Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Reign in Spain?

The longer you go without qualifying for a major tournament the harder it gets. Just ask the Welsh.

And so it proved on Sunday when Scotland found themselves facing both Spain and the Czech Republic in the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifiers. Draws like this are the inevitable consequence of being in the third pot of seeds, a destiny sealed by our miserable failure to finish in second place in a relatively straight forward qualifying group for the World Cup in South Africa.

Craig Levein had spoken of his preference for England (not a bad shout as even in abeyance it remains an international derby where emotion and passion would probably prove a great leveller on the field) but I imagine he would probably have been thinking "anyone but Spain."

A lot of people think by the time the campaign gets underway Spain will have added a world championship to the European crown they won in 2008. Indeed Levein, perhaps slipping into Russell Grant mode, twice referred to them as world champions in a BBC interview after the draw.

If we accept that Spain are overwhelming favourites then we need to set our sights on finishing above the Czech Republic to grab second place. Simple then.

Levein is on record dismissing international friendlies as a waste of time but he's probably quite happy that he'll get the chance to weigh up the Czechs when they visit Hampden at the beginning of March.

Old foes Lithuania are likely to provide a stern but negotiable test while publicans will have been dancing on the streets of Lichtenstein at the thought of a thirsty Tartan Army descending for the first fixture between the two nations.

We Scots lucky to have Lithuania's premier cultural and sporting commentator to hand and Mr Romanov has duly delivered his daming verdict:
What kind of games are those two countries going to play if there is no proper football in either of them? If in both Lithuania and Scotland they had not turned football into a branch of showbusiness, I would have no doubts that they could be among the favourites in their group.

We won't see any good football. There is none, either in Scotland or in Lithuania.
What do you mean you didn't realise that the football on display at Tynecastle this season has been an arm of the entertainment industry?

Levein himself was resolutely upbeat noting that the smaller five team group is a positive and speaking confidently of the Spanish matches "capturing" imaginations across the country. He'll have been busy working on his grand plan for qualification and pushing his SFA masters to negotiate a schedule that allows to get off to a good start and build some momentum.

We've learned the hard way that early slips can fatally undermine qualification attempts and his first step will be to avoid falling at the first handle.

Overall the plan should be quite simple. Maximum points from Lichtenstein and Lithuania and anything we can get from Spain. After that it should come down to the double header against the Czechs for second place and a play off.

See, it's a simple game when you play it on paper!

Group 9
Spain
Czech Republic
Scotland
Lithuania
Lichtenstein

Guessed the flag? Lichtenstein. Population: 35466. They've also got the highest per capita GDP of any country in the world. The Tartan Army might find a pint sets them back a few quid.