SCOTLAND have learned their fate in their latest bid to qualify for a major international tournament as the 2014 World Cup Qualifying draw was made in Rio this evening.
The Scots will have to overcome Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia and Wales in order to make their first appearance on the World’s biggest stage since France ’98.
It makes tough reading but it could’ve been so much more difficult for Craig Levein’s men as they avoided big guns like Spain, Germany, Holland and France along the way.
Being in pot four, the likelihood of Scotland getting a “Group of Death” scenario was always high but it looks like there will be little to choose between all the teams in the road to Brazil.
Croatia emerged as an emerging force in International Football following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, which seen them peak at France ’98 with a third-placed finish. Their current squad maybe a shadow of that side but they still have a talented squad, with Tottenham’s Luka Modric their star man and we already know about the goal threat of Rangers very own Nika Jelavic so they will be a difficult proposition.
Whilst France and Russia were, undoubtedly, the teams to avoid from pot two, there can’t have been too many Scotland fans delighted at the prospect of facing Serbia. They qualified for the last two World Cups and, in Nemanja Vidic, they pose one of European Football’s best central defenders whilst the talents of Inter Milan’s Dejan Stankovic will need to be closely scrutinised to stop him using his creative influence to their effect.
Like Scotland, Belgium are a team with a proud qualification record who, like ourselves, have went through a barren period without reaching a major finals, in their case 9 years. However, they have shown improvement as they sit second in their Euro 2012 qualifying section ahead of Turkey and will be very difficult to breakdown with Vincent Kompany and
Thomas Vermaelen from the Premier League joined by Daniel van Buyten of Bayern Munich.
Macedonia bring back bad memories from our last World Cup campaign and our opening game defeat in Skopje set the tone for a dismal campaign as Scotland missed out on South Africa 2010. Goran Pandev of Inter Milan is the danger man and Scotland will need to pay close attention to him to avoid a repeat of that result, plus relying on better organisation
from our current manager and SFA Chief Executive on the timing of the game and when to fly to Skopje than the previous regime.
Wales, of course, highlight the lows of the Burley and Berti Vogts regimes and Craig Levein will be keen to avoid another Cardiff mauling if we’re to progress. Wales’ pot six rating was harsh and do have better players than their ranking suggest, such as PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s young midfield maestro Aaron Ramsey, who is fully recovered from a horrific leg break.
So how did Scotland fans react to the draw?
John Earl of Glasgow feels the rivalry between the three former Yugoslav states will benefit us. He said: “It’s a good group. Serbia and Croatia will focus on each other and Macedonia will up the ante against them, I am confident.”
However, not everyone was so optimistic, like Ross McNeil of Lenzie who said: “Total nightmare. Minus the top team (Croatia), it’s a dreadful draw. Bring on Euro 2016!”
Scotland certainly have their work cut out if they are to grace the world’s greatest football showpiece for the first time since Craig Brown led us to France ’98 and we have landed some difficult games.
However, there is some cause for optimism generated by the recent improvement in the team since the low of 4-6-0 in Prague. The performance against Spain showed everyone (including Levein) that our squad isn’t as bad as people think and we have players playing at a good level in club football, with Darren Fletcher at Manchester United and Charlie Adam
of Liverpool the two notable examples.
Of course, there is still a lot to work on if the National team is to improve further and qualify for major tournaments again but with the right organisation, passion and belief, you may never know.
Another factor that will be crucial to our qualification hopes is the fixture schedule. Last time out, despite being in a favourable position with our pot two status, it is argued that we contributed to our own downfall by starting away to Macedonia in the sweltering heat and finishing off with eventual World Cup finalists Holland. Being in pot four means that we won’t be in a favourable position but, if the new SFA board negotiate stringently, we may well get a good schedule to enhance our chances of qualification.
Time will tell if Scotland will make Brazil 2014 but that’s for another day – we still have a European Championship qualifying campaign to finish first!
Written by John Bleasdale