SCOTLAND were beating Switzerland 1-0 at Villa Park in the last game in the group stages of Euro96 while over at Wembley the impossible was happening. England had just gone 4-0 up against the much fancied Dutch side and for a brief moment it looked like England were about to do a massive favour for their noisy, northern neighbours.
Alas Holland scored.
It was a feeling Scotland last experienced in the World Cup against Holland in 1978 just after Archie Gemmill scored THAT goal that made it 3-1 to Scotland. Impossibly, we ONLY needed one more and we were through!
Alas Holland scored.
Tonight we are back to looking for a favour from England but this time they have a need of their own which is just as great as Scotland’s.
Rookie manager Gareth Southgate, who somehow left Hampden with a point in June, picked up 3 points in Malta on Friday night. The 4-0 scoreline flattered his team with three of those goals came in the last five minute of another bang average performance.
Southgate it seems doesn’t need to be good when he’s so lucky.
And tonight the Tartan Army will be hoping his luck doesn’t desert him, well for one game at least.
England, of course won’t be thinking about the Scots. Rather they will appreciate that defeat would see Slovakia move to the top of Group F, would effectively eliminate Scotland and would therefore lessen the chances of the Scots taking anything from Slovakia at Hampden.
England would be in the play-offs and that would be a shocker for Southgate that he perhaps could not survive.
Still Southgate is looking to the positives, and that’s strangely enough music to the ears of the Tartan Army.
It’s a funny old game!
“It’s a great opportunity for us, a home game,” said the England boss.
“We are playing good opposition so we’ve got to make sure we are tactically prepared, which we will be, but also we’ve got to have belief in the team that we’ve got.
“We’ve got some exciting players and we want to show that.
“We know the task we have; we know the opportunity. The whole country wants to be at a World Cup.
“It’s a great opportunity for the Wembley crowd to get behind us as well.
“We have a responsibility to get them on their feet. But equally everywhere we go around the world, the opposition crowds really give the team a lift.
“This result can virtually get us to Russia so everybody wants that and it would be great if we get the level of support that I know that stadium can bring.”
“We’ve got to assume Slovakia aren’t going to come here and open up and make it easy for us.
“It’s apparent they’ve got some good footballers and who knows the way the game is going to flow? We have to be adaptable in the way that we perform.
“We know how we want to play. We’ve got an opponent that’s going to want to stop us.
“We’d all love to score early and be three up by half-time. On some occasions that happens but it’s not very often. So then you’ve got to be prepared to be patient and work your openings.
“We believe the players are becoming more and more savvy to the challenges of international football.”
“We will make some changes but the core of the team is pretty much established and I don’t think that would surprise too many people, really,” Southgate revealed.
“Joe will stay as the goalkeeper and Eric is obviously an option we have. He’s played in most of the games for us and he’s playing well with his club, so, yeah, that’s a possible change for us.”