ALTHOUGH the seats surrounding him will still be predominantly green, Gordon Strachan is confident blue will be the colour at a stadium he re-named “Scotland Park” ahead of tonight’s crucial Group D fixture with Republic of Ireland.
Short of taking a leaf from Graeme Souness’s book and planting a Saltire flag in the centre circle at Celtic Park, the Scotland manager could not have been any firmer about the question of proprietorship. This is Scotland’s patch, Strachan stressed.
He was adamant that no advantage has been yielded to the visitors on a crucial night for both Scotland and Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016.
“It’s Scottish territory and you’ll know it’s Scottish territory,” said Strachan. “There will be 55,000 Scots in there. You’ll be in no doubt where you are tomorrow. You’re in Scotland and Scotland are playing, against Ireland.
“We will turn Celtic Park into the home of Scottish football and you will know fine well you are in Scotland tomorrow night,” he added. “We are quite familiar with Celtic Park as well – most of our players have played there. But as I say, it is not going to be Celtic Park, tomorrow it is Scotland Park.”
The Scotland manager revealed that he had a significant say in the decision to stage the game at Celtic Park. With Hampden Park currently out of commission last month’s qualifier against Georgia was played at Ibrox. There were worries that the Scottish Football Association were playing into Ireland’s hands by choosing Celtic Park as the venue for what many regard as a must-win fixture for the Scots.
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Former Scotland and Rangers defender David Weir was among those voicing his concern earlier this week, commenting in a radio interview that “in my opinion this game should have been at Ibrox. That would have been more of an advantage for Scotland”.
While Strachan knows the ground well from his three-year spell as Celtic manager, it is also a home from home for Martin O’Neill, his predecessor at Celtic Park, and several others in the Irish camp. With the game now confirmed as a sell-out, Strachan insisted the decision has been vindicated whatever the score-line.
“I was part of the decision and now, we’re actually, getting more fans in here,” he said. “I enjoyed the Ibrox experience [v Georgia], I thought it was terrific and I’m going to enjoy this tomorrow [Friday].”
Scotland return to Celtic Park on Tuesday to play a friendly match against England, and Strachan added: “These two games, I think we’ve done the right thing, no matter what the result will be. We’re going to get 55,000 Scots in there tomorrow. We couldn’t have done that anywhere else. That will help us.”
Strachan noted the number of home supporters who have been attracted to Scotland’s most important home match since Italy arrived at Hampden for a vital Euro 2008 qualifier seven years ago. A victory against Georgia, a draw with Poland and a narrow defeat by World Cup winners Germany have raised hopes among the Tartan Army that Scotland could reach a first major tournament since 1998.
“It is a pat on the back for the players that they have generated this interest,” said Strachan, who has lost the services of James McArthur after the Crystal Palace midfielder injured a calf in training.
“I think it is great for them that they have generated this interest because six months ago, when the game was announced against England, that was the big game. But that has been put on the back burner now.”
Strachan knows all about the intimidating qualities of a packed Celtic Park after his time as manager at the club, though he believes it will prove a unique experience this evening. The noise generated, he contends, will be different to a Champions League night or an Old Firm fixture. “It’s different people,” he said. “I believe the atmosphere will be terrific but in a different way. There are a lot of things that will be different. Tomorrow is Scotland. But I know what is coming, and it will inspire all the players. It will manage to get another few per cent out of them.
“They can drink all the water they want, eat all the carbohydrates they want. But the extra bit tomorrow will come from our fans.”
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