Why hadn’t these two nations met in 14 years? The prevailing wisdom was that neither team would have anything to gain out of a head-to-head match- England wouldn’t be challenged by Scotland and Scotland would be overmatched by England.
Care to guess which side of the border this “wisdom” came from?
Yesterday afternoon these to nations showed that when they meet on the football pitch, all bets are off. The world rankings don’t matter, who has qualified for what tournament doesn’t matter, the names on the back of the shirts don’t matter, the only thing that matters is the crest on the front of the shirt.
Simply put, these matches (and another one is already in the planning stages) will always be competitive for one simple reason- these matches have little, if anything to do with football.
I’ll run through a few quick thoughts before settling in and going a little deeper into two subjects:
And now a few words about Grant Hanley and Gordon Strachan.
Grant Hanley is exactly what this team needs- a leader. Yes, he’s only 21, and no, he’s not the captain, or even a star, but he is a leader. Every time and English player was a little late or a little high with a tackle, there was the big man, glowering down at them and making a mental note of the player’s number. The Blackburn player (and reported Everton target) has only 8 Scotland caps to date, but he has already begun to make an impact. He reminds me of another Blackburn defender- Colin Hendry. Hendry made over 600 club appearances and was capped more than 50 times for Scotland. In the process he earned- through both play and demeanor- the nickname “Braveheart.” Care to guess where Hendry is currently the reserve team manager? Blackburn, of course.
What were the first words out of Scotland manager Gordon Strachan’s mouth in his post match interview? These:
“It’s a long time since I have felt as bad as this. In a couple of days’ time I will feel encouragement. Right now it’s just disappointment. This could have been a result we were all talking about in 40 years’ time.”
Strachan doesn’t see “trying hard” as a goal- it’s an expectation of any player who is called into the team, it should be a “given.” With that in mind he dressed no less than 28 players for this match- those he knew would play and those who took part in Scotland’s las match, an upset win over Croatia.
It was obvious from the opening whistle of this match that Strachan had prepared his charges to do only one thing- win. There was no thought of hoping for the best, trying to keep the score down, or grinding out a draw. Winning, that’s it. That’s the only goal for Strachan every time a match kicks off. He is not Craig Levein playing a 4-6-0 and hoping to see the scoreboard at 0-0 when the match ends.
Is there work to be done? Certainly. The defense needs to get better (especially on set pieces). The depth of the squad needs to be increased. More offensive-minded players need to be found. Still, Scotland pinged the ball around the Wembley pitch when they had possession in the midfield, were committed in their tackling, and pushed forward looking for goals whenever they could. James Morrison’s goal was a perfect example of the kind of invention and risk-taking that is working its way back into this team.
Still, Strachan has the the ship pointed in the right direction and that is more than can be said of his immediate predecessors.
Finally, I recommend that you read this. It delivers some insightful analysis regarding the teams of both nations.