GORDON STRACHAN believes Scotland can still find a way to qualify for next year’s Euro 2016 finals despite falling further off the pace in Group D when they lost 3-2 to Germany at Hampden.
After last Friday’s dismal 1-0 defeat in Georgia, the Scots reclaimed some self-esteem as they twice came from behind against the world champions before finally succumbing to unsurprisingly superior opponents.
But with rivals Poland and Republic of Ireland both winning last night, against Gibraltar and Georgia respectively, it leaves Strachan’s squad now unable to finish in the top two and claim automatic qualification for the finals.
Scotland’s hopes now rest on snatching third place in the group and a play-off spot. Various combinations of results could achieve that, but avoiding defeat at home to Poland next month and then winning against Gibraltar in Faro in their final match is the minimum requirement. Whatever happens, Scotland are now dependent on the Irish dropping points in their last two games against Germany and Poland.
“Let’s get this straight, before anyone asks, we are still in this,” insisted Strachan. “Trust me, we are still in this.
“If we play like that, with the same determination and get a wee bit of luck, there is absolutely no doubt about it. It will be hard, Poland are a top side as well. Fair play to the Irish for winning tonight, you have to hold your hands up and say ‘well done’.
“We’ve had two chances over the past few days to pick up points and haven’t done it, so we can’t look about and blame anyone else.
“With all due respect to Poland, I don’t think anyone can be as good in possession as Germany are. Someone said to me that we didn’t attack them much tonight. Well, go and ask Brazil how they got on against them in the last World Cup – Jesus.
“When you play the world champions you need a wee bit of luck. You don’t need deflections off someone’s foot going into the back of the net. You need luck and we didn’t get it tonight. The players might have thought to themselves ‘We’re not getting any luck tonight’ but they got through the pain barrier.
“So we’re still in this and I can’t wait to get them back together to go for it again over the next two games. I’m really proud of them. They are disappointed in there but they should be proud of themselves. I can feel within their disappointment they know they gave it a good shot.”
It was a performance full of grit and guts from the Scots, in sharp contrast to the lifeless display which had cost them so dearly in Tbilisi last Friday.
They responded well to the loss of an 18th minute opener from Thomas Müller, levelling through a Mats Hummel own goal before the brilliant German forward restored his team’s lead in the 33rd minute. But a James McArthur strike sent Hampden into a ferment once again two minutes before the interval.
Ilkay Gündogan’s strike nine minutes into the second half proved just too much for the Scots, however, who were unable to find a further response despite an admirable effort.
“There’s been a couple of times in my managerial career when I’ve got angry or I’ve got sad. But there have been a couple of times it’s happened when you actually feel sorry for the players. Over two games, they’ve put in some amount of work.
“I told you the other day, sometimes football is more than what you drink, what you eat, how you train. It’s something that’s inside you. Nobody can tell me every one of these guys doesn’t have something inside them that drives them on. They stood up against the world champions, went behind against them but kept coming back, kept plugging away. They can be proud of their performances.
“Some top managers spoke to me after the game last Friday and agreed that we did enough not to lose that game. People who know the game knew the players tried as much as they could over there and tonight was another fantastic performance against top players, so they should be proud of themselves. I thought we could get a third equaliser, I thought something would come along. Even when we went with the two guys up front late on, I could see it affected Germany. It’s not easy because we had to tell the players at times to go man for man at the back. But we were just a fraction away tonight from having the perfect performance.
“We are three or four passes from being a right good side. That’s what Germany do better than anyone else, pass under pressure. If we do that, we will do well. We could have made all sorts of excuses about the other day. But as I say, it’s about what is inside you, the drive inside you. If you’ve got that, you can go a long way. Contrary to what some players say, you can’t give 110 per cent, it’s 100 per cent. That’s all you can ask of anyone. Tonight we just needed a break somewhere along the line, or four or five passes. It was like a boxer who keeps on getting up after getting smacked. Germany started to look like a heavyweight getting annoyed with a flyweight who won’t go away. That’s what it looked like to me.”
Strachan was content with his choice of substitutions, opting to leave Leigh Griffiths on the bench and bring on Derby County’s Chris Martin instead.
“They were all in my thoughts at some point, but Chris Martin was excellent when he went on. He caused havoc,” said Strachan. “And I thought Steven Fletcher’s link-up play and workrate was fantastic as well. OK, we didn’t get the shots on goal that we wanted, but we believed at all times that we could get an equaliser again.”
Germany coach Joachim Löw was satisfied with the win.
“It was anything but easy, especially as Scotland were putting a lot of men behind the ball, looking for dead ball opportunities in front of our box and playing long balls,” said Löw. “We largely controlled the game and didn’t allow them any chances in open play. I wasn’t worried by the Scottish attacks. I think it’s normal for the crowd to shout and cheer. It’s a David v Goliath kind of play but we didn’t give them much of a chance.”