George Burley has said with some confidence that we can afford to draw one game and win the remaining three to qualify for a no doubt treacherous play off place. Without being an expert you can already see Burley racking off the wins against Iceland, Macedonia and Norway in his head with a point at home to the Netherlands.
That would give us 14 points, sticking my neck on the line, that won’t be enough. In truth four wins will only do to guarantee a play off place. Burley as manager should have been instilling this into the Tartan Army and his team the minute the final whistle blew in Amsterdam on Saturday night. Not by creating pressure on his players, but by exuding the kind of confidence that made his short spell at Hearts so successful. Instead it feels like we are being set up for a glorious failure when in reality that’s the one thing we don’t need any help in mastering.
In a group that has proved as mediocre as it looked Scotland should be out of sight in second, poor preparation and a lacklustre performance in Skopje paired with that miss by Chris Iwelumo against Norway have contributed to the situation we find ourselves in now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but in those games we shouldn’t be looking back in terms of what if? We should be looking back in terms of, job done.
Even the biggest optimist struggled to see us getting anything against a Dutch side that appeared to come on and off the pedal at will.
In his defence Burley played it correctly, there were no major flaws in both his selection and formation. Scotland didn’t play badly, they were let down by lax marking which was further compounded by a refereeing decision that would even have Manuel Gonzalez (remember Italy) scratching his head. To look back now is folly, what is done is done and we must move on.
Iceland visit Hampden, there’s still tickets available for the game; it’s funny how quickly the tens of thousands that block up the lines when the big boys are coming disappear when things start getting a bit sticky. Some would argue this is to do with the timid figure Burley is currently projecting onto the nation, while I would say that the glory hunters would rather be watching the England game.
To write off Iceland as a one man team fronted by Eidur Gudjohnsen, would be naïve, and despite the opinions of a majority of the Tartan Army, Burley has enough nous against this level of opposition to not do that. Players such as Aron Gunnarsson of Coventry and Hearts Eggert Johnson could provide enough of a battle in the middle of the park to make the game interesting. This Iceland team have lost experience through the middle due to injury and suspension but the youthful exuberance in its place may finally kick Barry Ferguson in to gear if the gaffer hasn’t already rammed this home to his captain.
Ferguson was anonymous against Holland with Scott Brown again proving himself to be the current lynchpin of the midfield, his effort and drive was tireless while Bazza plodded about the centre circle looking backwards all game, it will be interest to see in the coming months how long Barry can maintain his place in the team, a fit again Kevin Thomson should he continue with the form he was in before injury, should oust his captain for both club and country.
More immediately the Scotland that ended in Amsterdam will probably resemble the one that will start at Hampden. Hutton must come in for Alexander, who despite being an able member of the squad was caught ball watching in slow motion by television replays for the Dutch opener. Perhaps like David Weir his time has been and gone but he can be applauded as one of the few successes from the Berti Vogts talent search. Gary Teale looks set to drop out for James Morrison and Ross McCormack did enough to keep his place, providing the spark that many feared would be lost with the absence of McFadden and Commons. It was an exciting debut as the Cardiff attacker continually attacked the Dutch defence.
Kenny Miller will be the first to admit he should of shot earlier, but as a lone striker he is the best we have, would anyone else of got into that position, and just like he did after the sitter he missed against Italy, I expect him to get on the score sheet against Iceland, as long as he doesn’t have too much time to think about it.
Burley’s main decision is whether he sticks with Christophe Berra or calls upon Stephen McManus as he continues to try and prove his fitness. There are arguments for and against both, Berra is still raw on the international stage, as shown by the penalty he conceded, but his baptism of fire in Holland should stand him in good stead against a weaker Iceland team. McManus who must surely be aware that his form this season has been fluctuating between the inspired to the idiotic can call on his club partnership with Caldwell as his reason for selection. Caldwell himself proved himself to be the number one centre back in the country and his obvious displeasure at the conceding of the first goal earmarked for a role as a future captain.
In the end Berra should get the nod, he won’t, but he should, despite if Burley went with the Wolves man it would help build his confidence and if McManus is not 100% fit then it seems a risk unnecessary to take, plus imagine the uproar if he aggravates his injury, Mr, Strachan wouldn’t be too happy about that.
Wednesday night, to use an old cliché, is the first of four World Cup Finals for Scotland and the quicker George Burley drums this into his team, and maybe even into himself, the better. If he feels that he can’t get that message across to its full extent, then paint Steven Pressley’s face and have him scream ‘Alba Qu Bra’. That’s what he’s part of the set up for to fire up the team and fans with raw passion.
It may only be Iceland at home but this is without question the most pivotal game of George Burley’s tenure as Scotland manager, if he wins, then the next one will take over that mantle, if he loses then Scotland will spend another four years absent from the biggest international event in the world. It’s too early to sharpen the knives but anything less than a victory and serious doubts will be brought up about whether George Burley is the man to take us to major Championships.
The question is, can the man who can appear scared of his own shadow fire up a passion in a team that many feel he can’t even fire in himself? I hope so and when the paper’s hit the shops on Thursday morning hopefully we will all get the answer we are looking for.