Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Euro 2016: Poland v Scotland

"Magnificent."

Gordon Strachan's immediate assessment of Scotland's 1-0 win over Georgia on Saturday was effusive.

And, if a 1-0 win over a team ranked outside the world's top 100 can hardly be considered the stuff of sporting legend, a lot of what Strachan would have wanted was delivered.

Scotland were positive, dominated possession, created the overwhelming majority of chances and seemed undaunted by the burden of being favourites from the start.

More goals would have been deserved - and would have meant a calmer climax to the game. But as Georgia grew more adventurous with the clock ticking down, Scotland just about coped.

Job done. If Georgia felt unlucky not to have nicked a late goal they were equally lucky not to be down by more than one goal.

Three points secured. And they probably had to be. If the Republic of Ireland's demolition of Gibraltar was expected on Saturday evening, Poland's win over Germany provided the first shock of Group D.

Poland v Scotland, the Scottish Football Blog
There's a couple of ways to look at that Polish win. It could make Scotland's ability to win plaudits but no points in Germany more painful. On the other hand on Saturday Scotland dominated a game without taking full advantage but were able to close out the win, something Germany failed to do a couple of hours later.

It's unlikely that the German's metronomic qualifications methods will be significantly disrupted by such an early setback.

Scotland will still expect to be battling for second and third with Poland and Ireland. Saturday might have muddied the waters, when they clear we can still confidently expect Germany to drift away from the chasing pack.

But that shock three points does give Poland a bit of a competitive edge in these early skirmishes.

Beating Scotland this evening would strengthen Poland's hand even further. That doesn't mean this is a must-win game for Scotland. But to lose it would leave us on the backfoot going into next month's home game against Ireland.

If Poland win and Germany beat Ireland then Poland move six points clear of us, with Germany and Ireland three points ahead. A point keeps the deficit to Poland at three points and - again banking on a German win - puts us just two points behind Germany and Ireland.

Just three games into qualification the former scenario would be far from insurmountable but the latter is much preferable. A win in Poland would, of course, be even better.

There's an extent to which the improvements Strachan has overseen with the national side and the way he's assiduously cultivated public enthusiasm might have slightly blinded us to the obvious. We took a look at Group D and saw a great chance to qualify for Euro 2016 - but Poland and Ireland saw exactly the same chance.

And, while the extended format of the tournament proper hasn't been universally lauded, it does seem to have added a certain vigour to the opening stages of the qualification process, as recent results for Spain, Holland and Germany show. It's not going to be a particularly easy for many teams.

How will Poland react to their first ever win over Germany? Hopefully the hangover will have lasted long enough to dull their senses tonight.

In reality we're likely to see a clash of two fairly evenly matched teams. Poland made Germany pay for not taking their chances at the weekend. Thankfully Georgia couldn't inflict the same damage on Scotland at Ibrox but it's important that we avoid such profligacy tonight.

Performances against Germany and drubbings of Gibraltar are all well and good. But the situation in Group D hasn't changed all that much - the team that gets the better of the clashes between Scotland, Poland and Ireland will likely snatch the second automatic qualification place behind the Germans.

Tonight's match won't be easy but it does give Scotland the chance to strike an important first blow in that mini-tournament.

A costly mistake


Group D looks to be Scotland's best route to qualification for a major championship since Craig Brown led us to the 1998 World Cup in France.

Saturday's match against Georgia always looked like a fantastic opportunity to get off to a winning start at home and in Gordon Strachan we finally have a manager who really wants to build a connection with the Tartan Army.

So you'd have expected Ibrox to be close to full on Saturday. Instead just under 35,000 turned up.

The hike in ticket prices must have something to do with that. Over £40 quid for the Georgia match was too much. £250 quid for a season ticket for five games is too much.

When we look to be getting it right on the pitch the SFA cock-up off the pitch. It's all depressingly familiar.

I've already paid for my Scotland Supporters Club membership this season and close to £90 for the games against Ireland and England at Celtic Park.

I chose not go to the Georgia match because I've also paid £405 for a season ticket at Easter Road. With Hibs kicking off at 3pm and Scotland kicking off at 5pm on Saturday it was impossible to do both.

I've missed one league game at Easter Road already this season. If Hibs don't reach the play-offs and I go to every remaining SPFL fixture I'll have paid an average of £23.82 per game to watch an average Championship team.

It would be a good idea for clubs and the SFA to stop taking the piss out of fans as quickly as they possibly can.