Friday, September 07, 2012

Scotland: Starting blocks

What is a good start to a qualifying campaign?

That's been the subject of intense debate this week as Scotland prepare for another tilt at reaching a major championship.

Maybe not much of a debate actually.

First we had Craig Levein's assistant Peter Houston suggesting that four points from six against Serbia and Macedonia would be just swell.

Then we had just about everyone bellowing: "Catch yourself on Pedro, you muppet. It's six points or bust ya baldy numpty."

Which might lead one to the conclusion that six points is at least essential to heal the growing - but not yet irreparable - rift between the current Scotland regime and a public that has never been adoring.

We certainly know about bad starts.

Ten years ago today we found ourselves 2-0 down inside 12 minutes against the Faroe Islands in a performance of abject incompetence.

The team snatched a draw but Berti Vogts would forever have the stench of the "fool of the Faroes" hanging over him. And he reached a play-off.

So a good start is important.

In the current run of seven of failed qualifying campaign we've won two opening games, drawn four and lost one.

The most depressing thing is how many early points have been dropped to teams that we wouldn't consider qualification rivals (we tend to always consider ourselves as contenders, even as the law of averages and the blunt mallet of reality threaten to impudently destroy our unshakeable belief):
  • Euro 2000: Lithuania, drew 0-0 (Away)
  • World Cup 2002: Latvia, won 1-0 (Away)
  • Euro 2004: Faroe Islands, drew 2-2 (Away)
  • World Cup 2006: Slovenia, drew 0-0 (Away)
  • Euro 2008: Faroe Islands, won 6-0 (Home)
  • World Cup 2010: Macedonia, lost 1-0 (Away)
  • Euro 2012: Lithuania, drew 0-0 (Away)
Compare and contrast: In that golden age (did we fully appreciate it as such at the time?) when we qualified for nine tournaments in 28 years we kicked off with seven wins, one draw and just one defeat:
  • 1970 World Cup: Austria, won 2-0 (Home)
  • 1974 World Cup: Denmark, won 4-1 (Away)
  • 1978 World Cup: Czechoslovakia, won 2-0 (Away)
  • 1982 World Cup: Sweden, won 1-0 (Away)
  • 1986 World Cup: Iceland, won 3-0 (Home)
  • 1990 World Cup: Norway, won 2-1 (Away)
  • Euro 1992: Romania, won 2-1 (Home)
  • Euro 1996: Finland, won 2-0 (Away) 
  • 1998 World Cup: Austria, drew 0-0 (Away)
We didn't qualify for every tournament in those days though. And when we failed it was often after a bad start.

In six opening games in qualifying disappointments between 1970 and 1994 we lost three, won two and drew one. One of the wins (against East Germany in the 1984 European Champions qualifiers) was the only game we won in the group:
  • Euro 1972: Denmark, won 1-0 (Home)
  • Euro 1976: Spain, lost 2-1 (Home)
  • Euro 1980: Austria, lost 3-2 (Away)
  • Euro 1984: East Germany, won 2-0 (Home)
  • Euro 1988: Bulgaria, drew 0-0 (Home)
  • 1994 World Cup: Switzerland, lost 3-1 (Away)
From the qualifying stage of the 1970 World Cup we've had seven opening wins out of nine in successful campaigns. And just four opening wins out of 13 in unsuccessful campaigns.

International football is - as the cliché has it - much changed in the last 40 years. Some of our qualifications came from groups of just three teams. Some of them belied a good start and turned into desperate, last gasp battles to get through.

That makes it hard to draw conclusions from Scotland's opening game record through the years.

But it does harden the opinion that failing to beat Serbia at home will nudge our qualification chances to the impossible end of difficult.

We'll just need to trust that Levein and Houston realise that as well.

Otherwise we're doomed. And so are they.

See if your poker career will start off a little better than Scotland's qualification record. Visit poker.betfair.com to get started today and begin your career with a win.