FROM the moment the draw took place in Nice last February, Gordon Strachan took the view that Group D of Euro 2016 qualifying was all about who will finish second behind Germany.
So nothing the Scotland manager has witnessed over the past month in Brazil has affected his judgment of the task facing his players against the newly-crowned world champions.
But as anticipation builds towards Scotland’s opening game of the campaign against Germany in Dortmund on 7 September, no-one should be under the impression Strachan is prepared to write off the 90 minutes as irrelevant to his prospects of leading his country to a first major tournament finals since 1998. For while Strachan’s ultimate target is to be the best of the rest in Group D, ahead of Poland, Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Gibraltar, he insists the Scots can target taking points from Joachim Löw’s all-conquering side – both in Dortmund and in the rematch at Hampden 12 months later. “We want to be a team which is picking up something from Germany home and away,” said Strachan. “It’s not just about looking for good performances against them. You always talk about performances after you get beat. We want to win against Germany – that’s it.
“As soon as the draw was made, we already knew Germany were probably going to win the group. When was the last time they didn’t qualify for a championship? It just doesn’t happen.
“But we don’t consider the games against them as ‘free’ games. Not at all. They are games we can pick up points from. Over the qualifying campaigns, they drop points. They don’t win every game but they do qualify for every tournament.”
Germany are unbeaten in their last 18 matches, stretching back to June 2013, but have been troubled by several opponents, including Ghana, USA and Algeria at the World Cup finals. They were also jeered by their own fans after a very fortunate 1-0 win over Chile in a warm-up game in Berlin in March.
But Strachan sees no merit in attempting to analyse the manner in which other nations have tried to combat the Germans.
“We can’t just change the way we play all of a sudden,” he added. “Chile, who have players at clubs like Nottingham Forest, gave Germany a good game and showed that a team which doesn’t have all those fantastic players can do that with their own system. But Chile’s system is unique to them.
“What I can’t do is say, ‘Right lads, we’re going to play like Chile’. We don’t have players that suit that. Chile were exciting to watch but they have been working at that for years. We can’t just do that. It would be silly to try. We will stick to what we have been doing. People might try and compare us to USA as an example, but we are nowhere near the height and size of their squad. We can’t change genetics – that’s the way we are. We have our own style.
“We have to take all the good stuff we have done over the past year and implement one or two other wee things with it. But that’s just a wee bit of tactics. What we really need is people being brave on the ball, athletic people who can handle the ball and pass to each other.
“The more you pass to each other, the less chance Germany have of getting in. You can easily bring in people who will run about for 90 minutes, clatter into opponents and get the ball, but then just give it back to them. That’s not international football.
“The way we set up, we make it difficult for other teams to play. In our last game against Nigeria in May, we tried to take it a wee stage further and work on our forward play a bit more. I was pleased with that.” Germany’s first game as world champions will be a rematch against Argentina in Dusseldorf on 3 September, four days before they welcome the Scots, in a friendly which was arranged before the teams met in the World Cup final.
Strachan has chosen not to utilise that slot in the calendar for a warm-up fixture, preferring instead to spend a full week of intensive training with his squad to prepare for the challenge awaiting them at the Westfalen Stadium.
“I wanted the seven days to prepare for Germany,” he said. “I didn’t want to play a friendly game, where I’d be thinking of resting some players and it wouldn’t be the team I’d be playing against Germany. The players would know that themselves – they’d be thinking: ‘I’m just here because somebody else is having a rest’. Then there would have to be a day of rest after the game and suddenly you’ve only three days to prepare for Germany. I thought it would be best to get the seven days with the players. I think that will help me over the campaign. We can put in plenty of other ideas going forward as well.”
Strachan says he has not yet considered who will captain Scotland in Dortmund in the likely absence of Scott Brown, currently sidelined with a severe hamstring problem.
“Scott has been magnificent for us over the past year, so it’s a body blow not to have him on the pitch and also not to have him around the squad,” added Strachan.
“The fact that Celtic play regularly in Europe has made Scott a better player. But we are lucky that in the midfield area of the pitch, we have some right good players.”