Is Scotland's World Cup qualification all-but over?
Let’s not beat around the bush here; Scotland’s last two World Cup qualifying matches have been abysmal.
A draw at home to Lithuania, equalising in the 90th minute on Saturday was followed up by an embarrassing 3-0 defeat away to Slovakia, who had not scored a single goal in their previous two games.
The results leave Scotland fourth in the table of six teams, and have left a bitter taste in the mouths of the fans who were treated to an emphatic 5-1 kicking of Malta at the start of the campaign.
After the Lithuania game, some papers were trying to claim that Scotland’s qualification campaign was all over, and on the face of it a draw to a team ranked much lower than Scotland in the FIFA World Rankings, at home, was a poor result, but at least the Scots clawed their way back into the match and crucially gained a point.
After the game Scotland were still second in the table, so if there was a quick turnaround and upturn in performance in Slovakia the campaign would be right on track.
But there wasn’t. The opposite was true.
Against the Lithuanians, Scotland were rather predictable at times – sending the ball down the left to Andy Robertson who would then cross it into the box – but at least they were making some promising attacks.
The performance against Slovakia was truly shocking. The Slovakians were truly deserving of their 3-0 victory, and in truth Scotland never really got into the game, and didn’t seem to respond well to try and get back into contention like they did against Lithuania.
Of course, it is easier to respond and get a goal back when playing in front of a home crowd and yes Slovakia are theoretically a stronger side than Lithuania, but it was alarming how easy it was for Slovakia to steamroll the Scots.
The defending was shocking, the sporadic attacks unconvincing and the spirit just seemed completely drained from the players.
All this has led to manager Gordon Strachan coming under close scrutiny, with his job looking to be well and truly on the line.
For me, I still think he should get a few games to prove himself. As the skipper Darren Fletcher said, continuity is good for the side, but Strachan must show he is worthy.
Another couple of lacklustre of performances simply will not suffice. If England batter Scotland at Wembley, then I think the Scottish FA should start scouting potential replacements, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.
Scotland have been playing some really encouraging football since Strachan took over from Craig Levein in 2013 (out of the 32 games Strachan has been in charge of the Tartan Army, he has won 15 of them), and he oversaw a relatively strong campaign for EURO 2016 qualification before a disappointing goalless draw against Georgia.
It is performances like that, a lapse of concentration if you will, that ultimately seem to cost Scotland time and time again. After three games, it appears we have arguably done that twice already, so if Scotland are to reach their first World Cup since 1998, some serious graft needs to be put in, and quickly.
But the players and many of Strachan’s peers don’t want to see the former Celtic boss out the door, with Barry Bannan blaming the players on the pitch, saying “we’re the ones out there losing games.”
The man himself also seems to want to stick it out, for the game against England on November 11 at least, which I think is absolutely the right call. This could well be just a blip that can be recovered from. We aren’t even half way through the campaign yet so taking such drastic action would not be wise.
There are far too many clubs and sometimes countries that dismiss their managers after just a few bad results in today’s football climate. It is a ruthless way of dealing with things and I don’t think it necessarily helps the team move forwards. Just look at Aston Villa.
Having said that however, if Scotland are on the end of an absolute thrashing from an England side bereft of any confidence and direction then I do think Strachan’s future needs to be considered.
Scotland haven’t qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, and the book of excuses as to why we haven’t is wearing rather thin.
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