The last time Scotland faced the World Champions at Hampden in October 2010 it saw several members of the Tartan Army leave the national stadium scratching their heads.
Not at how they lost the match 3-2 to a Spain side containing the likes of Villa, Xavi and Iniesta but why the great effort to push the Spaniards so hard was missing in the previous qualifier – the 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in Prague – best be remembered for THAT formation.
Fast forward to Monday night and there was a sense of déjà vu when doing our post match analysis.
Another 3-2 defeat giving our all against the world’s best that followed a terrible showing in the previous qualifier that will have a more significant bearing on our qualification fate!
It does beg the question – why wasn’t there even a quarter of the desire, hunger and attitude in Tblisi that was evident against Germany?
Had that been in evidence on Friday, Scotland would undoubtedly have left Georgia with three points and still be in the hunt for automatic qualification with fate in our own hands.
Now, we need maximum points from our final two matches just to reach the playoffs – even then we need results from other matches, notably Ireland failing to beat both Germany and Poland, to go our way.
It just about epitomises life as a Scotland fan, perform heroically against the big guns and fail miserably against the minnows!
Going into last night’s game, pre-match talk was all about what changes Strachan would make, and it soon became clear that social media rumours were true that three alterations were made from the Tblisi disaster.
Grant Hanley came in for Andy Robertson with Charlie Mulgrew being shunted to the left back role he’s proven to be useless in, James McArthur’s impressive club form was rewarded with a start that saw Steven Naismith dropped (and James Morrison being moved further forward) and fans favourite Ikechi Anya was left out in favour of James Forrest, a man who’s inclusion in the squad ahead of the likes of Gary MacKay-Steven was baffling enough.
Despite heavy criticism from pundits and fans alike, Strachan kept faith with misfiring striker Steven Fletcher to lead the line ahead of Leigh Griffiths.
As kickoff approached, all debate over team selection was put aside for the sake of getting behind the team ahead of a gruelling 90 minutes against a side who lifted World Football’s most prestigious trophy last summer.
We all knew it was going to be a tough examination and so it proved as the Germans got into their rhythm of moving the ball around blue-shirted shadows as we dug into deny them into clear goal scoring positions.
Unfortunately, it was never going to last and just 18 minutes were on the clock when the visitors took the lead when Thomas Mùller’s shot took a wicked deflection off Russell Martin beyond the stranded David Marshall.
Following the Georgia disaster, you had a sense of “here we go again” but Scotland managed to get right back into the game within ten minutes of that setback.
A free kick from campaign talisman Shaun Maloney was fumbled by the normally reliable Manuel Neuer and the ball ricocheted off the chest of Mats Hummels into the net, sending the home support into sheer delerium.
The joy lasted just six minutes though as Marshall parried an Emre Can effort back into the danger zone. Mùller got his head onto it and the ball trundled over the line off the post to regain the lead for Germany.
However, Scotland again responded and another Maloney set piece led to another equaliser just two minutes from half time. His corner was cleared as far as McArthur, who’s half volley sailed into the roof of the net, ensuring a happy Tartan Army at half time.
With Ireland drawing at half time with Georgia, you wondered if our luck was about to turn back in our favour and keep our Euro 2016 hopes in our hands. Could we pull off an unlikely result against the Worlds best or even go one better and claim three precious points?
Germany ensured they wouldn’t slip up like they done earlier in the campaign against Poland and the Irish by taking the lead for the third and final time after 54 minutes when Ilkay Gundogan placed home following a slick move.
Scotland huffed and puffed to get back into the game but, other than a Hutton effort into the side netting, couldn’t create the chance they needed to rescue a point and had come off the pitch with that unwanted gallant losers tag yet again.
Whilst there was no faulting the Scots effort, there was no doubt that the better team won on the night and Germany could easily have lifted the tempo at any point such was the quality they possessed.
Scotland can take heart from the performance but the players should be going back to their clubs asking themselves why they didn’t bother putting in the same attitude in the game that really mattered in Tblisi.
It would’ve been nice to have beaten Germany but, ultimately, it’s results against our group rivals that will determine our Euro 2016 fate and our failure to win against a team who have won four out of 35 competitive matches in eight years has cost us qualification.
Ireland’s victory over the Georgians means that we cannot automatically qualify for France next year though we can still make the playoffs if we win our last two matches.
Whilst we can take hope from the effort shown last night, there were glaring flaws in the Scotland performance that will need to be addressed before the Poland match.
Firstly, Mulgrew needs to be moved as far away from defence as possible. His lack of positional sense and pace make him inadequate to fill a left back role better suited to Robertson, Graeme Shinnie (still to receive a callup) or even the right footed Steven Whittaker, who’s filled the position a number of times. Mulgrew is much better suited to centre midfield, as perfectly illustrated in the Ireland home match, though there are other contenders for that position.
Secondly, there was a lack of pace in the side going forward that was only addressed when Anya came on. He has been one of our better performers in the campaign and his pace worries any defence so he should be reinstated to the starting line up when Poland come to town. Forrest was supposed to be our man to worry the German rearguard but he was very anonymous and Hutton was more of a threat going forward than he was.
Thirdly, we need a bigger goal threat up front. Fletcher’s link up play improved but he was rarely in the box to get a chance and, once again, we were crying out for Griffiths, who’s pace and eye for goal could’ve been utilised. It was a surprise that Chris Martin, who to his credit did win a few high balls when he came on, got the nod to try and grab an equaliser ahead of the in-form Griffiths. Fletcher needs to get back into that Sunderland team and score goals again if he is to convince people he should start.
So, to summarise, last night’s report was better than Georgia but still need to do more if we are to overhaul Ireland or Poland into third spot.
With the same attitude we showed against Germany and a little more quality, Scotland still have a chance of turning the Poles over in front of a passionate home crowd at Hampden in four weeks time.