Sunday, May 29, 2011

Scotland: Trophy Tilt

"Scotland win trophy."

You don't hear that often.

There is a chance you will tonight though.

And perhaps we could even keep the Carling Nations Cup in perpetuity.

Friday night's attendance for the Wales v Northern Ireland game was 529. That leaves the total attendance for the tournament's five games so far hovering around the 60,000 mark. Or some 5500 fewer people than could cram into the same stadium for a Jedward concert.

It remains to be seen if the Tartan Army have decided to fling a deafie to Craig Levein's plea for a 10,000 strong invasion this evening.

Whatever the attendance tonight it seems that this tournament requires some major modifications if it is to be held again.

For now though we can concentrate on the game. The title play off between Scotland and their hosts, the Republic of Ireland.

Craig Levein has announced him team:

McGregor, Whittaker, Hanley, Berra, Bardsley, Naismith, Robson, Brown, Adam, Forrest, Miller

Gary Caldwell, Stephen Crainey, James Morrison and Ross McCormack drop out of the team that so underwhelmed in the first half against Wales before recovering to post a reasonably comfortable 3-1 win.

A big night this evening for Grant Hanley. Caldwell's injury gives him a start in a central defence that has often caused concern. A first international start after only ten or so appearances for Blackburn.

Circumstance given him his opportunity, we can only hope he grabs it.

A breakthrough night in store for James Forrest as well. A first start and a first cap on the back of his successful season with Celtic.

Together Forrest and Hanley offer an injection of youth that Levein shied from against Wales. That might have been forced on him. But surely the only test of the manager's apparent optimism in the future is if players like Hanley and Forrest can be brought into the team and not look out of the place.

Elsewhere the team has a reasonably familiar look. The reappearance of the reliably resilient Barry Robson shows that Levein is far from ready to sacrifice Scotland's work ethic.

It's another new look midfield that will be charged with giving Charlie Adam the platform to dictate the game and giving Kenny Miller the service and support he needs in attack.

We've not actually played the Republic of Ireland since 2003. That game resulted in a 2-0 defeat as the Irish joined the long list of countries that proved too strong for a Berti Vogts Scotland squad.

It would be nice to think that we could despatch this season with a win. And a trophy.

Certainly tonight matches the two best teams on show.

We have to concede that we're not measuring ourselves against top quality opposition. But it means there will be less room for the periods of poor play that pockmarked the win against of Wales.

Meaningless and pointless. Perhaps. But bigger tests lie ahead and the benefits of having the squad together and in harmony might be important further down the line. The boost of having the squad together and winning might be even greater.

Certainly on a purely footballing level the tournament wouldn't seem to be doing us any great harm.

If we could win the blooming thing it might actually do us some good.

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