Can Scotland dare to dream?
In the midst of one of the worst crises to ever affect the world last year, there was something to rally around, a collective cause that truly brought out the best in the nation. Scotland's men's team qualified for an international competition for the first time in 23 years. For the first time in the lives of a great many Edinburgh students, we got to see our lads compete on the world stage. As with most bright moments in Scottish sport, it didn’t last long but it was a damn good time. A year later and here we are, ready for more, excited to see what’s next for the boys in blue.
The World Cup Qualifiers are in full swing and the Scotland men’s team are doing us proud. It was a slow start with a grim but expected loss to Denmark followed up by a predictably humdrum win against Moldova. All was forgiven following an incredibly tense but exhilarating 1-0 victory against Austria that’s keeping the hope of qualifying alive.
Despite all this, it’s clear to see that we’ve had a slow start and if we play as we did against Moldova then we’re in for a grim few months. The team needs to be ready to play their best, to put the effort, to press their advantages instead of dithering in midfield as they so often end up doing. We’ve seen the lads at their best, and they'll need to play like it’s Serbia all over again. They can do it, we’ve seen them in full swing, but we need that momentum to come back.
Scotland currently sits in 2nd place in our group ahead of the October international break, consisting of games against Israel and the Faroe Islands. We’ll have the home advantage against Israel but they are a team we’ve only beaten twice in the last six meetings, so we’ll need every advantage we can get. Steve Clarke's men face a precarious balancing act, needing to break forward far more yet all the while avoiding taking unnecessary risks with this much on the line. November offers little hope when Scotland face a side yet to concede in qualifying, and coming out of a remarkable Euros campaign, in the form of Denmark.
The Faroe Islands however were handed a 4-0 loss when we last played them in March of this year and their recent game against Denmark resulted in a merciless 8-0 drubbing. Clarke’s team are fully capable of getting Scotland to their first World Cup since France '98. It’ll be tough and pipping Denmark to the top spot is hardly feasible, but the playoffs are once more in our sights.
The lads seem to be going into the next few games with a full squad and we can only hope that there are no injuries or isolations. Few things would be more galling than missing out on a spot at the World Cup because a key player had been out at a nightclub.
Steve Clarke has achieved in the last 18 months what Scotland managers for over two decades have been desperate to pull off. After a thrilling but expectedly short Euros campaign last year, drawn with eventual runners-up England and Russia 2018 finalists Croatia, it’s clear the team and the country are champing at the bit for more. Scotland has a team that the whole nation is firmly behind once more, a team full of rising stars, a team that can win when the pressure piles on. You could say the stars have aligned, this is a chance for something good to come through at last after two miserable years, and many more of truly shite football. Nobody's expecting to win the World Cup, but there's an increasingly tangible chance we'll finally be there.
Image courtesy of Stuart MacKenzie