Sunday, September 06, 2015

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Qualification

So, a few points to take away from that Georgia v Scotland match...

1)  Strachan is a lucky manager, but everyone's luck runs out eventually.

Scotland's recent performances have been reminiscent of some of Celtic's good fortune in Champions League games under Gordon Strachan.  In particular, I'm reminded of MacDonald and Donati's last-gasp winners against Milan and Donetsk, and Saha's inexplicable one-on-one balls-up versus Boruc for Manchester United, and his subsequent penalty miss.

Throughout Strachan's reign, Scotland have benefitted from our opponents' spectacular profligacy in front of goal - Croatia missed a barrel-load of sitters in our previous campaign, while Ireland, Poland and Georgia have all spooned late chances to equalise or to win outright.

We might say that we were a bit unlucky against Germany, but not that much.  Ultimately, Friday's game is the type of match that we might have taken a point from due to a lucky deflection, this time last year.  Unfortunately, there were few opportunities for Lady Luck to help out because

2)  Scotland didn't put a single shot on target

Fletcher's shot that hit the post was offside, and that was the best chance we created.  Which is criminal, when playing against a team that had only taken three points from six games, and those were picked up against Gibraltar.

Straight after Georgia scored, I turned to my friend and said - We're going to be standing here on 88 minutes praying for an equaliser that will never come, aren't we?  And so it proved to be.

Simply, we didn't even pressure Georgia, let alone panic them.  We could make excuses about Georgia's mainly defensive play but ultimately, we're the team with the multi-million-pound Premiership striker, and they're not.

What stands out is that Scotland didn't look fit enough, sharp enough, creative enough or determined enough to even nick a goal, and that may be because

3) Far too many of these players aren't getting a game just now, or are playing badly.

Hutton isn't playing regularly.  Nor is Fletcher, and Naismith is generally a late substitution, if he plays at all.

Maloney, our best player in this campaign, has been fannying around in America all summer.  Mulgrew, Brown, Forrest and Griffiths were all notably guilty of attempting to stroll through Celtic's atrocious recent defeat to Malmo, as if they'd win simply because they're so very, very awesome.  It's hard to avoid laying particular culpability upon Scotland's Celtic contingent, most of whom are at present a lot better at running their mouths than they are at winning big games against committed opposition.   

Unfortunately for us, too many of these players are the Ikechi Anya type - nothing too dazzling week-by-week, but capable of pulling out great performances if the game suits them.  And that may yet be enough to see us past Germany and Poland, but let's be honest:

4) We've been here before.

How many times have Scotland fans shown up for games knowing that all we have to do to qualify is to beat Holland; to beat Italy, to beat England?

Every time the group fixtures are announced, you just know that it's all going to come down to the big box office game against the top seeds.  And this time, we don't only need to beat the world champions - we probably need to beat Poland, as well.  To put it mildly, that's unlikely to happen.

We might say - well, Scotland are at home, so their fiery commitment and stubbornness may just see them through.  To which I would say, they were just beaten on commitment, stubbornness, grit and determination by a team with no stars, that had absolutely nothing to play for.

All of this is the product of years of crapness, of course. We might have had a much easier time if we'd been drawn out of the second pot instead of Poland, and it's notable that all its taken to put us on the brink of non-qualification is one bad performance in one away game.

But the sad truth here is that

5) Scotland probably aren't good enough to qualify

We may not even finish third ahead of Ireland, in fact.  This, at a time when Wales and Northern Ireland are good enough to qualify, with only one proper superstar player between them.

And remember, this is probably the best-organised, most positive, most committed Scotland team for years.  A depressing thought, that. 


Metatone said...

Can't get away from the health (or lack of) of the domestic game.
One might even think that the demise of Rangers has (bizarrely perhaps) made things worse, because it's taken some intensity out of the top of the table clashes.

Igor Belanov said...

You do have to ask questions when Iceland have beaten Holland home and away and stand on the brink of qualification, but Scotland struggle again and again. Some pretty poor teams have qualified for 16-team European Championships, so it's not just about the quality of player or domestic league.

organic cheeseboard said...

This is cold comfort, but the draw wasn't exactly kind to Scotland. If you'd been drawn in the groups currently headed by Spain, England, Northern Ireland and Austria you'd have had a much better chance than in yours. and with that, a nitpick:

We might have had a much easier time if we'd been drawn out of the second pot instead of Poland

From wiki it looks like Poland were actually in the 3rd pot (and only just, they were almost in the 4th with you lot), with Ireland in the 2nd. But one thing that might help is that your coefficient will probably get better and thus maybe a higher pot next time around.

flyingrodent said...

This is cold comfort, but the draw wasn't exactly kind to Scotland.

This is true, but I'd say that defeat to Georgia really means we can't complain too much about this. Georgia's 147th-in-the-world standing is plainly very wrong, but they have it for a reason.

one thing that might help is that your coefficient will probably get better and thus maybe a higher pot next time around.

Let's hope so. In the meantime, two competitive games against England to look forward to - one, a battling draw or narrow defeat, and the other an utter roasting, I suspect.

Igor Belanov said...

I doubt it. England would struggle to 'roast' anyone other than San Marino, even with 'legendary' forward Wayne Rooney playing.