SCOTLAND gained a 1-0 win but more importantly appear to have come through unscathed after last’s night Qatar Airways-sponsored international challenge match against Qatar.
While the Scottish Football Association risked damage to their reputation by arranging a game against a country at the centre of a World Cup votes rigging scandal, Gordon Strachan will now hope his players can continue preparing for next Saturday’s vital clash with Republic of Ireland in peace.
Only striker Steven Naismith gave cause for concern when taking a boot to his upper chest area in a challenge with the Qatar goalkeeper. He recovered after an extensive period of treatment. “We’re all right,” said Strachan. “Naisy got a bit of a bump. But he’s a hardy wee character. So I always felt that, unless something really strange had happened, that he would get up.”
The manager revealed that while named on the bench, he decided to leave Steven Fletcher and Andy Robertson on the sidelines after both had picked up knocks in training. “They got to the ground and they felt that they could play,” he said. “It was our decision not to play them.”
Strachan described last night’s game against a side ranked 97 in the world as being necessary in view of the number of players who had not played since 3 May, when the English Championship season finished.
Five of the starting XI had not played any football since the beginning of last month, including goalscorer Matt Ritchie. He struck his first Scotland goal after 41 minutes in his only his third international appearance and also picked up the man of the match award. This completed a memorable few days for the winger, who got married at the weekend to Emma.
With Strachan having given the players two days off before work begins on Monday ahead of the Republic of Ireland game, the player is having a mini-honeymoon in Edinburgh. “It tops the week off really after getting married last Saturday,” said the 24 year-old.
Strachan was glad to send his players off for a weekend of rest and recuperation with a win. But he was more pleased with the quality of the work-out.
“At times I liked a lot of it,” said Strachan. “At other times I felt we had lads who were rusty because they hadn’t had games. But generally I liked what I saw. We created chances but we had a very small forward line so it was a case of working the ball forward. We worked away and although it was rusty at times I thought our movement was good. I was pleased with a lot of the lads.
“Matt Ritchie scored a good goal but I thought 90 per cent of his passing was sharp. Like most of them, there was ten per cent which went missing.”
Strachan is confident this last ten cent will be found after another five days of training next week as Strachan puts the final pieces in place for the trip to Dublin to play Martin O’Neill’s Republic side.
The manager was pleased with Charlie Mulgrew’s performance in the centre of defence last night. This is one option available to him next weekend, with James McArthur doing well in Mulgrew’s normal berth for Scotland in the centre of midfield alongside skipper Scott Brown.
“I just thought Charlie was outstanding, absolutely outstanding,” said the manager. Strachan’s mother Catherine was at the game to see her Edinburgh-born son win a trophy – the Qatar Airways Cup – at Easter Road.
Scotland scored the only goal of the game just after a male streaker made an extended appearance on the pitch, holding up play for several minutes.
“Well, I would imagine my mother will be booking her tickets for next week now,” said Strachan. “She’s only seen me in four games, but that is probably the most excited she has been at a game.”