Friday, 11 October 2013

The Final Strech

For Scotland, the end of the current World Cup campaign can’t come quick enough. For other countries, the next week will be key to their chances of confirming their place at next years World Cup.
Snodgrass scores in Scotland's away win in Croatia
It doesn’t take too much to figure out what happened to Scotland, a hard group and a manager that kept on picking square pegs for round holes.  As a result, Levein’s teams struggled to keep the goals out and to keep any kind of prescience in midfield.

Since taking over, Strachan’s Scotland has looked more solid in midfield.  The centre of defence is still a concern – all of the goals in the friendly at Wembley came from bad defending at set-pieces while there were lapses in the home defeat to Belgium.  Scotland could still finish bottom of their group – Wales play Macedonia tonight before Tuesday’s final group games.  Wales finish in Belgium, Scotland finish at home to Croatia while Macedonia finish in Serbia.

With the celtic nations already out, it falls to England to keep alive any British interest in next years World Cup. Unlike the previous campaigns under Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson, England are not quite home and hosed.

Currently, England top their group by a point.  They do have two games left though, starting with tonight’s game against Montenegro.  Both Ukraine & Montenegro sit a point behind England, while Ukraine’s opponents tonight – Poland – sit a further 2 points behind.  Group H looks as if it will go down to the wire as England’s last match sees them up against their old favourites Poland at Wembley.

17 October 1973, England 1, Poland 1
There’s not really a Scottish equivalent to England V Poland, either in terms of the regularity that these teams seem to meet – they were drawn together in the qualifying rounds of the 1990, 94 & 98 World Cups and for Euro 2000 – that was after meeting at Mexico ’86, or in terms of the significance of their first qualifying meetings – when Poland knocked England out during qualifying for the 1974 World Cup – with the tie at Wembley (above) being essentially the last hurrah for the generation of England players & management that had won the World Cup 7 years earlier.

Having said that, a win for our nearest & dearest tonight, coupled with a Poland win in Ukraine, will see them all but there.  Bet you’re already looking forward to those World Cup special’s already…  hmmmm…

At the time of writing, there doesn’t look as if there will be any major fallers at this point.  However, remember that after next week we will only have 10 of Europe’s 14 qualifiers.  There will be the lottery of a round of play-offs to come.  For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all that’s left is planning for the next European Championships.