November 05, 2012

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) -- Craig Levein's turbulent three-year spell as Scotland coach ended Monday when he was fired following the team's poor start to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

The Scots are bottom of Group A on two points from four matches, leaving them little chance of reaching a major tournament for the first time since the 1998 World Cup.

Levein, who was hired in December 2009 as the country's fourth manager since 2007, had a contract through to the summer of 2014 but his deal has been terminated early following a meeting of the Scottish Football Association board on Friday.

Scotland won just three of its 12 competitive matches under Levein and is 56th in the FIFA rankings - 10 places lower than when he took the job.

Under-21 coach Billy Stark will take interim charge of the team until a permanent replacement is found, and the Scottish FA said Tuesday's planned squad announcement for next week's friendly at Luxembourg will be delayed. The team's next qualifier is against Wales on March 22.

Charlie Adam was one of a number of Scotland players - including captain Darren Fletcher - to have publicly backed Levein, who never regained popularity from the moment he went into a Euro 2012 qualifier against the Czech Republic in 2010 without a recognized striker in his lineup.

"On my way back from (training) to hear Craig Levein has gone,'' Adam posted on Twitter. "Unbelievable. Can't believe the Scottish papers got what they wanted.''

British bookmakers have installed former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan as the favorite to succeed Levein, with ex-Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish also in the running.

Whoever does come in faces a thankless task, however. The well of talent in Scottish football has dried up compared to the 1980s, when many of the country's players starred for clubs in the English top flight.

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