Gordon Strachan upbeat over vital Ireland qualifier

Gordon Strachan and Stuart McCall prepare for tonight's match with Qatar Picture: SNS
Gordon Strachan and Stuart McCall prepare for tonight's match with Qatar Picture: SNS
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SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan has expressed his growing confidence in the quality of his squad ahead of next week’s pivotal Euro 2016 qualifier against Republic of Ireland in Dublin.

Aiden McGeady, who played under Strachan at Celtic, claimed this week that he and his Irish team-mates are “better players” than their Scottish counterparts but had failed to match their level of team performance when losing 1-0 at Celtic Park last November.

I have my ideas on how Charlie Adam could fit into the team

Gordon Strachan

Ahead of the Group D return at the Aviva Stadium a week tomorrow, Strachan insisted he has no issue with McGeady’s assessment of the rival camps.

The Everton winger is one of 12 members of Martin O’Neill’s Irish squad who played for English Premier League clubs in the season just ended.

Strachan, by contrast, can call on just eight players who were in England’s top flight – Alan Hutton (Aston Villa), Andrew Robertson (Hull City), Charlie Adam (Stoke City), Darren Fletcher (West Bromwich Albion), James McArthur (Crystal Palace), James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion), Steven Fletcher (Sunderland) and Steven Naismith (Everton).

But Strachan is more than satisfied with the resources at his disposal as he seeks to plot a path to next summer’s finals in France.

“If you look at the two sides, there are more from the Premier League in Aiden’s team,” said Strachan.

“I don’t have a problem with what he said. It’s good that you back your own players. But I am comfortable with the players we have got, that’s for sure. In fact, the more the week goes on, the more comfortable I get.”

Strachan takes charge of Scotland for the 20th time tonight when they face Qatar at Easter Road in a warm-up fixture before next week’s crucial trip across the Irish Sea.

He believes the depth of talent currently available to him has never been stronger since he took the job at the start of 2013.

Adam has had to wait more than a year for his recall to the the squad, illustrating Strachan’s belief of how intense the battle for places in his team has become. “After two and a half years this is the best I have had here – absolutely,” said Strachan.

“I have my ideas on how Charlie could fit into the team but you have to remember that the players I’ve had have done incredibly well.

“You also have someone like James McArthur who has been playing really well in the Premier League but isn’t a regular starter for us. I do feel for him because his performances have been great.

“I saw him play against Liverpool near the end of the season against Steven Gerrard and Phillipe Coutinho and he was excellent.

“He comes in to the squad with a smile on his face all the time and he tries hard and is a good player. It just so happens that there are other good players around. You can be unfortunate at times.

“It is the same with our goalies. Our main three keepers – David Marshall, Allan McGregor and Craig Gordon – could have won 50 or 60 caps each already if they didn’t have those guys beside them. It is the same for central midfield.”

Strachan is thrilled to have Darren Fletcher operating at optimum fitness and form again after the squad captain enjoyed a fine second half of the season following his move from Manchester United to West Brom.

“That is a prospect that excites me,” said Strachan. “It’s about getting games and that’s what Darren is getting at West Brom.

“When he first came back into the squad earlier this season, he was a bit leggy. But I can see the difference in him now.

“He had a head to head with James Forrest in training today – which is just what he didn’t need at the end of a session – but he did well. So that kind of thing is good. The sharp players like Forrest, Shaun Maloney and Steven Naismith are bringing on the other ones in training because of their sharpness.”

Strachan declined to comment on the controversy surrounding tonight’s match amid protests over alleged abuses of migrant workers in the construction of stadiums for the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar.

But the Scotland coach did briefly address the wider issue of Fifa’s ongoing crisis as he stressed the need for those running the sport to set a better example.

“People always use the statement that footballers are role models,” said Strachan.

“It’s not rugby players, it’s not tennis players – it’s always football players. Well, the same can be said of the executives who run the game. They should be role models as well.

“When we get role models in place, then football will be a better place. We can then move on and only concentrate on football, which would be great for the game, because there is no doubt this is the greatest game in the world. Anybody who tries to tell you otherwise is wrong.”

Scotland return to Easter Road tonight for the first time since 2012 when they defeated Australia 3-1 in a match which saw Jordan Rhodes make a goalscoring debut for the national side. The other Scotland scorers were Ross McCormack and Jason Davidson, who put through his own net. The Scots have also played Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and Finaland at the ground in recent years.