ANY Scotland supporters making their way to Hampden tomorrow in expectation of a glut of goals against Gibraltar will not have based their optimism on statistical evidence.
It is, after all, nine years since Scotland won either a World Cup or European Championship qualifier by more than two goals.
On that occasion, back in September 2006, the Faroe Islands were ruthlessly put to the sword at Celtic Park in the opening match of the Euro 2008 campaign. It was a 6-0 victory out of sync with the often excruciating difficulty Scotland can experience in dealing with the makeweights of their groups.
It perhaps explains why Gordon Strachan has been almost painfully determined to pay “due respect” to Uefa’s newest member nation ahead of tomorrow’s Group D fixture.
The Scotland manager is himself a veteran of Scotland’s historical struggles against the minnows of international football. He often cites the night in San Marino in 1991 when, as Scotland captain, it was not until the 63rd minute that his goal from the penalty spot made the breakthrough against opponents who had only been granted Uefa status the previous year.
All ended well for the Scots in that campaign as they went on to reach the European Championship finals for the first time in their history.
As Strachan looks to guide his squad to the Euro 2016 finals in France, he is leaving nothing to chance in his preparations for a Gibraltar team who have already conceded 21 goals in their first four group games.
“I think I’ve managed to show Gibraltar enough respect so far,” he said. “That’s why we tried to set out to do this week, to make sure that the team is set out properly and I do my job properly as well on and off the field.
“I’ve had a lot to think about in the build-up to this match. We want to make sure we do not to patronise anybody or disrespect them. We try to get a nice balance. We do that with most sides, but more so with this game.
“There are a lot of teams who have had games like this and found it difficult, and other teams have found it a lot easier. Circumstances, a wee bit of luck in front of goal early in games, you could come up against people who are inspired, the goalkeeper is inspired, that can happen. You never know.
“All we can do is do what we have done and will continue to do in training before the game. Looking at the way we have trained and the hours we’ve put in, I think we’ve put in as many hours on Gibraltar as we did on the opening game in the group against the world champions Germany – maybe even more.”
There is every possibility that margin of victory against Gibraltar will not be significant for any of the other teams in Group D.
Goal difference will not come into consideration in determining who qualifies unless any teams who finish level on points cannot be separated on head-to-head criteria first of all.
Strachan is more concerned by the intensity his players will bring to their work at 5pm tomorrow, believing pace and energy will be vital to ensuring they carry out what is regarded as a formality with as much efficiency as possible.
He saw enough in Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly win over Northern Ireland at Hampden to encourage him that his team will meet his demands on that front.
“I enjoyed our tempo in the first half hour against Northern Ireland,” he said. “Then both the crowd, ourselves and the game itself went into friendly mode for half an hour before coming good again near the end.
“It is important to get a high tempo, whether you get your breakthrough early all depends on circumstances – are we good enough to take the chance, are they good enough to stop us?
“We have put a lot of thought into what we should do for this game. But we never get far from what we have done so far, with the players we’ve got. There are one or two wee things I would like to do.
“I thought we didn’t get enough people into the box during the game the other night but when we watched it again, we actually did. It’s just that we’re not physically that big. But we are getting people in the box. So there’s one or two things we’d like to do.
“I was asked about Steven Fletcher up front but if there’s no-one getting around him, moving back fours about, that can be a problem for a main striker. You have to have people in there moving other defenders. That’s maybe something we can work on.”
Strachan has significant decisions to make in terms of team selection. They include whether goalkeeper David Marshall will retain his No 1 status, having started all four Group D qualifiers so far. That seems likely, with his rivals Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor having been given 45 minutes each against Northern Ireland.
It is also anticipated that Scott Brown will return in midfield, with Darren Fletcher possibly dropping onto the subs bench, which would again see the question of the long-term captaincy of the team being avoided.
“There are big decisions and I’ve already made them,” said Strachan. “The team will know on Saturday. But every player has had the same amount of time and attention given to them this week.
“Darren doesn’t talk about the captaincy, but he is asked about it by the media. I think I’ve got more than two captains in my squad anyway.”
Given that Scotland are unlikely to be given special dispensation to name two captains for a match, will it be more of an issue for Strachan if he decides to play both Brown and Fletcher in his starting line-up for the first time since he took the job?
“No” was his curt response to that query. He was equally unforthcoming on what he feels would be the ideal outcome of the match between Scotland’s rivals Republic of Ireland and Poland who meet in Dublin tomorrow night.
“I’ve not got a clue, I hadn’t even thought about it until you mentioned it now.”
Strachan, it seems, is solely focused on ensuring Scotland collect the three points which could, if other results go their way, put them top of Group D on Sunday night. He insists he is unfazed by those expectations it will be achieved with a blizzard of goals.
“I understand that and I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “But I can only ask the players to do certain things. If they do them, then I don’t have a problem. It’s like Wednesday night - if I’d asked for nine attempts on target while Northern Ireland don’t get one on target, then that’s decent for an international.
“That is what we ask of them on Sunday – we set out a way of playing but within that structure, they have a freedom to go and create. We will relax after the game starts and just go for it.”
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