THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Scotland overtaken by Republic of Ireland in recent decades

icon scotfans13 June ~ Scotland’s 1-0 home win over the Republic of Ireland in November was so physically draining – for players and fans – another grim epic is expected in this Saturday’s return. An irregular fixture has morphed into an intense local battle for more than European Championship qualifying places. A win at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium wouldn’t guarantee Scotland’s qualification for France 2016. But it would, after 28 years, restore us to the dubious mantle of England’s most prestigious local rival.

Poland top Group D by a point from Germany. Scotland remain level on points with the world champions. Gordon Strachan’s side are the first of three straight home ties for Martin O’Neill’s Republic, only two points behind. Such a gruelling campaign leaves no room for off-field problems. FIFA last week claimed it paid the FAI €5 million (£3.6m) to abandon a legal case against France’s illegal winner in their 2010 World Cup play-off. The Irish parliament is asking for clarification. Scots hope a tide is turning.

The last “competitive” Dublin meeting was the decider of the 2011 Carling Nations Cup, a short-lived home countries tournament marked by low crowds and England’s absence. The Republic’s 1-0 win confirmed a changing of the celtic guard which began with Mark Lawrenson’s Hampden winner in February 1987.

Gary Mackay’s winner against Bulgaria in Sofia nine months later couldn’t help Scotland reach the European championships. But it famously sent Jack Charlton’s side to Germany 88 instead of the Bulgarians.

The Republic’s first ever tournament match saw Glasgow-born Ray Houghton score their winner against England in Stuttgart. This was roundly enjoyed in Scotland. Not so, Italia 90: the Irish made the quarter-finals with Scotland, as always, eliminated at the group stage. From 1974 to 1998, as Scotland reached six World Cups and two European Championships, we believed Scots of Irish descent such as Tommy Coyne and Owen Coyle represented the Republic as a second choice. However when Houghton scored the winner against Italy at USA 94 the Tartan Army, again watching from home, sensed a worrying trend.

In 2002 the Republic reached the World Cup knockout stage for the third time. When Falkirk-born Aiden McGeady played for them at Euro 2012 Scotland were absent from their seventh straight tournament. Like ex-Hamilton Accies starlet James McCarthy, McGeady wasn’t picking the Republic purely because the SFA didn’t help their early development: the FAI simply had the better national side.

McGeady was constantly barracked by home fans at Celtic Park in November. But surely the real betrayal was Scotland’s inability to keep him. SFA performance director Mark Wotte resigned last October, claiming he’d successfully reconstructed Scotland’s youth development. We’ll believe him when Irish kids start searching for Scottish grandparents. In the meantime Scotland need three away points today – anything to erase the memory of Mark Lawrenson celebrating. Alex Anderson

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