LOOKING confident and relaxed, Andy Webster sits down to discuss Scotland’s impending World Cup qualifier with Wales at the national team’s hotel headquarters. The venue overlooks the River Clyde amidst some of the most tranquil surroundings you will find in the central belt. The polar opposite of what awaits in Cardiff on Friday evening.
The Stadiwm Dinas Caerdydd – Cardiff City Stadium in English – will be hostile, raucous and unwelcoming for the visitors. Everything you would expect for a Battle of Britain encounter which neither Scotland nor Wales can afford to lose. The Welsh are often depicted as a placid, non-confrontational nation. Don’t believe a word of it. They will be baying for Scotland’s blood, fuelled by a desire to see their team atone for a 6-1 trouncing by Serbia in their last outing.
Webster fully expects a stereotypical British-type game and welcomes the prospect of doing battle with another of the Home Nations. “Because you have two British countries it’s probably going to pan out that way,” said the Hearts defender. “We have similar styles of playing football and a similar mentality. There will definitely be a lot of quality on show. Hopefully it’s a good game of football.
“Gareth Bale is an outstanding footballer but Wales have quality throughout. They have Joe Allen and Joe Ledley in the middle of the park and they’ve got quality strikers playing in the Premier League. They will be a very good side but, on the other hand, I believe we have an exceptionally good team as well. I think, with the standard of players we have in our squad, it’s going to be a competitive match.”
If Wales are under any additional pressure following that result in Novi Sad, Scotland will be ready to capitalise. “You’re always under pressure, that’s just the nature of the beast,” continued Webster. “You can look at it any way. They’ve had a very bad result and will be looking to put it right, but it might still be fresh in their memories so there could be apprehension going into the game. Anything you can exploit in the opposition, you will be looking to do.”
Scotland, of course, are seeking some redemption of their own in the Welsh capital. Home draws against Serbia and Macedonia in their opening two World Cup qualifiers prompted doubts over whether reaching the finals in Brazil is possible. National coach Craig Levein has heard calls for him to be removed from office at Hampden and recently bowed to public pressure to reinstate the Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher following a fallout.
With Fletcher back, the squad has received a timely boost. Positive thinkers point to the fact Scotland are just two points off the top of Group A despite the mediocre start. Their chances of ending a 16-year wait to appear at a major tournament will become much clearer over the course of the next week as they face Wales and then Belgium. With their most potent forward available again, they will carry a far greater scoring threat than was the case against Serbia and Macedonia.
Webster outlined the dejection which enveloped the Scotland squad at the end of last month’s double header, although he stressed it will not be allowed to interfere with their focus ahead of the Wales match. “In terms of results, we were slightly disappointed. We created enough chances to win both games so it was frustrating from that point of view, especially with both those matches being at home. That’s been and gone and it’s about Wales and Belgium now.
“Generally, from a defensive point of view, I thought we did okay against Serbia and Macedonia. At international level, with the quality of the opposition, they are always going to create chances. That’s where the likes of Allan McGregor comes in. He produced a few great saves over the course of the two games against Serbia and Macedonia. As a team I thought we did quite well. Allan is top drawer. I played with Craig Gordon at Hearts as well and in training and games you realise he’s a top goalie. It was the same when I went to Rangers and Allan was there. He is a top goalkeeper.
“He shows it every day in training and in games as well. At Rangers you might not have much to do at times, but when he is needed he produces the goods. That’s the difference between winning games and drawing. It’s the same with Scotland. He produced two or three magnificent saves over the last two games but that’s what you expect from him because that’s the level he operates at. He is just an outstanding goalkeeper.”
Webster said Scotland should be prepared to play on the counter-attack in Cardiff given Wales, as the home team, will be obliged to attack.
“In any competition you are looking to win your home games. It’s not easy playing against top-level opposition,” he said. “Friday night is going to give us an opportunity to win the match and that’s something we will be looking to do.
“The two games we played at home, the opposition know they are going to be under pressure so they sit in and try to hit us on the counter attack. That’s generally what you tend to find. It might be the same for us on Friday night. These things are dictated by how games are going. With any home team, the onus is on them to push and push to try and get themselves in front.”
Levein’s favoured 4-1-4-1 system may well be ideally suited to what Scotland will face in Cardiff. More than any other nation they meet in this qualifying campaign, they know what to expect from Wales.