World Cup 2014: A guide to Scotland’s group opponents
Scotland will face Belgium, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Wales in their World Cup qualifying campaign - here’s a guide to what Craig Levein’s side should expect
Team: A spine of English Premier League players includes Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen at centre-back in front of Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Marouane Fellaini and Moussa Dembele combine technique and power in midfield. There are also emerging talents in Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.
Form: Missed qualification for Euro 2012 by finishing third in a group with Germany, Turkey and Austria. In six friendlies since, they have lost only once, 1-0 away to England, and defeated the Netherlands 4-2 in their last match.
Key player: Eden Hazard. The Chelsea winger has made a roaring start to life in England. The Belgian team have been solid for the past three years but have missed top-class attacking quality like Hazard.
Manager: Marc Wilmots. A hero with the national team, amassing 70 caps as a player, the former captain doesn’t have a lot of experience in management. In fact, his only other previous permanent job as head coach came at K. Sint-Truidense – a small Belgian club who have never won the top division – where he was sacked after only a year in charge. His familiarity with the national team does work in his favour, having served as an assistant since 2009 before being promoted in May this year.
FIFA ranking: 53
World Cup record: Best finish – fourth in 1986.
Last qualification: 2002 (second round defeat by Brazil). 11 appearances in total.
Record v Scotland: P14 W8 D2 L4
Team: Aside from Real Madrid’s new £30 million man Luka Modric, Croatia have a plethora of talent. In attack, Mario Mandzukic and former Rangers striker Nikica Jelavic are goal-hungry. The midfield is a mixture of graft and skill with Modric and former Spurs team-mate Nico Kranjcar and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic. At the back there is veteran leadership from Darijo Srna and Josip Simunic.
Form: The Blazers, as they are known, gave a respectable performance at Euro 2012 despite a first-round exit. In hindsight, advancement to the second round was improbable as fellow Group C teams Italy and Spain went all the way to the final. The same core of players failed to qualify for the last World Cup, but the squad was severely limited by injuries.
Key player: Luka Modric. An incredibly intelligent passer of the ball, Modric dictates the play of every game he plays. One of the new generation of hard-working, deep-lying playmakers.
Manager: Igor Stimac. Replacing Slaven Bilic, one of the most charismatic and popular men in Croatia’s history, will be a tough task for his old defensive partner. The ex-Derby County hero has had three brief, unhappy stints in club management in Croatia.
World Cup record: Best finish – third in 1998.
Last qualification: 2006 (group stage).
Three appearances in total.
Record v Scotland: P3 W0 D3 L0
Team: The squad still rely heavily on Serie A hitman Goran Pandev to provide attacking impetus. There is hope for Wolfsburg youngster Ferhan Hasani and NK Maribor’s attacking midfielder Agim Ibraimi to establish themselves in this campaign. Velice Sumulikoski – known by Macedonians as the “Balkan Steven Gerrard” – provides steel in midfield.
Form: Macedonia’s qualification bid for Euro 2012 couldn’t have gone much worse. They managed only eight points – six from pointless Andorra – en route to a fifth place finish. The poor form saw a change in manager and a recent 1-0 victory over Lithuania was their first win in seven attempts.
Key player: Goran Pandev. Undoubtedly Macedonia’s most valuable man is their captain and leading goalscorer. But therein lies their problem. There have been no other top-class talents to arrive on the scene in the eight years Pandev has been one of Italian football’s most feared strikers. At 29, and with patchy club form over the past three seasons, the Napoli striker’s talents do appear to be in decline. However, he is still capable of the occasional match-winning moment.
Manager: Cedomir Janevski. A well-travelled individual, Janevski has had spells coaching in Belguim, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia and with the Macedonian under-21 team 15 years ago. He was handed the role when Welshman John Toshack resigned after refusing to relocate to Macedonia.
World Cup record: Never qualified.
Record v Scotland: P2 W1 D0 L1
Team: Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov are two of the best full-backs in the game but it remains to be seen if Nemanja Vidic will change his decision to retire from international football. Other areas of the squad are in transition with Dejan Stankovic retired and active top goalscorer Nikola Zigic out of favour. Zdravko Kuzmanovic (Stuttgart) and Zoran Tosic (CSKA Moscow) are highly-rated midfielders.
Form: Entered qualification for Euro 2012 looking to unseat an Italy side apparently on the decline but instead finished behind Estonia, outside the play-off places. Since then their friendly results haven’t been all that impressive either, with only one win from eight games.
Key player: Branislav Ivanovic. The Chelsea defender has been entrusted with the captain’s armband and must unite a dressing room that saw plenty of squabbling in the last qualification campaign. He’ll also be looking to solidify the defence.
Manager: Sinisa Mihajlovic. Former defender had a storied 20-year playing career and had management experience in Italy before landing the Serbia job in April.
World Cup record: Best finish – group stage in 2006* and 2010
Last qualification: (2010 Group Stage).
Two appearances in total.
*as Serbia and Montenegro
Record v Scotland: The countries have never played each other.
Team: Seeded two pots below Scotland but can call on Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Craig Bellamy, making them dangerous. Their frailty is in defence where James Collins is one of few legitimate top-flight players. The emergence of Joe Allen has added another dimension to the midfield.
Form: Recovered well in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, winning three of their final four matches as Gary Speed’s young side began to gel. That saw a rapid rise up the rankings and real optimism. Speed’s tragic death last year rocked Welsh football to its core and the team has understandably struggled since. Chris Coleman was appointed in January and has presided over three friendly defeats.
Key player: Gareth Bale. Has grown as a footballer over each of the last three seasons and could genuinely be considered one of the world’s best. Blistering speed, terrific strength and with one of the best left-foot shots in the world, his recent commitment to Spurs has quelled transfer rumours but value has been put at £30 million.
Manager: Chris Coleman. Before his untimely death, Speed had built the Wales team from the ground up and seemed to have the right formula for the future. Coleman has a tough act to follow and Wales have struggled for form since the former Fulham manager took the helm.
World Cup history: Best finish – 1958 (quarter-finals).
Last qualification: 1958
One appearance in total.
Record v Scotland: P105 W21 D23 L61
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