Another qualifying campaign reaches the climax and once again Scotland are the fat sweaty girl at the disco hoping to end the last dance with an unexpected result.
Some countries qualify with ease, like say Holland or Spain who are both seeking to go through this qualifying campaign winning every game having done exactly that in the World Cup qualifiers. They contested that tournament’s final though so it is safe to say that ain’t us. Why though can we not just be like say Wales and just mess it up three games in then kid ourselves on about the “fantastic youngsters” that are coming through? Why do we put ourselves through the pain of the final game wing and a prayer quite so often? Yes we have it in our own hands but that requires beating Spain for goodness sakes. We have won a grand total of three games in this group against Lichtenstein and Lithuania yet we still hope to make the finals?
Craig Levin has preached his mantra of “progress” with a baffling regularity. Scotland have six wins from their last nine matches but watching the game at the weekend there was a real feeling that somehow the reality doesn’t quite match the theory. Of our side that started against Lichtenstein eight play in the Premier League (officially the greatest bestest league in the whole wide world ever ever) and two for Rangers yet we still snoozed our way to a one goal win.
The one area of clear improvement with Scotland in recent times is the passing and the side’s ability to control possession. We look better equipped for the modern game than at any time in the last ten years. There is though a tendency, particularly in Bannan and Adam, to undermine the nice triangles with what I believe is now known as a “Hollywood pass” or a “waste” in old money. If we are to have any hope in Spain the midfield need to pick their moment.
Defence too continues to be a worry with the Caldwell and Berra not a centre half partnership I believe can go through 90 minutes against a top class side and not concede. Can we score two against Spain? No.
Craig Mackail-Smith received a glowing write up from much of the Scottish press. This in part seems based on him having scored, always a plus point for any striker I admit, but it was a free header from a hopeful lump forward. Bread and butter for someone who was turning out in League 1 a few months ago surely? He was also praised for his running but for me that misses the fundamental lack of football intelligence that was on display. He seemed unable to read the runs and passes of the players around him throughout the game as evidenced by continually being caught offside. Do other countries find themselves in a position where they try to beat the World Champions without an established EPL forward (S Fletcher) and instead play a half fit journeyman trying to establish himself in the Championship?
Such negativity is not generally the norm for me but it is hard to see where the grounds for optimism are. Well actually if we are honest the grounds for optimism are in Kaunas where an utterly feckless Czech Republic team need to get a result against Lithuania. The bookmakers have a Lithuania win at 4/1 which was probably about Scotland’s odds of finishing second at the outset of this group.
Why then will I be sitting filled with hope we can nick something as Scotland take the field in Alicante? Well when Smith and Eck were in charge we won eight out of twelve games in a group containing Italy (World Champions), France (World Cup Finalists) and the Ukraine (Quarter Finalists), yet still it was not enough. Just as lady luck deserted us then in the crucial game against Italy perhaps she will look on us favourably this time round.
Realistic? No. Delusional? Probably. Like the good book said, it’s the hope that kills us.
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