Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who Are Ya? - The Scotland National Team

There's not many managers who enjoy an international break. Rafa Benitez for example, would be fuming at the temporary halt in league procedings that may at best disrupt Liverpool's cracking run of form or, at worst, give him an injury crisis to deal with. Sir Alex might have different views on this, perhaps using the time to restore calm and, above all, discipline back to Old Trafford. Either way, international breaks are like taxes: a necessary evil, best dealt with quickly and without fuss.

With Scotland due to play Holland in the latest round of 2010 World Cup qualifiers, we take a look at one of the sides in action in the Amsterdam Arena on Saturday as tonight, Matthew, we’re going to be: the Scotland national team.

So, who are ya?
Well, we’re Scotland and we are the oldest national football team in the world. We made our first appearance in a game against England in 1872, a game that ended in a 0-0 draw. Since then we’ve made eight World Cup appearances, qualifying for the first time in 1954 and again in 1958. After a wee absence, we managed to qualify for five World Cup Finals in a row, namely in 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990. Although we didn’t qualify in 1994, we did make it to France in ‘98. We’ve also been at the European Championships in 1992 and 1996.

Just don’t ask how we did in all these competitions; Scotland have never qualified for the second round in any tournament they’ve entered.

Any past glories?
The 5-1 win in 1928 by a team later called the 'Wembley Wizards' is as good a place as any to start. There’s Scotland beating newly-crowned world champions England 2-3 at Wembley in 1967. Or how about being undefeated in the ‘74 World Cup, where we lost out on goal difference to Zaire? And beating World Cup winners France twice in last years unsuccessful Euro 2008 qualification rounds wasn’t exactly shabby either. Shame about those defeats to Georgia and Italy though...

Plenty of low points, surely?
Though some say the ‘78 campaign was bad (and it was), two words will sum up Scotland’s international misfortunes better than anything else: “Berti” and “Vogts”. With other national sides getting a foreign manager, Scotland got on the bandwagon and appointed former Germany World Cup-winning captain Berti Vogts as manager in 2002. He started off badly, a trend he continued during his tenure at the helm. Home defeats to Norway and Hungary are forgivable; coming from behind to draw 2-2 away to the Faroe Islands isn’t. Two years, a 1-1 draw to Moldova and a 27-point slide down the FIFA rankings after he became manager, he resigned; Walter Smith took over, results improved and all of Scotland held a party.

Obviously, disappointment at not making the Euro 2008 finals was massive. Good performances against France were offset against struggles with the Faroes, Ukraine and Georgia. No-one expected Scotland to beat Italy, but in the 2-1 defeat in the final game, Scotland showed that they can compete with the very best teams in the world.

However, Jock Stein's fatal heart attack at the end of the 1-1 draw against Wales on the 10th September 1985, a result that guaranteed qualification for the 1986 World Cup, is probably the lowest point in the Tartan Army’s history.

Have you heard of...
Henry Waugh Renny-Tailyour? No? Well, The Royal Engineers player scored Scotland’s first international goal (and also our first away goal) back on the 8th March 1872 in a friendly game against England. It wasn’t all good news though - Scotland lost 4-2.

Or how about Ally McLeod? He took Scotland to Argentina in 1978, whipping up enormous excitement by asserting that Scotland would come back with at least a medal. He started a wave of enthusiasm and pride for the Scottish team that included a UK Top 6 song, 'Ally’s Tartan Army'. Despite going with a strong team that included Kenny Dalglish, Archie Gemmill, Joe Jordan and a young player making his debut in the dark blue shirt, Graeme Souness, upon arriving in Argentina things went from bad to worse.

A 3-1 defeat to Peru in the opening game, followed by a 1-1 draw against Iran meant Scotland had to beat group leaders and 1974 finalists Holland by three clear goals to qualify. They scored three alright, including 'that' cracking solo goal by Archie Gemmill, but the Dutch scored twice, meaning Ally’s Tartan Army were on the first plane home to Prestwick. McLeod only lasted one more game, eventually being replaced by one John ‘Jock’ Stein.

Stand up if you hate...
England have always been our traditional enemies - the 'auld enemy', in fact. Over the years there's been some exciting and hard-fought encounters, but since the British Home Championship (and the annual Scotland versus England game) stopped in 1984, meetings between the two sides have been sporadic, with the last game back in 1999 when Scotland beat England 1-0 at Wembley through a Don Hutchinson goal.

So, what's happening now?
George Burley is Scotland’s 21st manager, taking over from Alex McLeish who left to become manager of then (and soon-to-be again) Premiership side Birmingham. His term as manager got off to a slow start with a 1-1 draw against a strong Croatia team, followed by a 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic. Two friendlies didn't exactly set the heather alight either: a dire 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Argentina showed there was still much work to do.

Burley's focus is now on getting Scotland to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - assuming it’s still held there by the time qualification is assured.

With three games played so far in the World Cup qualifying games, Scotland find themselves second in the qualifying group with one win (Iceland 2-1), one draw (Norway 0-0, a game more famous for the incredible miss by Wolves striker Chris Iwelumo from 20cm out) and one defeat (Macedonia 1-0). They take on Holland on Saturday - a team undefeated so far in the group.

What does the future hold?
Even if World Cup qualification is not achieved, Burely has a good squad on which to build. In Craig Gordon and Alan McGregor he’s got two great (and potentially the UK’s most expensive) keepers. If you’re looking for experience, Christian Dailly, Gary Naysmith, Darren Fletcher and Kenny Miller can provide you a backbone from defence to attack. If you’re looking to build on the younger players, Heart of Midlothian’s Christope Berra recently made his debut, as did Cardiff City's Ross McCormack. Birmingham’s James McFadden scored 13 times in his 37 appearances so far. Rangers FC Hall of Fame inductee Barry Ferguson MBE captains the side.

A hot prospect for the future is Hibernian's 21-year old Steven Fletcher, Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year and top scorer in the Scotland under-19 side which reached the 2006 UEFA Under-19 Football Championship. He’s been tracked by Real Madrid, but it's looking more likely that a move to England is on the cards.

Encouraging to note also is that of the 20 players currently in the U-21 or U-19 sides, only four play for either Celtic or Rangers, suggesting that perhaps the youth system is working at clubs outside of the Old Firm.

The only disappointment so far has been Kris Boyd, currently top scorer in the Scottish Premier League who has vowed never to play again for Scotland while George Burley is in charge.

Anything you'd like to add?
Some interesting trivia for you. Did you know that:
  • All the players in that first game against England back in 1872 came from one team, Queens Park?
  • Or that up to 1909, Scotland used to play in pink, the colours of the honorary President of the Scottish Football Association, Lord Rosebery?
  • Or that Kenny Dalglish is Scotland’s most capped player and is, together with Aberdeen-born Dennis Law, joint top scorer with 30 goals?
  • 149,415 people crammed in to Hampden Park to watch Scotland take on England in 1937, an attendance which remains a British record to this date?
  • Or that 147,365 people turned up the week before that to see Celtic beat Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final and that this is the record attendance for a club match in European and British football?
Lastly, George Burley is the third former Ipswich manager to manage his own country. Your trivia question - who are the other two?

1 comment:

flicktokick said...

Another one people may not have heard of is Andrew Watson - the first black player to be capped by Scotland, in 1881.
Also the first black player to play in the FA Cup (for London Swifts), Watson played three times for Scotland during which we recorded 5-1 and 6-1 wins against England and a 5-1 victory against Wales. Those were the days.

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