Sunday, October 09, 2016

Drawing a "Must Win".

I didn't bother to predict that Scotland won't qualify for the World Cup. I figured that was obvious. And, in all honesty, in the group where we're third seeds and where only one team goes through (and that will be England), it's probably acceptable for Scotland to fail to qualify.

But we need to be targetting second place in the group, and we really need to achieve a minimum of third place. Because as long as Scotland remain third seeds in qualifying groups, we'll always be finding ourselves in groups with at least two better teams in the groups with us, in groups where only one or two teams qualify, and it will always be an uphill struggle. We really need to be working upwards, with a hope of getting into that group of second seeds, and then maybe we're in with a chance. Maybe.

But in addition to that, what Scotland really need to be doing is routinely beating any of the teams that are 'worse' than us, and doing so both home and away. And in the current qualifying campaign, that means Slovenia, Lithuania, and Malta. (And I mean no disrespect to any of those teams, hence the quotes around 'worse'. It's not as if there's any evidence of us being any better than Slovenia, for one.)

So last night's draw against Lithuania is a failure. Indeed, that draw is probably worse even than the 1-nil loss we narrowly avoided - the late goal, and the point that it brings, is probably enough to mask the obvious deficiencies in our play, and delay some much-needed corrective action. A shock defeat would have enforced that be done immediately.

I should note that "corrective action" doesn't necessarily mean a change in manager, largely because I don't see who we could replace Strachan with who would be better. But it does mandate a change in approach. The fundamental issue seems to be that Strachan is excessively loyal to players who may have served him well in the past but who are just not doing the job now. Coupled with a seeming reluctance to play actual goal-scorers - an absurdity in a must-win game.

(Amusingly, the team he played last night is probably the correct team for Tuesday's match away to Slovakia, when a defensive approach is required. I therefore expect the team to go out attacking, and lose the match.)

And I suspect that's all there is to it - no need to change the manager or to change the squad, just change the approach. Against the stronger teams, it's right to go for a defensive approach and try to nick something; but against the weaker teams, go out and win the match.

Not that it really matters. We won't be qualifying for the World Cup in 2018. And unless they just let everyone in, we won't be going to the Euro 2020 party, either. In fact, I'll go one further: Scotland (or, rather, Scotland's men) won't be at a major football championship this side of independence.

(And, yeah, it's possible that independence may never come. In which case, there's only one way I can see us ever being invited to the party.)

#54: "Storm King's Thunder", by Wizards of the Coast

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