Before this draw, I was convinced, sure, certain, that we were finally going to bag one of my dream dates: Kazakhstan. A nice short hop (for me) to Almaty, a town where a friend once ate a horse’s penis. How do you manage that without getting a kick in the head, you might ask? Well, you’ll have to ask him.
But as is so often the case being a Scotland fan, disappointment ensued and the Kazakhs will have to live without a Tartan Army delegation for another couple of years. We are drawn against Spain; the Czech Republic; Lithuania; and Liechtenstein. Not a bad draw, considering all the options.
While I am not quite naive enough to believe we’ll win the group – but there is a chance, isn’t there? – I was still fairly depressed to read this comment in the Herald: “Realistically, Scotland look to be competing with the Czech Republic and Lithuania to finish second in Group I and claim a place in the play-offs.”
Competing with Lithuania? Is that how far we’ve fallen, even in our own estimation? Lithuania have never qualified for anything – they’re a nation of second-rate basketball players. (No, really – they’re ranked #6 in world basketball, and how many basketball nations can you name? Exactly.)
The population of Lithuania is barely more than that of Wales. Maybe that’s a bad example, but no matter how low our FIFA ranking (#46, I just checked) we have to think we’re better than them (#52). Kris Boyd scored against them last time, for crying out loud, and it’s well known he only scores against diddy teams.
Now that we’ve dispensed with Baltic upstarts as a credible threat to our prospects of lifting a major international trophy, let’s have a look at Liechtenstein:
That was a map of the country. Next!
Let’s check out the Czechs (BTW I reserve the right to also use the terms “bouncing Czechs”, “Czeched out”, and “Czech mate” over the course of the qualifying campaign, and indeed around the friendly in March. Feel free to list additional Czech-related cliches in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate them, thanks).
My memories of the Czech Republic include:
– paying 6p for a pint of beer in 1992 (and another 6p for the second one, and the third one, and so on)
– learning that the word “booblinky” is Czech for “bubbles”
– seeing an ‘inspection shelf’ (http://asecular.com/~scott/misc/toilet.htm) for the first and last time.
In footballing terms, Scotland had one of its best-ever recent halves of football in Prague in 1999, winning 2-0 against a team on its way to a #2 FIFA ranking; unfortunately that half was followed by a second which we lost 3-0, and then a return leg in Parkhead that shamefully saw Gary McAllister booed as he was substituted. (Even if he should have stopped and restarted his run-up for that penalty at Wembley in 1996, it was still not on.) More recently George Burley’s team was gubbed 3-1 in his second game, which tells us nothing; as do the victories over the great mid-70s Czechoslovakian team in qualifying for 1974 and 1978.
The current Czech team does seem to be on a bit of a downward trajectory, failing to qualify for South Africa in a group with Slovakia, Slovenia, Northern Ireland, and Poland – not exactly a stellar cast. But with the likes of Rosicky, Baros, and Cech still around they won’t be mugs and the two matches against them will make or break Scotland’s destiny. At least they don’t have the monster Jan Koller up front (he retired from international football for the second time in September) while in Vladimir Smicer they have a new and unproven manager – so let’s hope we get them at Hampden while he’s still finding his feet.
Can we maybe not talk about Spain? Reigning European champions, possibly world champions by the time we play them? Well, here are some reasons to be optimistic:
– Gary Caldwell at Hampden
– James McFadden in the Parc des Princes
– Kenny Dalglish’s goal in 1984 (see below)
– them having to cut the lights at half-time last time we played them, because they were scared we’d win
– James McFadden in the Parc des Princes
– they haven’t beaten us in 25 years (so we’ve only played them twice in that time, but both times away from home!)
– in our entire history against the Iberians we are 17-16 ahead on aggregate
– on the Williamson-modified FIFA Bollocks Ranking Scale (TM) we are almost four times as good as them
– James McFadden in the Parc des Princes.
So I say, “Bring it on”. Next date to watch: Friday 19th February, when the fixtures will be agreed between the five nations.
Kenny Dalglish’s goal in 1984 v Spain