Friday, December 15, 2017
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Football News & Opinions

FIFA World Cup 2018: Scotland Fail Again

Angry Gordon Strachan (via the Metro)We had dared to dream. Again. We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Again. We have failed to qualify for a major tournament. Again. Sounds familiar, and you are left wondering how much more of this the tartan army, indeed the Scottish nation, can stomach.

 

 

Twenty long years now, and counting. That’s a generation since Scotland last qualified for a major championships, and, come to think of it, a lifetime since we could boast qualification for five successive world cups!

 

West Germany, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy – 1974 to 1990 inclusive, and back then to think how we bemoaned our failure to qualify from the group stages at these tournaments. How we would relish that problem now.

 

As we mourn once more, and the soul-searching rattles on in earnest, that famous line springs to mind, the one put to George Best as he lay in bed in the scud with his arm round Miss World, supping champagne – Where did it all go wrong?

 

Well, where to begin as far as the latest failed qualification campaign is concerned? Try these for starters:

 

1 Too slow out of the blocks

 

Given Scotland were (as usual) clearly in a tough group (google ‘group of death’ and Scotland appear frequently) it was imperative that Gordon Strachan’s men got off to a good start. However, a miserly four points from as many fixtures – three of which came against whipping boys Malta – meant the team was playing catch-up with almost half the games played.

 

2 Team selection

 

Opinions, of course, are part and parcel of football, and no team/squad selection will be universally agreed by fans of any country. However, surely the fact that Leigh Griffiths wasn’t included in the starting eleven for the first three matches of the campaign was as bewildering as it was fatal to our qualification hopes? Griffiths, who it will be remembered scored 40 goals last season, proved Strachan’s decision to omit him was simply wrong.

 

 

 

3 Goalkeeping errors

 

Craig Gordon may have earned his 50th cap against Slovakia, but for all he has been a loyal servant to the national side since his debut over a decade ago, his failure to collect simple crosses into his 6-yard box proved damaging in the games against England and, more recently of course, Slovenia. In both games, points were dropped as the (6’4’’) keeper stood like a statue on his line as strikers prodded deep, floated crosses into the net from about three yards out.

 

4 Lithuania at Hampden

 

It seems every campaign has a game which, looking back, was the moment the chance of qualification was damaged beyond repair. This sounds ridiculous considering Lithuania came to Hampden in only the second fixture, but the 1-1 draw was telling in that Scotland needed a last-minute equaliser to salvage a draw against a side ranked about 100 places below them. And did we mention that we only deployed one striker in that game? No disrespect to Lithuania, but……

 

5 Strachan’s stubbornness

 

That the Scotland boss has a stubborn streak has long since been recognised, and this trait was to the fore in the final must-win game against Slovenia last Sunday. We will never know whether his refusal to play (at any stage) two young and pacey in-form attacking midfielders in John McGinn and Calum McGregor, was down to the fact the entire nation had been clamouring for their inclusion beforehand. But some of us are entitled to think that it’s not unreasonable to suspect it was a factor.

 

6 Injuries

 

Every team has its share of call-offs, but it must be acknowledged that the loss of Scott Brown’s tenacity and Stuart Armstrong’s creativity for the last two fixtures had a major bearing on the outcome. It’s hard to think of any other two players whose loss would be so acutely felt.

 

7 Genetics.

 

Yes, genetics. In the wake of Slovenia, Strachan suggested that his team’s genetic inferiority put the side at a disadvantage. Apparently, the Scottish players are physically not a match for other teams, and this diminishes our chances of success. Let’s not assess the validity of that claim for now – better perhaps to state it’s patent nonsense and leave it at that.

 

8 Glorious losers

 

Any positivity to be gleaned from the tag of glorious defeat has long since lost its sheen. Worst still, for all the signs of improvement that were evident over the second half of the campaign – 14 points from six games is a decent return in anyone’s language – the cold fact remains that Scotland fans didn’t just dread failure – in truth we expected it. Ten consecutive failed qualifying campaigns tells its own story.

 

The post mortem focused on whether Gordon Strachan had a future as Scotland manager. As ever, opinion was polarised on that point – for some, he had failed twice to qualify for a major championship, and that simple fact should seal his fate. For others (possibly a smaller number) the tangible improvement in more recent games meant he should have been allowed to take that momentum forward into another campaign, this time for the 2020 European championship.

 

As it turned out, we didn't have to wait for long to get a resolution. Four days after the 2-2 draw with Slovenia, the SFA announced that Strachan was leaving by 'mutual consent', bringing an end to his almost 5 year tenure. What is accepted by most fans now, is that there is no obvious successor, though David Moyes has quickly become a prime candidate.

 

 

Meanwhile, Scots’ hearts bleed. Again. It’s enough to make a grown man cry, however impressive his genetics.

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