WHATEVER the shortcomings of the current Scotland squad may be, they are convinced that, at their best, they can challenge the best. If there was a time when they had an inferiority complex compared to some of their opponents, that time has gone.
Scott Brown, for one, sees no reason the team should not back themselves going into every game. Whether it be tonight’s World Cup game at home to Croatia, or, more relevantly, the opening ties of the next qualifying tournament, the captain is convinced that he and his team-mates have every reason to have faith in their own abilities.
Taken too far, of course, such an approach could be labelled unworldly optimism. But, according to Brown, recent away wins in Macedonia and Croatia have demonstrated to the squad that they need not be unduly humbled by their current, lowly world ranking. Croatia are tenth in the world at present; Gordon Strachan’s side 63rd: but in Zagreb back in June it was a Robert Snodgrass goal that separated the sides.
“I think we know we’re not Brazil, but on our game, on the day, we could be as good as anybody,” the Celtic midfielder said yesterday. “It’s a great bunch of lads, we’ve got a great backroom staff as well, so it’s encouraging. We’re looking good going
Even if Scotland win tonight they will almost certainly finish fourth in qualifying Group A, six points behind runners-up Croatia and at least 14 adrift of Belgium. That is a far cry from the start of the campaign 13 months ago, when then manager Craig Levein said his side were good enough to win all ten games in the section.
But Brown, noting that the Belgians as well as the Croatians are ranked in the top ten, insisted that the former boss’s stance was correct. “I think you’ve got to go in thinking you can win every game. If you go in thinking ‘We’re going to get beat here, we’re going to get beat here’, it’s negativity to start with.
“I think the more positive you are, the more positive the results are, the more positive the lads are. Nothing’s unrealistic. On our day we could beat anybody.
“It was always going to be hard from the start, I think. But we did fancy our chances of doing much better than we have. We disappointed ourselves early on, but we’re starting to get to grips with it all now.
“The next campaign is going to be huge for us. If we can make it to the Euros, it’s going to be amazing. And yeah, definitely, we’re convinced that we can have a right go at it after some recent results.
“Going away to Croatia and winning 1-0 was great. Even if there were a few players missing, you can’t rely on two or three players to make your team.”
Of Scotland’s eight points to date, only two have come at home, from the matches against Serbia and Macedonia in the opening double-header. It is a defect that Brown is desperate to remedy.
“A home win at Hampden would be great for us, to show the fans that we can play at home as well as we can away. The last three or four games away from home, we’ve done
really well. If we could have started like that at home, we would be in a really good position now. There’s the chance to do the double over Croatia, too, which is huge. We know it’s going to be hard. A few of their players are on bookings and stuff, so I don’t know if the coach will leave them out. Either way, they’ll be a good side.
“If I could tell you why we haven’t won a home game in this group, I would be a manager myself. I really don’t know what it is.
“I think teams come here and we try to change our formation, or at least we did. Now we’ve got a more settled team and a settled formation as well, so we’ll see what we can do about putting it right.
“Of course there are expectations at home. We expect to give as good as we’ve got and perform to a level in front of our own fans.
“We know we let ourselves down at home to Wales, which could have been three huge points for us. That said, we also let ourselves down away to Wales – and six points from those games would have put us right up there in the group. Some difference.
“I know it’s easy to say these things, to wonder what might have been. But it’s one of those things. We’ve got a new manager in, he’s set us up the way he wants and that has helped us a bit.
“In the last three or four games, we’ve done really well. I know some of it has been hard – anyone is going to struggle playing against Belgium, who are a great team and are going to do really well at the World Cup. But we’ll just see what we can do against Croatia.”
Igor Stimac declared yesterday that tonight’s game will be “kind of a training session for us”, and, with Luka Modric among others just a booking away from a suspension, the Croatia manager could rest several of his big names. Even so, Brown expects the opposition will treat the game seriously, and he is in no doubt of the quality of whichever starting 11 that Stimac selects.
“It’s mind games, really, at the end of the day,” he said when asked about Stimac’s statement. “We all know how it works. The main thing is for us to go there and show that we are a good team, and be positive, and hopefully come away with a win at Hampden.
“They’ve still got great players, I think. If you look at their squad, and you look at ours, there is a lot of good players between them. I know they’ve got one or two world-class players, but as I said before, one or two players don’t make a team. It’s how you play together.”