on a game which they had been expected to win. The crowd were booing - and they had every right to do so.

written by Ken Gallacher