Another struggle for Gordon Strachan
24 February ~ I sometimes feel I've more chance of seeing Scotland play the DDR, USSR or Ottoman Empire. Of the 54 UEFA countries, Switzerland are the biggest of the 13 I've yet to see live. It wasn't just that their Euro 2016 pot was drawn last at Nice's Palais des Congrès Acropolis, or that Dino Zoff gave us Ireland instead. Most galling was that another old goalie Jan Tomaszewski then put the Swiss into the very next group, and that it was England's. I felt yesterday's qualifying draw was rigged purely to annoy me. Wales and Northern Ireland fans may recognise the symptoms of too many fruitless campaigns endured.
For the Celtic nations yesterday was the biggest international football event of 2014, our only whiff of the competitive and meaningful until September. After 16 years of attending Scotland games leading to zero major finals I've buried frustration under a conspicuously achievable aim: World Cup or Euros, you always have to qualify via the UEFA teams. Having attended my first qualifier in October 1980 – 0-0 with Portugal at Hampden – and despaired the third and fourth times we drew the Faroes, I realised there was a list I'd been unintentionally working through.
We played Switzerland in Aberdeen, during the USA 94 qualifiers, while I existed in Glasgow on a grant. I couldn't get a ticket for the Euro 96 encounter at Villa Park. When the Swiss were announced as Euro 2008 co-hosts I knew they wouldn't be in anyone's qualifying group. But they arranged a 2006 Hampden friendly. I contracted tonsillitis the week of the game but took the car, determined to at least survive the anthems and kick-off. Picking up a friend en route, the air turned to glass in my throat. A drop-off and U-turn is the closest I've come to seeing Switzerland.
It's always great seeing Germany. But as with Ireland, Georgia and Poland, I'm seeing them again. Gibraltar, in their first tournament proper, are a huge tick. But although Gordon Strachan could easily take us to second spot in this group – when third might be enough – I'll lament the fact it could've contained three more of my previously unseen UEFA nations. I spent Saturday dreading the prospect of Lithuania for a fourth time since 1999, entirely forgetting a fantastic day at a packed, victorious Hampden the second time I saw them. When you think you're qualifying you really don't care who you beat. After 28 and 56 years of respective non-qualification, Northern Irish and Welsh punters may have developed similar confused coping strategies.
Anyway, we host Germany on a Monday – I could bag Israel at Wales on the Sunday then Switzerland at Wembley on the Tuesday. UEFA's much-trumpeted "Week of Football" might benefit one fan at least. Alex Anderson