Scotland skipper Scott Brown has described Scotland’s improvement under manager Gordon Strachan as “ridiculous” as the international team looks forward to the Euro 2016 qualifiers with a renewed sense of optimism.
Tuesday might’s win over Croatia will not impact on Scotland’s seedings for the Euro 2016 draw when it is made on 23 February in Nice, and they will remain in pot four.
However, the 2-0 victory, which led to Croatia manager Igor Stimac’s offer of resignation to be accepted by the Croatian Football Federation yesterday, is set to take Scotland from 63 in the Fifa rankings to a spot in the top 35. The governing body publishes its latest edition of rankings tomorrow. Scotland were ranked 72nd when Strachan took over from Craig Levein at the start of this year. In six qualifying matches since then Scotland have earned three victories, including two wins over Group A’s top seeds Croatia.
“We have restored some pride,” said Brown. “Everybody was putting us down at the start of the campaign. We went out to play football, enjoyed it and came away with a result against a team in the world top ten. That shows we are moving in the right direction. In the last four games since the manager has come in, it’s been ridiculous how well we have improved,” he added. “We are building confidence all over the squad.”
Having failed to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil next year, Scotland do not now face a competitive fixture until next autumn. However, they return to action on 15 November with a friendly against the United States at Hampden. The Scottish Football Association plans to release details today of another friendly against Norway in Oslo four days later. Brown sought to explain the difference in results since Strachan took over in January. Levin was sacked in November last year after Scotland earned only two points from their first four qualifying fixtures.
Scotland suffered the ignominy of being the first country in Europe to be eliminated from the World Cup qualifying process in March, after a 2-0 defeat to Serbia. Since then Scotland have won three of their four competitive fixtures as Strachan’s alterations have begun to have an impact.
“Was it more cautious before? It maybe was but every manager has their own way and their own philosophy,” said Brown. “This style is suiting us. The gaffer has instilled the way he wants us to play,” continued Brown.
“It’s the right way and it suits the lads. We know we aren’t the tallest team but we are brave and strong on the ball.
“We’ve got pace about the team. Most of the lads are young and keen. That helps and the spirit in the squad is outrageous just now.”
Brown said the current mood among the international players is the best he has known it. “It’s like a club side more than an international squad,” he said. “The lads gel really well together and there are no individuals.
“We have a lot of belief and it’s all about the formation we are playing. We have worked hard on defending, as well as attacking. We are doing that as a team and not individually. And we are seeing the benefits of that now.
“The aim was to finish as high up the group as possible. We have done really well in the last few games and managed to move up a few places.
“We are gutted the campaign is coming to an end now, but we are looking forward to the next one. With this group of lads it’s looking interesting and we have a couple of friendlies coming up as well. That will help for confidence and get us some more game-time together.”
Brown praised fans’ favourite Ikechi Anya’s contribution since making his debut last month. “He’s been a great addition to the squad. He’s been great with the lads and he oozes confidence.
“When he goes one on one, we always think he will get past his marker.”
With both Steven and Darren Fletcher expected to make comebacks from injury and illness later this year, Brown is confident Scotland can improve further with Strachan in charge.
“We can get better,” he said. “I don’t see why not. The two Fletchers are huge players for us and we hope to get them back as soon as possible.
“They will add a lot of quality, and would probably play. Shaun Maloney was also missing against Croatia, and they will all help the team.”
Meanwhile, defender Russell Martin, who together has formed a first-choice centre back pairing with Grant Hanley under Strachan, praised the manager’s organisational qualities.
“He has just come in and given the lads a real freedom to play,” said Martin. “Obviously he has given us a platform and he is really detailed when explaining about the shape. Everyone knows their job, everyone knows what to expect.
“It’s a simple game complicated by idiots,” he added. “The gaffer keeps it really simple.”