Defeat in Georgia could prove decisive
7 September ~ Just when we thought we’d exorcised the national habit of making things hard for ourselves, Scotland go into in tonight’s Euro 2016 home qualifier against the world champions needing to revive our giantkilling reputation. Before Friday’s insipid 1-0 loss in Georgia, Gordon Strachan’s side were Group D’s supreme pragmatists, remaining in contention without doing anything stupid or brilliant. But, in an epically tight campaign, securing Scotland’s first finals tournament in 18 years remains one spectacular result away.
Last September’s meeting in Dortmund saw Scotland lose 2-1. A classic counterattacking goal by Ikechi Anya proved sparse reward for a tactically astute performance. But the world is peppered with mediocre teams claiming to have run Germany close. Even while winning last summer’s World Cup, their thrashings of Portugal and Brazil disguised the fact Germany’s other games all ended in draws or one-goal wins.
Germany peak when it counts. Last October in Warsaw saw their first ever loss to Poland; John O’Shea’s 94th minute equaliser for the Republic of Ireland in Dortmund then shook the team famed for never switching off. Third place and the play-offs looked fleetingly possible. But despite the retirement of some Brazil 2014 stars, including all-time top scorer Miroslav Klose, Joachim Löw’s side replaced the Poles at the top of the group on Friday by beating them 3-1 in Frankfurt.
Scotland are now fourth but remain just three points off an automatic qualification spot thanks to 1-0 home wins over both Georgia and the Republic as well as drawing in Warsaw and Dublin. Such close matches, heavyweight opponents, and lack of daylight in the table had already minimised Tartan Army hysteria – of any flavour. There was a brief reversion to type as we conceded Gibraltar’s first ever competitive goal, at Hampden in March. Typical of this campaign, though, that humiliation was cancelled out in the same game by Steven Fletcher netting our first hat-trick in 46 years. Gibraltar’s goal in a 6-1 scoreline gave Strachan a negative with which to keep a nation’s feet on the ground.
Now he has a loss to the previously hapless Georgians and the fact Scotland are the only UK national side never to have beaten Germany in a competitive match. Overall, the fixture epitomises both dour German practicality and glorious Scottish failure. In 16 previous meetings they’ve only once beaten us by more than a single goal. And even that 2-0 defeat in Norrköping was one of the most literally hard games Scotland have given anyone. World Cup-winning defenders Guido Buchwald and Stefan Reuter both went off with match-ending head knocks as Scotland laid siege and Germany, out of substitutes, survived with ten men.
Adding insult, Scotland have the far superior record in friendlies. In 1957 Germany became the first reigning world champions to lose to Scotland, 3-1 in Stuttgart. Forty-two years later, as European champions, they lost in Bremen to a solitary Don Hutchison goal.
This remains Scotland’s best qualifying campaign since Euro 2008, which only failed when we lost away to Georgia then at home to the world champions. That was Italy and in 22 previous meetings with whoever’s holding the World Cup, Scotland have won just three times yet only been hammered three times. It’s a pragmatic record. But that loss in Tbilisi, and Poland’s October visit, means tonight Scotland – once again – need a stupidly brilliant result. Alex Anderson