After being thoroughly thrashed by Slovakia on Tuesday, having already dropped points at home to Lithuania, Scotland’s hopes for finally qualifying for the first time in 18 years are already fading away, accompanied with increased pressure on the ever-present if not-so-revolutionary Gordon Strachan, with ex-Celtic striker Chris Sutton remarking that Strachan doesn’t look like he wants to be there. And while these troubles are nothing new, they do appear to trouble a certain ex-Barcelona playmaker.
I would love to see them make it back to a major tournament in 2018. The fans and the players are so passionate about the game.
In an article with The Sun, Xavi Hernandez talked about his experiences against Cetlic with Barcelona, and how he feels the World Cup is missing out with Scotland absent. While he may long for a Scottish Renaissance, it doesn’t appear that it will be taking place any time soon? But why?
1) Leigh Griffiths not starting
In the interest of balance, it is worth noting that there are some reasons as to why Strachan might not start Griffiths. Number one being that the excellent form of Moussa Dembélé has displaced Griffiths as Celtic’s number one striker, while others may point fingers to the fact that Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher play regularly in the Championship, a league traditionally considered to be a more competitive one. And it is also worth noting that Scotland have a team with excellent crossing ability, especially in Robertson and Snodgrass, so having a target man in the area would help them play to the best of their abilities. But surely now, considering the results and the public pressure, it will soon be impossible not to start Griffiths.
While defence appears to be Scotland’s main Achilles heel, they still remain limited in attack at times, with a real lack of dynamic movement and a Plan B when sticking it in the box for Chris Martin hasn’t worked. Scotland have the players to score goals, especially from midfield in Snodgrass, Richie and Burke, but they can’t find any space in the current system, as the opposition defence is rarely stretched. Griffiths’ intelligent movement and lethal finishing would surely trouble defenders more than continuous route one football?
2) A leaky defence
During the Euro 2016 qualifiers, Scotland conceded 12 goals in the 10 games. That’s more than a goal a game, including the fact they conceded one in their thrashing of Gibraltar, and also Qazaishvili’s infamous goal for Georgia which doomed Scotland to needing to beat Germany in order to retain any chance of qualifying. Which they didn’t. And a common theme throughout was mistakes, mistakes which cost games. Russell Martin and Grant Hanley, while both respectable Championship centre halves, have proved a fair few times on the international stage that they are not the required class, and that errors come all-too frequently from them, a good example being Cernych’s goal against Scotland at Hampden Park. Hanley was beaten to the ball too easily, and Martin was too slow to react.
But despite these fairly obvious flaws, Hanley and Martin remain the first choice centreback partnership, simply down to the fact that there is a dire lack of competition. Do you bring in the old hands of Gordon Greer and Christophe Berra, or do you try to bring through some younger players in Stephen Kingsley. What probably antagonises Scotland fans the most is the imbalance in talent in the different areas of the defence, as they are blessed with a relative feast of fullbacks to choose from. Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Callum Paterson, Lee Wallace; all fine fullbacks. But regardless of these struggles, someone needs to take charge of that Celtic backline and sort it out permanently, or Scotland can kiss goodbye to returning to the biggest stages of international football.
Much is made of the mental block that English footballers suffer from on the international stage, which has allowed the decay of Scottish football to quietly grow. Make no mistake, on paper Scotland has a much better squad than Northen Ireland, and of very comparable level to the Republic of Ireland and Wales. They have experienced players in Darren Fletcher, Steven Naismith, Charlie Adam ( who inexplicably doesn’t appear to have any chance to play under Strachan) and Charlie Mulgrew. They have exciting young players such as Oliver Burke, Tierney, Kingsley, and Barrie McKay, and most annoyingly, they have players who are good enough in Griffiths, Barry Bannan, James McArthur, Matt Ritchie, Robert Snodgrass, Ross McCormack, David Marshall, the list goes on. They have an unbelievable set of fans. But there is a real lack of surprise to see these names labour to a draw with the team ranked 108th in the world. Calls for Gordon Strachan’s head already signal a general feeling that it is already over. Honestly, the nation just needs to believe a little.
They just need to look at their neighbours ( England excluded obviously), to see that anything is possible.