Sunday, February 7, 2010

Craig Levein will have known it was never going to be an easy baptism for him as Scotland manager, but the draw for the 2012 European Championships have left the new Scotland boss and the team with what looks like a mountain to climb for qualification.

The draw took place in Warsaw in Poland today and the Scots find themselves in a group alongside reigning champions Spain, the dangerous Czech Republic, a team we always seem to strugle with in Lithuania and minnows Liechtenstein.

It's not exactly a draw to fill you with much optimism, arguably pitting Scotland against the most dangerous teams in both Pots 1 and 2.

With the top team automatically qualifying from each of the nine groups, Spain are clearly odds on favourites to take that spot for the Championships in Poland and Ukraine in two years time.

With six groups of six and three groups of five (including Scotland's Group I), the best second placed team will also advance from the groups, with the remaining eight second placed sides battling it out in the playoffs for qualification.

As usual, the mismatched group numbers will mean that those finishing second in groups of six teams will have their points against the bottom side in the group discounted from their tallies when it comes to those in the frame for who is the best placed runner up.

We don't want to be too doom and gloom before the qualification campaign even begins, as qualification is still very possible. We have no idea what kind of side Levein will send out or how they will play. We may yet be surprised. As much as we dislike the guy, he has done well at many, but not all, of the teams he has managed.

The Czech Republic are also not the force that they used to be. They were a formiddable force a few years back, but their squad have aged. Since their collapse against Turkey in the group stages of the last Euros in 2008, they have struggled. They not only failed to make this year's World Cup in South Africa, but they didn't even make the playoffs for the second placed team, finishing in third place and just one point above Northern Ireland in fourth.

They are very beatable and qualification, or at least a playoff spot, is very achievable.

A lot of course will depend what Scotland will turn up for the campaign. Will it be the brave performances that we saw against the likes of Italy and France in the last qualification campaign for the European Championships, that saw us just miss out, or will it be more of what we saw under George Burley?

I personally think we will see an improvement. We may also find that it's the games against Lithuania and not the Czechs that are going to hold the key to our chances of qualification.

Typical Scotland though. Always having to do it the hard way.

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