International week isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but alas I am here to talk about it nonetheless. I am a Scotland fan after all.
Last night served up one of the most bizarre nights for the Scottish national side. The script wasn’t written, but the task was simple…sort of.
Nothing other a victory would be good enough for Scotland. A win at Hampden might not seem unreasonable, but we’re Scotland.
Our opponents Slovakia have been a much better team than Scotland in recent years. They are ranked 19th by FIFA which is some 24 places above Scotland.
And who could argue? Scotland haven’t been in a tournament since France ’98!
Perhaps 43rd place flatters us. Having missed 9 finals you’d think we’d be further down that list.
Ironically, the last World Cup and European Championships Scotland participated in, were the first two Slovakia failed to qualify for since they regained their independence. Since then the Slovakian national side have qualified for South Africa 2010 and France 2016.
The international scene has changed dramatically since Scotland’s inclusion in a tournament. Relative to the European club scene of the Champions League and Europa League these days, there are a lot more teams around than there used to be.
Slovakia have earned their place in the top 20. For that there is no doubt.
Last night they demonstrated that by stonewalling Scotland for most of the game. That was despite being down to 10 men since the 23rd minute.
The referee may have been overzealous with his yellows in the first half. Though if you’re one of the unlucky ones to have received a card, it’s probably best not to dive in the opposition’s penalty box 6 minutes later.
At that stage you would think the game was on a platter for Scotland at home. But no, no we have to do it the hard way.
Slovakia stood their ground and did it well. Their goalkeeper had the sort of game that was beginning to make the game look like the Martin Dúbravka show.
Scotland’s team discipline was good, but overall composure wasn’t. Scotland may have battered the woodwork umpteen times, but they played like over excited schoolboys for the majority of the match.
Every time they got the ball everyone ran in the same direction like a lunchtime football match in the playground. It was a complete dessertion of patience and professionalism at times.
There was no real influence in defence or midfield. Leaderless you might say.
The absence of Scott Brown was obvious, but that wasn’t a problem for Gordon Strachan. He just called upon the usual suspects for this vital clash.
We all knew he wouldn’t play Callum McGregor or John McGinn. They only got called up due to the withdrawal of Brown and fellow Celt Stuart Armstrong.
He’s probably already told them they’re lucky to be involved. We might seem then yet!
Strachan has an arrogance and stubbornness about him. He’d play Paul Telfer if he could swing it just to piss you off.
He won’t be dictated to by anyone and plays the kind of football that would frustrate even my mother. Were it not for the misfortune of Martin Skrtel, Strachan may have been looking at a dead rubber this Sunday and possibly even departing the national setup.
If I’m being honest, I was already discussing new candidates with a couple of friends – there weren’t many. It didn’t look like it was going to be Scotland’s night, but instead we are going down to the wire with a fighting chance of a playoff spot!
Man did I pick the wrong month to give up the bevy! Go Sober For October!