Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Well it's three days now since the World Cup finished. How soon we forget as the attention turns to the 2010/11 season ahead.

From an international footballing viewpoint though, all the attention is now on the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 in Poland and the Ukraine, which gets underway in earnest for Scotland on September 3rd with one of those ties we dread, an away trip to Lithuania, kicking things off.

And I'm feeling more optimistic than usual!

With Scotland being drawn in Group I (seriously, how many groups are we going to start having for qualifying in the future) and one of the groups of just five teams, I think we have a real chance of making at least the playoffs this time around and then it's the luck of the not very fair draw.

Now, the Euros haven't been kind to Scotland over the years, with just two qualifcations in 1992 and 1996. It seems so long ago because it was.

We missed out in 2000 when we were drawn against the previous tournament's runners up, the Czech Republic, who still had their team of a generation and went unbeaten in the qualifying. Then missed out on qualification through the playoffs to England of all teams, losing 2-1, scoring the last 'proper' goal at the old Wembley in the process. I was at Hampden for that first leg and the atmosphere was the most electric football crowd I've ever been in.

The 2004 campaign saw us drawn with the 2002 World Cup runners up, Germany. We suffered a disasterous, no, nightmarish, opening draw away in the Faroes before getting our asses in gear, facing the Dutch in the playoffs, raising everyone's hopes with a 1-0 first leg win and then being trounced six zip in Amsterdam. That's the Scotland way!

The 2008 qualifying campaign saw even more misfortune with our group when we were matched up against not only the 2006 World Cup winners Italy, but also in a bizarre twist of fate, the runners up too, France in Group B. Despite those odds, the lads battled so bravely and just missed out by two points. It's much overused, but those guys were true Bravehearts that campaign.

And now our qualifying jinx has struck again as we face Spain, the current Euro and World Cup Champions. What's the odds of that happening again and what the fuck did we do to annoy the draw gods in the first place?

Lithuania, Liechtenstein and the Czechs hold no fear for me though. Being in a group of five and having the 149th ranked FIFA team as whipping boys will help us no end.

Then of course, there's the small obstacle of the Spanish to overcome, but you know what, I think we can hold our own against them from what we've seen the past month and no I haven't gone crazy from spending so many hours of late watching the google box.

Sure they're classy, they're passy but they're certainly not a goalscoring machine to fear. I think the Netherlands did us a big favour on Sunday by showing us how to play against the new World Champions. Forget flair, forget trying to outpass them and keep possession, as we're not going to do that, what we need to do is to upset their rhythm. Throw them off their game with some tough tackling. We need a Billy Bremner type figure to step forward and kick them off the park.

It's not going to be pretty. Hell, maybe it's not even football. But it's the Scottish way and I think we can have a real chance against them if we do that. Let them dictate the game and we'll fall. Don't give them a minute to gather their thoughts and a team has a chance and if any team can play like that, it's Scotland.

So the Dutch may have lost the plot and the game on Sunday but they may have shown us a glimmer of hope in the process. Whether it works or not, we'll have to wait until the first game at Hampden on October 12th to find out.

I'm really looking forward to this qualification campaign. It can't start soon enough for me. Maybe we should all start to make some Polish friends and brush up on the language.


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