Scotland ran out 1-0 winners against a good Czech Republic side thanks to a goal from Ikechi Anya, as the hosts continued their preparations for this summer’s European Championships in France.
But what did we learn from the game?
Strachan in his post-match comments, stated: “There was a lot of players not here you would have expected to be here. It was a bit of a gamble when you come to places like this when you don’t have a full squad, but the group made it a good night and they can all be proud of what they done, even the ones who didn’t get on.
“They had to work hard. They did a double session the other day because we are not a great side but we can turn ourselves into a decent side by working hard. It was good for them. They keep learning and it was great learning from the first half to the second half, about how small things can change a game.”
Learning? What did we learn playing the same auld players that failed Scotland in the EURO qualifiers? We may have seen Kenny McLean make his debut and performing well [which begs the question what took so long?]but the rest of the starting XI were seasoned internationals – albeit Ross McCormack was playing his first game in a Scotland jersey in two years.
It wasn’t a gamble either despite Strachan’s comments.
At the time of the squad announcement, Strachan tried to justify the initial exclusion of Ross McCormack, Jordan Rhodes, Graeme Shinnie, Lee Wallace and others because he already knows enough about them.
He said: “…. Jordan [Rhodes], Ross McCormack, Johnny Russell, Lee Wallace – guys that I know can do a job. But there is no point bringing them along and depressing them by taking them all around Europe and maybe not getting a game, because I want to see the other guys I have brought in. There could be 10 in there – I know what they can do but I need to see other people.”
Nine players in tonight’s squad are regular internationals – surely Strachan knew that they could do a job so his comment over not calling up Rhodes, Russell, Wallace and McCormack [before his late call-up]is hogwash.
Why call up 35-year-old Gordon Greer? What future does he have as a Scotland international? Why not call up Mark Reynolds, Andrew Considine or maybe John Souttar to give them a taste of international football and reward them for their performances at club level? Why call up Charlie Mulgrew for both games? Yes he is a versatile player, but his season has been hampered by injury and surely the in-form Graeme Shinnie would have been a better choice? After all he can play both in midfield and at left back – he does so at Aberdeen.
Tony Watt and Paul Caddis were given some game time in the second half, but not enough to even warrant a rating of their performance and not enough game time to learn anything from it. Then there was Scott Bain, the Dundee goalkeeper warmed the bench for the full 90 minutes while tried and tested Allan McGregor was given the full match – yet we already know what the Hull City keeper can do.
Why not give Scott Bain 45 minutes under his belt?
To be fair to McGregor he performed well and kept the Czechs at bay. He proved once again that we have depth and quality in the goalkeeping department.
We can beat good opposition, but can we do it when it matters most?
The Czechs are no shrinking violets and were tough opposition for Scotland – thankfully the Scottish FA decided to arrange two friendlies against strong sides unlike their cash cow commercial deal with pub team Qatar a few months back. Tonight’s win will give the squad a morale boost, but in all honesty, it is meaningless game and despite this victory it seems that we struggle when it matters the most.
Our 2018 World Cup qualifying group includes England, Slovakia and Slovenia as the top three seeded teams – we must secure points against these sides to have any hope of a playoff place – with games against Lithuania and Malta surely wins on the board straight away.
The game tonight and next week could have been used to blood the next generation of players that will make their way into the first team over the next few years – rather than handing another cap to players that have been tried, tested and failed in qualification.
When else will they be given the time to gain experience at international level?
The status quo?
When Strachan was at Celtic, he had his favourites and no matter how poorly they performed they kept their place. And he seems to have taken that way of working into the Scotland job also. Steven Fletcher and Alan Hutton are two players that can do no wrong in the eyes of Strachan and that is infuriating.
The fact that Strachan failed to bring in many newbies is a sign that we are to expect the usual suspects donning the Dark Blue jersey for our World Cup qualification campaign and that is a worrying sign.
A recent study, carried out by CIES Football Observatory, which measured the age of every player who took to the field for a team in the world football’s top 50 found that Scotland topped the age list, with the average player being exactly 29 years old, significantly higher than the 26.6 year-old average across the top 50.
Our World Cup opponents England average was 25.6 years.
And this statistic looks to continue with the same players being rolled out to play for the country looking to guide Scotland to their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France.
I thought there was no age barrier to receive a call-up for Scotland? Surely if you are a good enough it doesn’t matter what age you are?
In the eight games from last year, striker Steven Fletcher was on the pitch for 603 minutes more than any other player in the Scotland set up – and Strachan used 29 different players in those eight games. The Marseille striker scored seven goals in total six of which came against minnows Gibraltar – so one goal was effectively a proper return if you ignore the cannon fodder.
Is that solitary goal against Poland worthy of a continued starting berth for Scotland? We are desperate for goals yet Strachan continued to play a striker who couldn’t score when the need is great – against top sides.
We have the likes of Ross McCormack, Leigh Griffiths, Jordan Rhodes, Chris Martin to name but four players – who can all provide Scotland with a better record in front of goal also.
While I long for Scotland to win their games and to qualify for a major tournament, if Strachan fails to change his ways and pick the in-form players rather than those who fit his system and are loyal to him – we will be subjected to another major tournament where we will be watching from the sidelines.
The status quo hasn’t worked for us since the EURO 2000 championship qualifiers – time to change it – rather than telling ourselves ‘maybe next time’.