IT IS almost 30 years since Ian Rush scored the only goal of the game when Scotland and Wales last met in a World Cup qualifying match at Hampden. That night remains a cherished memory for Wales’ all-time leading scorer, not least because the win came at the expense of his then Liverpool team-mates Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Steve Nicol.
The campaign ended in ultimate disappointment for the Welsh side, of course, when a 1-1 draw in the Cardiff return fixture saw them lose out to the Scots in the race to qualify for the 1986 finals in Mexico. Regardless of the result at Hampden tomorrow night when the two nations lock horns, neither are now likely to figure in the qualifying equation for Brazil 2014. But Rush believes the Welsh camp have more grounds for optimism about the future than Scotland.
“Scotland are a workmanlike team, there is not one player you can say is outstanding,” said Rush. “There are no players in the Scottish team who the Welsh will fear, really. But Wales have got Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy and Aaron Ramsey. They can all take the game to Scotland as individual talents. Scotland just have to try to grind out results.
“It’s sad in a way, when you look at the players Scotland had in the past. There was Dalglish, Souness and Hansen at Liverpool in my time and there were great Scottish players at other English clubs too. That’s gone now, I don’t know why.
“I remember the game in 1985 because to win at Hampden then was really special. It was a tough game and it was a big thing for anyone to go to Hampden and beat Scotland. I played up front alongside Mark Hughes that night and scored a left-footer from outside the box, which was unusual for me. It was after that goal and that game that the likes of Barcelona and Juventus looked at myself and Mark. That was the start of the transfer talk around us.”
Now 51, Rush was in Glasgow to promote ESPN’s forthcoming live football coverage which includes Scotland’s match against Serbia in Novi Sad next Tuesday night. Wales take on Croatia in Cardiff on the same evening.
“From Wales’ point of view, they have to beat both Scotland and Croatia to have any chance of making a comeback in this group,” added Rush. “A draw is no good for either team at Hampden on Friday. Because it’s at Hampden, I think Scotland are still favourites. I think Wales have more skilful players than Scotland but you have to match the enthusiasm which Gordon Strachan will bring to his team. If Wales don’t match that, then they won’t win but I do think they’re a better side than Scotland.
“Bale is obviously the most important player for Wales. We don’t want to rely on him too much but, even at Tottenham, he is like a one-man team at times. He can do that for Wales as well. Wales have also got some workmanlike players, but another big thing for them is Craig Bellamy. If they can get an hour out of him at Hampden, he is another one who can get the team going. It would take a bit of the pressure off Gareth Bale.”