GORDON Strachan will take his seat at the Acropolis Convention Centre in Nice tomorrow with a ‘bring it on’ attitude as he eagerly awaits Scotland’s fate in the Euro 2016 qualifying draw.
Displaying the positivity which has characterised the first year of his promising tenure as Scotland manager, Strachan insists he has no desire to avoid any of the heavyweight contenders who could stand in the way of his bid to end his country’s lengthy absence from major tournament finals.
He would also welcome being bracketed with England, one of the top seeds, to maintain international football’s oldest rivalry which was renewed with a thrilling challenge match at Wembley last August. Scotland are among the fourth pot of seeds in tomorrow’s lunchtime draw and will have to punch above their perceived weight just to secure a third-place finish in their group which will secure at least a play-off spot for a European Championship finals extended to 24 teams for the first time.
But Strachan is confident his squad are capable of out-performing teams seeded above them in a qualifying competition from which the top two from all nine groups will go directly to the finals.
“I don’t really fear anyone,” said Strachan. “There are special teams like Spain and Germany among the top seeds, but I don’t really fear anyone. I suppose it would be a good if we got England because it would get that wee bit of excitement going again. We all enjoyed our last experience of playing them.
“I genuinely have not looked at who we could get before coming out to the draw.
“My assistant Mark McGhee does all that for me. Mark knows all the ins and outs of the draw, who would be good here or there. It is the way I have always been.
“There is no point in worrying about something until it happens. I am just excited about the prospects of the names coming out and then working our group out from there.
“I know fine well we will be in a hard section but is it going to make any difference if you are in pot three or four? You know regardless that there are going to be at least three teams that will be hard to deal with.
“You have to remember that in the last World Cup campaign, Belgium were in pot three and suddenly they have become the third best team in the world. Even for this draw, they are only in pot two. So there is no point getting excited about who you get, because even if they are the top team just now, they might not be the best team by the time you get round to playing them. You never know.
“We can finish above teams seeded above us. But to do that, we’ll have to use every hour that we get together to work as a team. Because I can’t envisage any or our players beating three or four players and whacking it in the back of the net with the outside of their foot, like a Messi, Bale, Ronaldo or Modric.
“I hope we will be able to develop that over the next few years through our youth systems or whatever. But most of the things we have done so far have been created through working hard in certain situations. And I think that’s going to be the same again in this campaign.”
By the time Euro 2016 gets underway, it will have been 18 years since Scotland’s last involvement in a major finals when the 1998 World Cup was also staged in France.
SFA president Campbell Ogilvie, alongside Strachan in the Scottish delegation in Nice this weekend, has revealed that the Tartan Army will be able to attend games in their biggest numbers yet if Scotland make it to Euro 2016.
“Wherever you go throughout Europe, people talk about our supporters,” said Ogilvie. “Some of the support we take to friendly games, or even qualifiers when we are out of contention, is remarked upon. Our fans are well renowned and a major plus for us.
“The stadia for France 2016 are bigger and Uefa are looking at increasing the percentage of allocation to supporters from the competing nations. So there is going to be a lot more room for our supporters if we get to the finals.
“They are talking about increasing the allocation from 16 per cent to 20 per cent, so there will be more tickets available than at previous finals.”
Centralised broadcasting rights for the Euro 2016 qualifiers, which will be played over Uefa’s new ‘Week of Football’ concept with double-header fixtures on Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday, mean participation is worth around £50 million to the SFA. The bounty will increase considerably if Scotland reach the finals.
“It’s much more lucrative now,” added Ogilvie. “Previously, you had to hope for someone like Germany in your group from a financial point of view. Now, it’s a guaranteed amount, we know exactly where we stand and it helps us budget.
“But apart from the financial reasons, it’s important for football reasons that we try and qualify. We have been through a hard time in recent years. I tend to be a glass half full kind of guy and I try to look at the positives.
“I really believe there are good quality players coming through in our game - some of the young boys in the Scottish game and some who have moved down south. There are reasons to be confident moving forward.
“Naturally, we have to look at qualifying for this tournament. We are under no misapprehension about what is expected of us here.
“When the international team does well, there is a spin-off effect for the whole game. You see the benefits on the pitch and there are financial benefits on the back of it too.”
Scotland will discover their fixture schedule within a few hours of the draw being made at 11am tomorrow, with a Uefa computer programme replacing the previous dates meetings of countries grouped together.