I wouldn’t normally write about an individual game, but I went to the Scotland Croatia game, so thought that I would write up some thoughts about the game as well as the campaign in general.
- Good ol’ SFA.
- I had previously went to the Scotland Belgium game a month ago (which you can read about here) and managed to miss the first 25 minutes of the match because of the SFA’s incompetence in regards to ticket collecting. Naturally I complained because I don’t enjoy standing out in the pissing rain for over an hour, missing a chunk of a game and then paying £35 for it. So I was more than pleased to actually get a response from the SFA with them offering me free tickets to the Croatia game. Not too shabby. So the lesson is complain about every little thing that goes wrong and apparently you get free stuff….who knew?
- The match.
- Croatia are ranked as the 10th best team in world football (whether they are actually the 10th best team is highly debatable [they’re not]) and Scotland out played them for almost the entire match. The Croatian’s surely cannot argue with the result, because Scotland wanted it more, created better chances and incredibly had better use of the ball.
- Scotland put in the sort of performance that you expect them to at Hampden against a team that quite frankly should be winning easily; it seems even more incredible that this is the first competitive win at Hampden for over two years.
- I thought that the only player that didn’t really play well for Scotland was Bannan who struggled on the right side. It isn’t surprising seeing as he is a left footed central midfielder with no right foot. Bannan’s struggles also meant that Hutton couldn’t be as effective down the right as he can be. Have to wonder why Burke didn’t start if Strachan likes him so much, he would have been much more well suited to the role.
- Croatia were very poor and seemed less than interested in the match, which is odd because there was still an outside chance that they would be the worst second place team (finishing 8th/9 in the end). At times they passed the ball in the silky fashion that you would expect of Croatia, but these times were few and far between and they never really tested McGregor all night. If they play like they did against Scotland they are going to struggle to make the World Cup (obviously it depends on the draw), and if they do make it then they aren’t going very far. It isn’t a good sign when you sack your manager before a very important play-off game.
- 2-0 was a fair result overall, with Scotland being the better side in the first half followed by Croatia having a good spell in the second half as Scotland sat deeper and tried to hit them on the counter; the game was over after the second goal went in.
- Scotland improving.
- There is undoubted improvement in the way that Scotland have been performing since Strachan became manager. Not only have the results and performances improved dramatically but the style of play has improved to the extent that it is incredible that this is the same team that started the qualifying campaign.
- If you consider that Scotland got 2 points in the first six games, and then got 9 points in the next four, it begs the question of what would have been the outcome if Strachan had been in charge throughout the campaign. Strachan was in charge of the last six games, but two of those were still dealing with the hangover of the shocking Craig Levein era. Of course the big issue is if Scotland had beaten Wales twice then they would be in the play-offs. Not that Wales are a bad team at all, but rather that in both games Scotland were up 1-0 and Wales were the sixth seeded team, as in the same calibre as San Marino. It’s easy to say that now but it is worth thinking about, Scotland aren’t so far off of putting themselves in a position to qualify for a major tournament.
- There is a major issue with goals in the Scotland team, as in a lack of them. In this campaign the only Scotland player to score more than one goal was Robert Snodgrass (who scored two). If we are to seriously contend to qualify, you need more consistent goal scoring from your top players. There is also the issue of the top scorers in the squad only having three goals (Snodgrass, Rhodes, Naismith and Morrison).
- You wouldn’t think it when you look at the back four’s that Scotland have been putting out (at times playing three right backs in the defensive line), but Scotland have actually been fairly stingy defensively. No team scored more than two goals in the ten games that were played, which is quite credible when you consider the teams which were involved. The problem of course was that there was only three clean sheets (two against Croatia and one against Serbia), and a total of twelve goals conceded, which isn’t ideal when you can only score eight.
- In the game against Croatia Scotland played a very high number of long balls, which in itself isn’t a shocker, but rather that when you look at the midfielders and strikers that played, you wouldn’t describe them as being dangerous in the air. I was surprised when I checked to see that both Snodgrass and Morrison (the tallest two) are listed as 6ft, because they appear smaller. Although Naismith put himself about very well in the match you have to believe that in the long term the position is built for Steven Fletcher, who would fit perfectly into the target man role as well as the good width that Scotland tend to play with, he just needs to stay fit.
- The future looks bright.
- If you look at the ages of the outfield players that were called up to the last Scotland squad, only two were over 30, Gordon Greer (0 caps) and Steven Hammell (1 cap). That means that this squad will on the main be together for at least the next four years, and that kind of consistency in player selection is how you achieve sustained success. When you also consider some of the exciting young players that are coming through and should have a greater impact on the squad for the Euro’s campaign (Mackay-Steven, Armstrong, Forrest, Bridcutt, Jack, Phillips, Rhodes, Shinnie, Watt, Fraser, May as well as a whole host of others) it does look very good for the future. Scotland are strong in midfield, out wide, in nets and decent at full back. However the lack of depth in central defence is a huge concern, as is the depth up front (although if Fletcher comes back and Naismith can keep his form up it will become less of an issue).
- Euro 2016.
- Scotland currently sit 33rd of the UEFA nations in the world rankings, although this will undoubtedly improve once the new rankings are released (EDIT Scotland moved to 21st in the updated rankings). There will be nine groups (eight with six and one with five) so that would currently put Scotland in the fourth pot again. I imagine that Scotland will likely move up into the third pot (EDIT possible outside chance of making second pot after rankings update), which is a big deal as it makes it much more likely that they will qualify, with twenty four teams going through. That means that the top two teams in each group will go through automatically, along with the best third place team. Then the other eight third place teams will go into play-offs to decide the final four sports. It’s an incredible chance for Scotland to make the first tournament since France 1998, ironically enough Euro 2016 is in France (it’s fate!). Scotland will have a chance to further improve their ranking with a friendly at Hampden against the USA, and with the draw being on 23rd February 2014, every ranking point is vital so as to find yourself in the highest possible pot.
It was a good night, and most importantly it was a good performance and result for Scotland. It is typical of a Scotland fan to sit after a qualification campaign and go ‘wait for the next one! We’ll make it then!’ and it feels like we will this time. It is hard not to be optimistic after the last four performances, and you’ve got to feel that Scotland are going in the right direction. I don’t think that it is beyond Scotland to finish second in their group, but obviously that would be wholly dependent on the draw (potentially could get a Spain England group for instance). So let’s hope for a good draw and a successful qualification and to finally see Scotland on a grand international stage once again, oh god it’s been long overdue.
So leave a comment on the Croatia match, the qualification campaign as a whole and what the future holds for Scotland as we head towards Euro 2016. Also like BM23reviews on Facebook or follow BM23reviews on Twitter. Thanks for reading.