Our Road to Rio is Mapped Out
In a ceremony that in keeping with FIFA traditions flirted heavily with farce, Craig Levein was shown the size of his task in guiding the nation to world footballs A list party for the first time in 16 years (yes it really has been that long).
Scotland were drawn out of the hat in Group A, alongside; Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia and Wales. As per usual with our national side re-action has varied from the wildly over-optimistic, (one punter on the Daily Record website claimed if we didn’t win this group we should hang our heads in shame) to our default, giving up before we’ve started defeatism.
In reality the draw could have been better but it certainly could have been much worse. In previous campaigns we have been paired with at least one so called “superpower”. This time however there is no Spain, or Italy standing in the way of us actually having our own team to support at a major tournament, rather than whoever is taking their turn at beating the English at penalties.
Points gained away from Glasgow look likely to be at premium. And if you’re not of the sunniest of dispositions, it could be argued that we may struggle to pick up anything other than air miles from our travels. Incidentally, with Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro all present in the group, the re-formation of Yugoslavia would not only save on travel costs but would ease fixture congestion greatly, I accept the potential political, and international security ramifications of this move may just outweigh the footballing benefits.
I do not possess the attention span for a long and detailed analysis of each of our opponents, (and I’m guessing neither do you) but here are a few brief thoughts on what we are up against.
Croatia are the top seeds, no-longer the power they once were they are still a technically proficient outfit, with the brilliant Modric pulling the strings and Rangers star Jelavic a familiar face in attack, they will fancy their chances, as the saying goes.
Serbia came out of pot two, and while there were certainly stronger teams in there with them, they are still a strong and experienced side. Manchester United’s Captain Nemanja Vidic is a formidable presence in defence and in Milos Krasic they have an attacking midfielder in the mould of Pavel Nedved who he effectively replaced at Juventus. Unless we somehow conjure up a centre half with even a modicum of aerial ability the giant Zigic may just wreak utter havoc (it is however just as likely that he turns in a performance that makes Chris Iwelumo look like Maradonna).
Belgium is the last team we wanted from pot 3. They can boast a world class defensive unit, consisting of Vermaelen, Vertonghen and Kompany. How these three will cope with Kenny Miller, running around quite quickly but with very little purpose, or James McFadden, dribbling into a corner, losing the ball and then going in the huff, only time will tell. The names Defour, De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku may only be familiar to those of us who spend their days playing football manager, (Lukaku on loan was a great bit of business until that bloody update ruined everything!) but by the time the qualifying campaign kicks off they may very well be household names.
Macedonia’s star man is Pandev of Italian giants Internazionale who, while undoubtedly a good player is also a complete headcase. If we are lucky he will have gone on one of his regular strikes by the time we face his side. It is imperative we get the scheduling of this game correct, unlike the last time when we travelled to Skopje, wilted in the heat and succumbed to a 1-0 reverse.
The Welsh national side had to endure the humiliation of being seeded below our old friends the Faroes for this draw, however they were clearly the strongest side in pot 6. The Arsenal midfielder Ramsey captains the side and is a class act, depending on who you ask, Gareth Bale is either one of the very best players in the world, or a man who has made a career out of being able to kick the ball and then run very fast after it, either way, if he can run rings around the Brazilian Maicon then the chances are he will cause Alan Hutton a few problems.
All in all I am cautiously optimistic. Each team looks capable of taking points off the others and if we can turn Hampden into a venue to be feared once again, we may find ourselves in a position to capitalise on slip ups elsewhere. It does concern me however that this group does seem set up for yet another “glorious failure.”
It was a quiet weekend in the SPL, with Celtic competing in the Dublin Super Cup, (where the use of the word Super was stretched to the very limits of credibility) Rangers took advantage with a win in Perth that those with a positive outlook on life would describe as routine, (laboured is probably closer to the truth) nevertheless Ally McCoist will be relieved to get a win under his belt before the crucial 2nd leg of Rangers European tie against Malmo. There were single goal away wins for both Dundee United and Hibs, against Hearts and Inverness respectively, while Kilmarnock and Motherwell played out a relatively entertaining goalless draw.
Two final thought from the World Cup draw. If someone at the English FA could tell their Scottish counterparts what you have to do to be allowed to hand pick your qualifying group then that would be ace. They could hire Berti Vogts as manager and still negotiate their way past that lot! Also I watched the draw unfold on twitter, and the majority of tweets in my feed seemed to be jokes about Ronaldo and his rather rotund appearance. Now there is a picture of Ronnie, during the draw holding up the word ‘Hungary’ that some have used as a rather cruel joke but I refuse to stoop to such depths just for a cheap laugh, and anyway this should not be how we remember O Fenomeno, so I urge you to make a visit to youtube to relive some of his best moments. Enjoy.
Do Ryanair fly direct to Rio?