If the Fifa rankings are to be regarded as a genuine reflection of quality
then Scotland should qualify for the finals of a major competition for the
first time since 1998.
The draw for their Euro 2016 qualifying section may have seen them thrown in
against Germany, rated second only to Spain on the global stage, but Gordon
Strachan has taken the national team to the dizzying heights of 34 in the
rankings, allowing them to look down on the other four members of Group D.
With only the top two countries automatically progressing to the finals, the
Tartan Army must hope that the ties go with form.
The Germans are odds-on favourites to top the group but Strachan believes that
finishing as runners-up is an achievable ambition.
“If we play at the level we can play at we can definitely qualify,” he said.
“If we keep all our players fit we’ll have a chance and the Republic, Poland
and Georgia will be thinking the same.
“It’s a hard group and I think any of the teams in our group will be saying
this is going to be hard.
“Every tie has something in it. You’ve got Gibraltar, new to the competition;
Germany, one of the best teams in the world.
“The Germans might make one mistake, possibly two, but I don’t think they have
failed to qualify for a major tournament, so the rest of us will be looking
for second place.
“Then there is the Republic of Ireland and I think the two sets of supporters
will turn those games into a cup tie. The commercial managers of both will
be jumping for joy with that one!
“Some groups you might call mundane but we’re definitely in an exciting group.
It’s a terrific, terrific draw.”
Poland – whose friendly with Scotland in Warsaw on March 5 suddenly takes on
new meaning – and the Republic of Ireland will battle with the Scots for
second place but Strachan has every right to be optimistic.
Quite apart from the improvements he has wrought with his own players, his
opponents are not as strong as they once were.
The Poles, in spite of having some excellent individual players, have
underachieved as a unit while the Irish squad lacks depth and the
motivational abilities of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane will be sorely tested.
O’Neill is already targeting a finish above Strachan, the man who succeeded
him as manager of Celtic in 2005.
“The localisation has a big bearing on things and Scotland against the
Republic of Ireland will be big games there, but it looks like a group where
teams might take points off each other.
“That’s the Utopia, really, to get there. It would be amazing if we could do
it, but we’ve got a lot of fighting to do between now and then.”
On the matches with Scotland. he added: “They will be great occasions I hope.
I’m sure he [Strachan] is looking forward to it. I’m sure he’ll be as
excited as I am myself. It’s tough, there are other groups we might have
preferred to be in but we’ll get on with it.”
Germany head coach Joachim Löw believes the fixtures against Scotland and the
Republic will be tough.
Scotland held Germany to a 1-1 draw in Glasgow in a Euro 2004 qualifier in
2003, and lost narrowly in Dortmund 2-1 in the return fixture.
Löw said: “We know the Scottish team will be physically strong and it has
always been hard for Germany when we have played against them in the past.
Gordon Strachan was a good tough player and his team will be the same.
“Martin O’Neill has been a top manager for a long time and his team will be a
Georgia have lost seven of their last eight matches and should not pose a
threat while the ties against Gibraltar should be shoo-in.
Former Manchester United, Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland, Stoke City
and Sheffield United defender Danny Higginbotham captained the island in
their first international as Uefa members, a goalless draw with Slovakia in
Portugal in November.
Coincidentally, Gibraltar’s manager, Allen Bula, is his uncle. Now 35,
Higginbotham announced his retirement last month.
“It is a dream come true,” Bula told the BBC. “It has been a very long road.
We’ve been waiting for many years to be here and finally reality is kicking
in back in Gibraltar.
“I’m very proud to be the first Gibraltar manager to go into the qualifiers
but also looking at it thinking there’s a lot of hard work there with the
group we’ve got.
“We’re a small nation, but I’ve always said I wasn’t here for the sake of just
“I think, after the game we played against Slovakia, our maiden game, nations
have changed their mind about Gibraltar now.”
Gibraltar were originally drawn in the same group as Spain but moved to
another one because of political tensions between the two countries.
“I would have loved it if we could have stayed in the same group as Spain, and
maybe that will happen one day,” Bula said.