GORDON STRACHAN has called on his Scotland players to adopt the mentality of marathon runners as their Euro 2016 qualification race approaches the final straight.
The Scotland manager is confident that his squad can handle both the heat in Tbilisi, where the temperature is expected to be close to 30 degrees Celsius at kick-off time for this evening’s meeting with Georgia, and the demands of a double-header Group D schedule, in which they then take on world champions Germany at Hampden on Monday night.
Strachan has dismissed any concerns over Scotland’s ability to cope with two high-profile fixtures in such a short time frame, insisting the 3-1 defeat they suffered against England just four days after their exertions in beating Republic of Ireland at Celtic Park last November is not comparable.
He admitted in the immediate aftermath of that loss to England that he had made an error when he stuck to largely the same line-up which had put so much into the crucial win against the Irish.
But Strachan intends to hold nothing in reserve in terms of team selection against Georgia and has no fears about deploying his strongest possible side in both matches over the next four days.
“I’m like one of those marathon runners who just likes to get up to the front and hang in there,” said Strachan.
“I’d rather do that than pace myself. You go for it and find out what happens.
“If you find you get into the lead, you hang in there – by whatever means. It takes mental strength. So we’ll go for this one in Georgia and then see what we’ve got. We’ll have five hours coming back on the plane on Friday night to think about it. I’ll then sit and think ‘right, what are we doing for Germany?’ People have asked me when I want to train over the weekend but we’ll finish the Georgia game first and then ask how the lads are feeling and see how they’re looking. We’ll then take it from there.
“I don’t think losing to England that time was all down to tiredness. I actually just think the game threw us with how intense England were. We had watched them on the Saturday and they were almost lacklustre in a qualifying game.
“They upped their tempo for us, which threw us. It might have looked like our guys couldn’t play two games in such a short space of time but I didn’t see it like that. England’s tempo was just so high from what we’d seen. It was meant to be us doing that to them but they turned the tables on us. If anything, that will be a reminder of what can happen in these situations.
“The only thing that’s a wee bit different about this game in Georgia is the heat. Because we are a nation that’s on the go all the time, we tend to do everything quickly. It’s very hard for us to slow down. We talk quickly, we eat quickly – everything we do is quick. I could go on but I could get myself into trouble!
“Hopefully, it will be a wee bit cooler at kick-off time but we’ve also got enough water with us to sink the Titanic.
“We like to play at a good tempo but there are times when that tempo doesn’t help.
“Sometimes, we have to slow it down a bit. We always want to get the ball and go there as quick as you can. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you need to take your time on the ball if you can. That’s something we work on in training all the time, to try and calm us down.
“What we know is that in tomorrow’s team, every player on the pitch can look after the ball,” added Strachan.
The manager has no injury concerns to contend with tonight and expressed his satisfaction at captain Scott Brown’s recovery from the knee injury which caused him to limp out of Celtic’s Premiership fixture against St Johnstone on Saturday.
“Scott is good,” said Strachan. “We asked him if he wanted to miss training because of the knock but he said no. He must have a perverse liking to pain. He actually took a couple of dunts during training – you could see it was sore – but it’s not in his psyche to sit it out.
“I think it’s because he’s the captain that he sets the standards. I wasn’t even worried when I heard he’d got the knock playing for Celtic. Had it been a lot of other people, I might have been concerned about it, but not with Broony. I knew he’d be fine.”