Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Scotland get their disastrous 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign underway again in just over two weeks time when Wales come a calling to Hampden Park.

There's not exactly a lot to look forward to in the fixture, apart from maybe getting some revenge for the travesty that happened in Cardiff in October and the hope that someone in a blue jersey will give the diving Gareth Bale the hard kick he truly deserves (my money's on Scott Brown, whether he plays or not!).

Bottom of Group A after four games, eight points adrift of the top spot and with five teams above us in the table, it's all looking a bit bleak and there's still six games to go.

You could take the glass half full approach and say that's still 18 points available that would take us up to a whopping 20, or you can take the more realistic approach that we're now looking ahead to the campaign for Euro 2016 and the 'Road to Rio Paris'.

Even if we do start to string a few wins together, jetting off to Brazil next year would require a more unlikely comeback than Gary Glitter.

The only good thing to come out of this campaign so far is that it has meant the end of Craig Levein as the Scotland boss, something we can at least all be grateful for, so thank you cards should be on the way to the FA's of Serbia, Macedonia, Wales and Belgium.

In what should have been a surprise to no-one, Gordon Strachan was named his replacement on January 15th this year and the new gaffer has a 100% record so far following the narrow 1-0 win over the mighty Estonia last month.

At least he managed to beat a team below us in the FIFA world rankings, so he's already off on a better footing than Levein.

It was a horrible performance, but we might have a few more of those ahead of us in the next few months.

Strachan is faced with a dilemma. Does he play his strongest team and experienced players in the remaining qualifiers, in the hope that some kind of footballing miracle can be pulled off, or does he blood the new breed of Scottish internationals and let the likes of Jordan Rhodes get valuable experience spearheading the attack, thinking ahead to that next qualifying campaign?

For me, it has to be the latter.

Strachan needs to use these games to take a good look at the group of players that will be key to trying to reach France in 2016. He needs to see if they can perform at the top level and get them experience playing in these kind of matches. Treat the rest of the World Cup campaign as training games and let the players stake a claim and show that they deserve to be in the international reckoning.

Give some the U21s a shot, as they'll be moving up soon enough. Hell, I'd even throw 17 year old Islam Feruz into the mix at some point.

Not all of the current crop and older players are wanting to be put out to international pasture quite yet though.

One of that old guard is current captain Kenny Miller, who still dearly wants to be involved in the Scottish national team set up, whether the Tartan Army want him to be or not!

To let you know just how keen he is to be part of Strachan's plans, Miller made the gruelling 12+ hour trip from Vancouver to Scotland in February for that Estonian friendly. When you consider how many players have all of a sudden got an injury when friendlies come around, it's some commitment.

Not only that, but he put his place for his club at risk by doing it, leaving their Whitecaps' vital preseason training camp, which has just got underway.

He's no plans on stopping making that trip, but how does he cope with the jetlag?

"It takes a wee bit of time getting used to it. I think the more you do it, the more you're kind of prepared to get used to the timing of things going both ways. I generally find it not too bad coming back this way (to Vancouver)".

Miller has had a pretty rough time of it after moving to Vancouver Whitecaps and Major League Soccer last summer. He's only scored twice in 13 appearances and lost his starting spot towards the end of the season.

The offseason in North America seems to have revitalised him though and he's looking fitter and sharper than at any time there so far. He also taking on a different kind of role, playing more as an attacking midfielder behind the lone striker up top.

He's also been finding himself coaching the three young strikers around him, the oldest of whom is 22, eleven years his junior. It's a role that seems to have brought the best out of him and a smile to his face.

Maybe it's not quite time to put him out to graze in a Scotland jersey just yet and he'll be used in a similar coaching and mentoring role for the rest of this campaign, helping some of the young Scottish strikers to be fully prepared for international football.

That of course will be up to Strachan.

Miller made his debut for Scotland in April 2001, when he came on as a sub against Portland. During his international career, which currently sees him with 17 goals in 66 appearances, he has served his country under seven different Scotland managers, including the newly appointed Strachan.

It's a familiar voice in the dressing room for Miller, having played under him during his brief time at Celtic, so what does the current Scottish captain make of the new Scotland boss? A good appointment and someone to turn the fortunes of the national team around?

"Well, only time will tell. Obviously we got off to a winning start. It wasnae a great performance and things, but we got the win and that was the main thing. We just need to build on that for the next qualifiers."

That they do, and not exactly words to get you carried away for the new Scotland boss.

One Vancouver based Scot who does think that Strachan will do a good job in his new role is Miller's club boss, Martin Rennie:

"I think it's a good appointment. He's obviously got great experience and had a lot of success as a manager and I think he'll command the respect of the players and the media as well.

"It's a tough job being the Scotland manager but he's one of the guys that you could see doing very well, hopefully like Walter Smith and Alex McLeish did."

Hopefully indeed. But even more hopefully, like a Jock Stein or Andy Roxburgh and actually see us qualify for major tournaments again.

We have a dream. Let's hope it can come true. The rebuilding starts March 22nd.

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