England efficiency should be the model
5 September ~ An element of the Scottish character has recently been discovered just in time for the referendum; our progressive liberalism and love of social justice. While this notional nation of do-gooders dispensing charity and kind thoughts wherever they go may be hard to spot in reality, it is a more concrete element of our identity I fear. In the unlikely event of a Euro 2016 qualifying victory over Germany on Sunday, our desire to be plucky underdogs could seriously undermine our best chance of qualifying for an international tournament for the first time since 1998.
The sense of achievement of beating the best team in the world would be so great we could neglect the bread and butter activities of slogging it out against Poland, Ireland and Georgia to secure qualification.
We have form. After the 1967 victory at Wembley, another European Championship qualifier, Scotland became the self-proclaimed Unofficial World Champions. However rather than a team of David's taking on Goliath, the Scotland team that day boasted six players who would play in European finals for Celtic and Rangers a month later, plus Jim Baxter, Denis Law and Billy Bremner. Rather than Scotland's greatest ever victory, it should be recast as another glorious failure as England went through due to Scotland's poor results elsewhere.
Although this World Cup will have revealed the size of Sunday's task, we can take encouragement from stellar performances in the tournament from many English-based players such as Bryan Ruiz, Tim Howard, Diego Lugano and Ron Vlaar as it has made clear players don't need to be signed to one of the Premier League's glamour clubs to impress at international level. Not only will the majority of Scots be called from those same middle-ranking English top-tier teams, they will also actually be playing regularly, a recent innovation.
Apart from the centre of defence, Scotland have qualities everywhere. Steven Naismith will surely play as lone striker after his goal a game start to the season, full-back Alan Hutton is playing well for his club while many observers felt goalkeeper David Marshall was the league's best last season. Compared to the team which started the last Euro campaign four years ago, which had only two playing in England's top division and a 40-year-old centre-half, there are lots of positives.
To qualify, Gordon Strachan needs to make England our model of steady efficiency, beating teams we are better than and losing to stronger teams, an unromantic effectiveness we last enjoyed under Craig Brown. With Scotland the second highest ranked team in the group and possibly three qualifiers, we could actually do it; helped by Germany getting their World Cup hangover performance out of the way against Argentina. Gordon Cairns