Another Scotland qualifying campaign has ended without a success, the 8th in a row, But for the first time in five years, I believe we have a decent chance at ending the barren run and qualifying for Euro 2016.
First of all, we finished in the group where we were expected to. With the powerhouses of Belgium and Croatia, currently two of the top ten ranked sides in the world, we weren’t in with much of a chance of getting the place we needed to samba in Brazil next year. We were in pot 4 for the draw, which put us behind Serbia as well, a team that has qualified for the last two World Cups.
The damage was done to our campaign as early as last October, after miserable draws at home against uninspired Serbia and Macedonia sides that were there for the taking. Couple that with an inevitable defeat in Brussels and a poor showing against Gareth Bale in Cardiff, and we have been doomed for a year. Craig Levein’s sacking paved the way for a new start, which we have got.
Gordon Strachan’s reign is off to a start that makes me believe in our team again, like I did when Walter Smith and then Alex MacLeish were at the helm of the turbulent Scotland ship. Back then we narrowly missed out on Euro 2008 qualification behind the two teams that had just contested the World Cup Final, France and Italy. We even beat the French twice, you might remember.
Strachan’s two fantastic wins over Croatia certainly come close to that feat against the French, if not in glamour but in substance. A side that is arguably as good as the French were then, the Croats were defeated twice by a Scotland side that is showing good passing ability and some exciting play – rather than backs-to-the-wall for 60 minutes before popping in one lucky effort and holding out for the win.
We won away in a difficult environment in Skopje against Macedonia, and even led the Auld Enemy twice before finally succumbing to a defeat at Wembley, which is not an embarrassment in the slightest. Our away form is improving, and when we come up against middling teams again at Hampden, I’m sure we can take them on more convincingly than we have of late.
All over the park, players are stepping up and performing for Scotland – something that we have been lacking over the last few years. Ikechi Anya is proving to be a brilliant addition to the team, being a good, solid left back as well as a menacing attacking threat with bags of pace. Already he has scored and set up goals against good teams; he has serious potential to be a Scotland star.
Scott Brown’s role in the centre of the park has been crucial in the new passing style of the team, keeping the team ticking as well as helping out with great defensive play. Brown reads the game better than almost anyone on the park, and against the top teams he’s proven he can compete.
Elsewhere in midfield, James Morrison has improved greatly in the last year to becoming a strong player in the team. Shaun Maloney has proved at Wigan what a valuable player he is, and with set-piece ability, as he showed so dramatically against Macedonia last month, he is an asset to the team. It shows our strength that the unquestionably talented Gary Mackay-Steven isn’t getting a game.
Even up front, with the likes of Steven Fletcher, Steven Naismith and Jordan Rhodes we have potential for goal scorers, if they can find their shooting boots in internationals.
I believe the next campaign could be the one. Our chances are even better with the fact that Euro 2016 will feature 24 teams rather than the usual 16, so being in the top half of European sides will be enough to net a qualifying spot. The format for the next qualifying campaign is unclear, but we’ll certainly be in a great position to challenge next time around.
We’ll find out in late February what lies ahead for Scotland’s quest to return to the summer stage, and hopefully this summer’s month of football will be the last where us Scots are watching at home on the telly wondering what could have been.