Yet another post-mortem has opened into why Scotland have failed to reach another major tournament – their NINTH major tournament in row.
By the time the first ball is kicked at Euro 2016 next summer, 18 long years will have passed since the Scots last participated at a major finals, two decades since our last European Championships held in England.
Robert Lewandowski’s 94th minute equaliser at Hampden officially confirmed that we won’t be going to France, the land of our last finals appearance for the 1998 World Cup. Coupled with Ireland’s unlikely victory over World Champions Germany it signalled a fourth placed finish for Scotland and a meaningless final game against whipping boys Gibraltar on Sunday.
Once again people will point to bad luck, whether it’d be the last minute goal on Thursday, other results going against us (notably both Poland and a Ireland beating the Germans), coming away from Germany with nothing despite an excellent performance and the luck of being drawn in such a difficult group.
However, when we sit down and analyse the overall picture, the prognosis is exactly the same as the previous eight campaign failures – we simply weren’t good enough!
The sooner we accept that rather than curse so-called Lady Luck the better in orders or us to put things right ahead of the next World Cup qualification campaign for Russia 2018.
Whilst we’ve had our misfortunes in this campaign, we have also ridden our luck at times as well, such as Poland hitting the post in Warsaw that could’ve seen them nick a win against us, Grant Hanley escaping with just a booking against Ireland when denying Shane Long a clear run on goal and the same player hitting his own bar in injury time in the same match.
Also, we were very fortunate on Thursday to go in level at half time with Ritchie’s stunning goal disguising a dreadful first half showing.
Steven Fletcher’s equally sublime finish to put us in front gave us hope again until news of Ireland’s shock opening, and winning, goal flattened the atmosphere at Hampden, which ultimately led to Lewandowski putting the final nail in the coffin of our Euro hopes.
It summed up a campaign that promised so much but, yet again, failed to deliver and consign us to watch next year’s events in France as neutrals – or support England’s opponents as usual.
Halfway through the campaign, things looked good for Gordon Strachan’s side with ten points from five games, including a draw in Poland and a crucial win at home to Ireland, with a defeat in Dortmund the only defeat so far.
Unfortunately, the last four games when the pressure was on, Scotland’s results and performances dipped and led to more disappointment.
A draw in Ireland was seen as a decent result, especially after a poor first half showing that saw us go 1-0 down, but it was a missed opportunity to bury a rival who were two points behind us and the scenes of Scotland fans celebrating a draw were embarrassing. Settling for a draw instead of going for the kill would come back to haunt us.
Arguably, the biggest reason we missed out on France was the disastrous defeat to Georgia. Going into the match, Strachan played down the significance of having to win at a ground where our main group rivals all collected three points and that looked evident as Scotland lacked hunger, fight, determination, everything required to win that game and allowed Ireland to overtake us.
Those two games underlined that negative mindset of “a draw will do” that has set Scotland back over these last 18 years. To qualify, it requires a more ruthless mindset and more belief in each other, especially when you’re up against your main group rivals. Yes, the stats say we took four points from the Irish but settling for a point in Dublin when Ireland’s confidence was low was baffling, instead of killing them off we let them back in and they didn’t look back, meaning they will, at worst, have a playoff place.
Not treating Georgia as a must win was also mind-boggling, especially against a fifth seeded team who had won four out of the previous 35 matches. You have to go back 20 years to find the last time Scotland claimed maximum points against teams from the bottom two seeded sides and that’s another fact that underlines nearly two decades of failure for the Scots.
Teams who qualify for major tournaments are ruthless, they don’t treat games saying “a point will do” and rarely mess up against sides from the bottom two pots. If we are to end our hoodoo, we need to adopt a winning mentality and be more positive in our approach.
Another myth that can be firmly dispelled is the “we are just a wee nation” defence.
We may be a nation of just five million people and, compared to the elite countries like Germany, France, Spain etc, we are a smaller nation but that is not an excuse for not qualifying for major finals.
Iceland are the prime example that throws the “wee nation” excuse firmly out the window. A country of under half a million people were good enough to defeat Holland home and away en route to qualifying for France with two games to spare.
What Iceland have proven is that if you produce good players and have a good manager who creates a great team spirit then anything can be achieved regardless of population, and Lars Lagerback, a man famously overlooked for Craig Levein for the Scotland job because he wasn’t Scottish, has overseen a wonderful achievement for the tiny nation less than a tenth of Scotland’s population.
Scotland need to stop using the “wee nation” excuse and focus firmly on producing players who are good enough to help us get to major tournaments again.
Whilst there are moves to improve youth development and a bigger focus being shifted towards technique over physicality at an early age, there are still coaches up and down the country who are resistant to change and insist that what worked in the 70’s and 80’s will work now.
Other nations have moved on and improved whilst Scotland have stood still and it’s going to take years for any youth development improvements to see an overall improvement to the national teams fortunes.
The Tartan Army can bitch all they want about Gareth Bale single handedly taking Wales to their first major finals since 1958, but the fact is we would love to have a player of that quality who could inspire us to a European Championship or World Cup again. Wales also have players like Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey who would easily walk into our line up so criticisms of the Welsh do smack of sheer jealousy that they’ve advanced on the international stage whereas we haven’t.
Gordon Strachan has undoubtedly overseen improvements in the national team since the disasters of George Burley and Agent 4-6-0 and he should get another shot to end our barren run. However, he needs to learn from this campaign that we need to be more ruthless if we are to qualify from another tricky looking group and not treat matches as must not lose rather than must win.
Nobody expects Scotland to qualify for every major tournament but to go nearly two decades without qualifying is far too long for a country where football is the number one sport.
If we are to get over the hoodoo, we need to stop blaming Lady Luck and using the wee nation excuse. Time for this proud wee nation to make its own luck!