Wednesday, July 24, 2019
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Euro 2016: Scotland dare to dream

Euro 2016 logo (courtesy of Wikipedia)Now that the dust has settled and the bruises have softened to yellow following Scotland’s recent brawny clash with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, we can pause to reflect on how this leaves Gordon Strachan’s men placed as far as potential qualification for next summer’s European Championships in France is concerned.

 

 

Group D remains extremely tight after six matches, with only five points separating the top four teams. Poland lead the way with 14 points, Germany are second on 13, Scotland occupy third place with 11, and the Irish are further back on 9 points.

 

Scotland’s return thus far is decent when you consider the quality of sides in this most difficult of groups (why does Scotland always seem to get lumped into the ‘group of death’?).  Indeed, it’s positively miraculous when you think back to the ramshackle and dispirited squad Strachan inherited from his predecessor, Craig Levein, a couple of years ago.

 

There has certainly been a feel good factor surrounding the progress being made since then under Strachan. And subsequently a feeling that Scotland can finally end its lengthy exile (17 years and counting) from the major championships at the end of this current qualifying campaign.

 

This feeling, of course, was enhanced by the 1-1 draw in Dublin. Although, any objective analysis of that game would almost certainly conclude that the Scots were rather fortunate to avoid defeat against Martin O’Neill’s typically well-drilled and physical side.

 

They say that good teams manage to find a way of getting something from matches in which they don’t play well, and Scotland certainly saved their worst performance of the campaign thus far for Dublin.  That they emerged with a point could yet be decisive in terms of securing a ticket to France, but this is definitely far from being a certainty.

 

To secure automatic qualification, Scotland must finish first or second.  Germany, of course, remain favourites to achieve one of those places, probably first, having apparently fully recovered from their world cup-winning hangover.

 

If we assume for the moment that the Germans will indeed top the group, it is Scotland’s misfortune that revitalised Poland have emerged as the fly in the ointment as far as second place is concerned.  The Poles’ win against Germany a few months ago turned the group on its head, the consequence of this being that Scotland will probably have to beat them at Hampden in a few months’ time to have a realistic chance of finishing in second place.

 

Failure to do so would mean that, in all likelihood, third place would be the aim, and with it the prospect of a play-off.  Not ideal, but perhaps we would have settled for that at the outset of the qualifying campaign.

 

Many commentators have speculated that Scotland need seven or eight more points to qualify.  Assuming that three will be gained away to Gibraltar – surely even the Scots, with their appalling record against some of the minnows of world football, wouldn’t fail to do precisely that? – this leaves a handful to be gleaned in the three other games.

 

First up Georgia, which is a very tricky away tie, even if the Georgians are effectively out of the running as far as qualification is concerned.  Scotland came unstuck in Georgia eight years ago – the defeat back then effectively spelt the end of their chances of making it to the 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland -  and more recently struggled to overcome them in a nail-biting 1-0 win at Ibrox earlier in the current campaign.  Strachan would bite your hand off for a similar score line when the two sides face each other once more in early September. 

 

The Germans then quickly follow that game, and with the best will in the world, you feel that a point would be the best Scotland could possibly hope for from their match against the world champions.

 

Which takes us back to Poland, who are scheduled to visit Glasgow on 8 October.  One way or another, and whatever permutations can be considered prior to then, the feeling remains that this fixture will be pivotal in determining who secures the runners-up spot.

 

It’s a game Scotland can certainly win at what would be a boisterous, adrenaline-fuelled Hampden Park.  Equally, in light of the limitations surrounding the quality of players available to Strachan, we know that they could just as readily lose.

 

But Dublin has taught us that this current crop of Scotland players are nothing if not battlers, undeniably willing to give everything in a bid to restore the fortunes of the national side and provide the Tartan Army with a reason to dust down their kilts for a major finals once more.

 

France is tantalisingly within reach, and the glass is half full for now at least.  Even the most optimistic Scotland fan, however, will acknowledge that a lot of hard work remains if qualification is to be achieved.  This has been a tough group, but it’s about to get tougher still.

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