Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blogathon: Scotland and the 2014 World Cup

OK folks.

The end is getting closer. The floor is open from now for suggestions from the denizens of Twitter and Facebook.

Be gentle.

And be generous!

But first Gary Linton (@Linton1388) tells us why Scotland will qualify for the 2014 World Cup. And I'm compelled to tell you why they won't.

Here's Gary:

Scotland yet again failed to qualify for a major tournament, which is now the seventh time in a row between both the European Championship’s (Last 4) and the World Cup (Last 3). The last time we managed to qualify all Scotland fans will remember, World Cup France '98. In the tournament we were drawn against Morocco, Norway and Brazil, we didn’t manage to win a game, all we could accumulate was a single point against Norway at home, losing against Brazil 2-1 and Morocco 3-0, fans might not have known then but we wouldn’t get back in to a major competition for sixteen years.

Yes sixteen years after France '98, Scotland would go on to qualify for another major tournament as they would qualify for Brazil 2014.

Craig Levein has been in charge of Scotland for seventeen games now, winning nine, drawing two and losing six. Giving him a total 52.94% win ratio, better than all but one of Scotland’s last eleven managers, only Alex McLeish has a better ratio. In the last five outings we’ve managed four wins, one draw and only one defeat which was against reigning World Cup and European Championship holders Spain. With Levein looking to turn the national side into something more like a club level team, with him bringing through Scotland youngsters and with him looking for anyone who is willing to play for us with Scotland links, all he is doing is raising our chances of qualifying.

Sitting 51st in the Fifa rankings, people may think it’s silly to play such friendlies away to Slovenia and away to Cyprus but all of it is relevant as it goes towards points for the rankings, more ranking points then the higher up the pots we go, equalling again Levein trying to get the most and best out of Scotland. You can already see a very special bond between the players and the manager, and for the first time in a long time we’ve got enough players that we can actually make two teams.

The qualifying group has been drawn for the 2014 World Cup, Scotland were drawn against Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia and Wales.

Only one of them managed to qualify for the European Championship that was top seeds Croatia, with the top team qualifying automatically, the eight best runners-up (determined by records against the first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams only for balance between different groups) will be drawn in two-legged play-offs to determine the other four qualifying nations.

Scotland with that group will be one of those runner ups. I feel that with all Levein has done so far by the time the qualifying comes in to place we will have a strong enough bond and a strong enough team to secure a win against all the teams in the group at home and making Hampden park a fortress, meaning if we can pick up some away points on the way, well, who knows we may just have a chance to top the group and make it through as winners.

Well get ready for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil as here come Scotland, maybe we could win it!

And here's my response:

Scotland won't qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

It would be lovely to think that we could. But we won't.

That won't be Craig Levein's fault.

As an old rugby coach of my acquaintance used to say about his wearied, thin squad:

"You can only piss with the cock you've got."

And Levein is not well endowed.

I have no doubts that the group will be tight. But that won't do us any favours.

We can't dominate games. We don't have the players with the temperament or the technical ability to do it.

So we struggle against teams that we seem well matched with. When they offer us the upper hand we shy away from it, we retreat. We need men, we have startled pussy cats.

The spirit is there, there's even good players in the mix. And an abundance of players who will work hard, buy into the idea of a one for all work ethic and give it everything they've got.

But it won't be enough.

One of the reasons for that is we spent too long thinking it was enough. So we all but gave up on developing the sort of skill and technical efficiency that are needed to thrive in the modern game.

The price we now pay for that is the international wilderness.

Why does Craig Levein search the birth registers of England? (I wonder if he does, maybe he spends his spare time huddled round a computer screen with a coterie of Why Do You Think You Are? researchers.)

Because he'll find better players. Even in England. Maybe he should be checking out Spain as well, there must be a few likely lads who never made it home from the 1982 World Cup.

It makes the "sack Levein" shouts all the more difficult to understand. It's the players, stupid.

The people that run football have let us down. For generations.

And what have we ended up with?

A manager who is so concerned by the terror he sees in his player's eyes that he feels the need to play a 4-6-0 formation against a crap Czech Republic team.

The 1974 World Cup squad. What a talented bunch that was. But they came up short.

What did we actually do about that?

Nothing. We thought "ah, we'll probably do better next time."

Next time we went with a wave of optimism. And we didn't do any better.

What did we do about that?

Nothing. We thought "ah, we'll probably do better next time."

And on and on it went.

The sorry cycle of accepting failure, accepting that qualification was a biffingly good show in itself and trusting that tomorrow would be a brighter day.

Then in the St Etienne rain in 1998 we ran out of lives.

It was over. The decline that unheralded, unfashionable, under-appreciated managers had managed to mask in the 1990s was there for all to see.

We've roared occasionally since then. But we've essentially been muted by the modern game.

Less complacent nations, nations with sensible strategies rather than adhoc, panicked quick fixes have soared past us.

And we've regressed. We don't produce enough young players and we often fail to develop them enough to let them flourish at their peak when we do.

Hampden Park. 11th May 1966.

Scotland got thumped 3-0 by a Dutch team that we'd written off as diddies.

It was called our darkest result.

But we did nothing about. We didn't question why we'd lost, we didn't study why the Dutch might just be on the up.

We shrugged it off and called ourselves unofficial world champions a year later, without even pausing to ask why a team that talented couldn't qualify to compete for the real prize.

That was the day the music started to die. I'm lucky. I'm old enough to remember the last few tunes the orchestra played.

Now? Silence.

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