Sunday, February 17, 2019
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Scotland face worst fears over Euro 2016

Home Alone posterDid you hear the one about the Englishman, Irishman and Welshman who walked into a bar? Well you won’t have heard it because the lack of a Scotsman in the equation is actually no joke, his absence down to the fact that, unlike the others, his team won’t be joining in the European Championships in France next summer.

 

 

 

For Scots, the sobering reality is all the harder to bear because their noisy neighbours will be joining the party, while they quietly contemplate the years since they last partied with the best of them (17 and counting).

 

 

Following a decent start to the qualifying group, Scotland had dared to dream, but in the end it all went horribly wrong of course, and even the play-off place – once considered the worst-case scenario - eluded them.

 

 

In time-honoured fashion, column inches were not spared in terms of assessing where it all went wrong, with the rights and wrongs associated amidst Germany’s poor start and unexpected relinquishing of points to opponents, plus the oh so wretched defeat in Georgia. Despite modest improvements in performance over the last couple of years since Gordon Strachan took over, and general absence of luck here and there, the cold fact is that Scotland could not secure a top three place in an admittedly tough group. Meaning they won’t be in a tournament that has seen its participants swell to 24, theoretically at least making it easier to qualify.

 

Take away the six points gleaned against Gibraltar, and that leaves us with nine points from the other eight fixtures. That, frankly, is not a record to be particularly proud of, whatever your views on Scotland’s progress under Strachan. And one thing hasn’t changed one iota: the Scots’ ability to miss out in dramatic circumstances, on this occasion the unbearably scrappy 94th minute Polish equaliser which ensured qualification, however unlikely moments before, was now impossible in light of Ireland’s shock win against the Germans in Dublin. Scotland do doubly-whammys to heighten the pain like no other, and you wonder how many such hard luck (often referred to as glorious failure) stories the fans can reasonably be expected to stomach.

 

That sinking feeling all over again, and however much the players deserve some credit in the circumstances for knocking a few goals past Gibraltar a few days later, (and the fans too, for bothering to travel to watch a dead rubber) it couldn’t disguise the sense of failure that has attached itself to the Scottish football team for what is getting close to a generation.

 

Suddenly the previous eras under managers Craig Brown and Andy Roxburgh, frequently criticised at the time, seem like some sort of golden age. In a sense they were, given Scotland regularly rubbed shoulders with the world’s best. Sure, progress beyond the group stages proved elusive, but that hardly mattered. Being at the party was sufficient really – nobody really cared how you fared when you got there, did they?

 

Since then, Gordon Strachan has confirmed that he will be remaining in post for another two years, which amounts to the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Despite the recent disappointments, this news has been well received, if not exactly sung from the rooftops, given that most people would concede that failure to qualify for next summer should not be allowed to disguise the fact that Scotland are in a better place than they were a couple of years ago.

 

A shame that, in this case, progress has not translated into tangible reward.

 

England, of course, were always going to qualify from a group that was some way short of challenging, but it’s the rare and possibly unexpected qualification of both Wales and Northern Ireland that has really rubbed salt in the Scots’ wounds. It goes without saying that if the Republic of Ireland successfully negotiate their play-off tie, Scotland will feel seriously omitted from the party invitation list.

 

So, if you’re not invited to the main event, what do you do? Send everyone their best wishes for an enjoyable party, bravely disguising any feelings of remorse or jealousy? Or huffily drown your sorrows alone, ignoring the fact that others are busy enjoying themselves? You surely don’t antagonise those fortunate enough to be donning their glad rags? Perhaps you simply seek consolation in others – in this case, the Dutch? – who, like you, were deemed unworthy of attendance.

 

 

One way or another, you do what you can to ensure your name is on the invitation list next time!

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