Levein hails 'heroes', Del Bosque talks rivals
© AFP

Craig Levein has labelled his players "heroes" after Scotland came agonisingly close to producing a shock against world and European champions Spain at Hampden.

A David Villa penalty on the stroke of half-time and an Andres Iniesta strike ten minutes after the break gave La Roja a commanding lead, but a diving header from Steven Naismith reduced the deficit before Gerard Pique turned a James Morrison cross into this own net to make it 2-2. However, with just 11 minutes to go, Fernando Llorente, who had only been on the pitch three minutes, broke Scottish hearts with a goal that sent Spain top of Group I with maximum points from three UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers.

Despite the loss, which leaves Scotland with just four points from four games following their loss to Czech Republic last Friday, their manager had nothing but praise for his side. "I felt that the players did everything I asked of them and did everything they possibly could to win the game," Levein reflected.

"I think every single one of them is a hero for their efforts. They showed real character. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to put their heads down at 2-0 down to the best team who has possibly ever played here.

"But they didn't, and they showed real guts and determination. I thanked every one of them for what they've done over the past ten days. They've tried to follow every instruction I gave them to the letter.

I think every single one of them is a hero for their efforts. They showed real character. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to put their heads down at 2-0 down.
Craig Levein on his Scotland players following a 3-2 loss to Spain

"I'm trying to be as upbeat as possible but I'm really sick we didn't get anything from the game. In my eyes they couldn't have done any more, and I think the Scottish supporters appreciated that."

Scotland now sit third in the section and face Czech Republic and Lithuania in a double-header at Hampden next September, and Levein is confident his side can pip them to second spot behind Spain. "We have a good group of players as we keep saying," he said.

"They will be better the next time we play a competitive match, as they will be older and more experienced. In my eyes we always had to beat the Czech Republic and Lithuania at home and Liechtenstein away, and nothing has changed."

Del Bosque praises record-breaking Villa
Spain coach Vincent Del Bosque refused to rule out Scotland, but believes the Czechs were now their main rivals in Group I. "I don't think there is any reason to think it's all over for Scotland by any means, but Czech Republic are our closest rivals at the moment after they prevailed against Liechtenstein," said the 59-year-old.

Villa's penalty was his 45th goal for Spain, taking him past Raul as his country's outright record scorer. "He can flit in and out of a game but in spite of a couple of missed chances, I think he did his job well overall," Del Bosque said of the Barcelona striker.

"I think he has had a great career up to now. To be able to speak in terms of him being a great forward just like Raul is very good. I think his role in helping us win the World Cup was decisive, but obviously the team goes a long way in creating chances for him as well."