Scotland’s hopes of qualification to a major tournament for the first time in twenty two years may well be determined by how they perform this evening as they resume their Group F World Cup qualification exploits against Lithuania.
Gordon Strachan’s men currently find themselves fourth in the group, six points off of England who top proceedings while more importantly four points behind Slovakia in second who are currently in the play-off berth. It may not make for the best reading but if you delve deeper it could be a case of glass half full rather than empty.
That is because Slovakia and Slovenia who both sit above Scotland at present face off tonight in Trnava and that obviously means that points will be dropped by at least one of these two nations. The ideal result here for Scotland would be a draw.
But Scotland can only truly capitalise on whatever happens in Slovakia with a win in Lithuania, anything less than three points tonight and their uphill struggle will take on an even more steeper incline. As it stands though Scotland’s Russian destiny is still very much in their own hands.
That is because they face both Slovenia and Slovakia between now and October and wins over both of them would put them in a very strong position in regards to snatching that all important play-off berth. Ultimately they may well need to win their last four matches to secure second place in the group.
But all those results are not out of reach and Scotland will be buoyed by their performance against England back in June. The ‘Battle of Britain’ at Hampden Park started slowly but ended with a flurry of goals, two of those came from Leigh Griffiths and at one point it looked as if his second of the game was to have won the game.
But Scotland would face agonising despair as Harry Kane snatched a late equaliser to make sure that England made the short trip back home with at least a point. A draw that almost felt like a defeat and you do have to wonder just how costly those two additional points could be come the end of the group.
The key task for Gordon Strachan is to make sure that those players did not just raise their game because they were playing against old foes, he needs to harness that performance especially in the second half and use it as a springboard for these next four matches.
These last four qualifiers are in effect four cup finals and ones where for all intents and purposes nothing less than a win in each will do them any good. The only problem with the three month hiatus since the draw against England is that it is very easy for the momentum to be lost. Such is the life of an international football manager.
Darren Fletcher has not made the trip due to suffering an injury in Stoke’s draw against West Brom last Sunday while Steven Fletcher and Tom Cairney are also missing from the squad. James Morrison has been drafted in as a late replacement.
It’s almost impossible to predict how Scotland will get on tonight because you never really know which version of their national side will turn up. They should be able to beat Lithuania tonight, if they don’t they will have to start preparing for Euro 2020.