Gordon Strachan has urged the Tartan Army to believe like he does in Scotland’s ability to reach the World Cup finals.
The manager was still recovering yesterday after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with England. Strachan suffered along with the home fans as the visitors snatched a late draw following two inspirational free-kicks from Leigh Griffiths, pictured.
In a matter of minutes Scotland’s World Cup hopes were revived and then seemingly nixed by Harry Kane’s equaliser in time added on. But Strachan, whose position would have been in serious doubt had Scotland lost, remains confident his team can still progress.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” said Strachan when asked if he truly feels Scotland can still earn a play-off spot. “If I didn’t believe it I think it would rub off on the players. The players can sniff that.”
While he stressed his determination to carry on, Strachan admitted the roller-coaster experience of leading Scotland can take a toll.
Scotland’s campaign was re-ignited by a late winner from Chris Martin against Slovenia in March but now seems almost moribund after Kane’s intervention.
Scotland have four Group F fixtures left and will most probably need to take maximum points to secure second place, which even then might not be enough to qualify for the play-offs.
Strachan has every intention of being around for Scotland’s next qualifier, away to Lithuania in September. Mark McGhee, Strachan’s assistant, had described Saturday’s clash v England as “must win” while Strachan was more circumspect, describing it as “must not lose”. But there’s little doubt three points are required from the trip to Lithuania.
“Listen, we will go for the next one,” he said. “I am sure Mr McGhee will say it’s a must-win game! I will leave that quote to him.” But Strachan stressed anything is possible with a group of players who gave him what they did on a humid, exacting evening at Hampden on Saturday. “Somebody asked me: ‘Would you go back to full-time management?’” he remarked. “I said: ‘Yeah, with that group I would.’”
The stresses and strains of leading Scotland are perhaps enough for a 60-year-old to cope with, however. “I have got a way of dealing with it,” said Strachan. “What makes me strong is those players and everybody I have met this week. People come up to you and say ‘keep it up, keep it going’. That energises you.
“You all know that I do keep a barrier between myself and the media. It is nothing against you guys. I can get on and do my job. Then it doesn’t affect me. If it affected me then it would affect the players. I actually get excited when it’s time to get together with them. I just love working with them. We have faults, we all know there are faults, but that’s not their fault, that’s the Scottish game.”
“Listen, we have to improve [as a nation],” he added. “But that’s a different story. We could sit here all night and talk about things that we have to make us better as a group. But those Celtic lads, they helped us to get a result today, there’s no doubt about it. In general, we still have to improve a lot as a whole, Scottish players.
“What you can’t say, though, is can you improve on your work-rate. Unless you stand out there in that tunnel with these guys and then get knocked down you don’t know what it’s like. It’s like in rugby when you come up against a pack and that pack keeps knocking you back. It drains you. That’s what happened with these guys. It drains you. But they kept finding an energy from somewhere.”
Strachan described the contest against England’s physically superior players as like “a heavyweight taking on a middleweight” in boxing. But he cherished the moment when Griffiths gave Scotland the lead in the 90th minute.
“We had a moment in the day that a lot of us in football won’t forget,” he said. “We will remember the noise after the second goal forever. It could have been the best ever.
“When you leave the game if you can leave memorable moments then you have given something to the game.
“Look at what we played against [on Saturday]. Take their centre-backs compared to ours. One [Berra] has just signed for Hearts. No disrespect to Hearts, but they’re fifth in the Premiership. One [Mulgrew] is in League One in England, not even the Championship. ’Kech [Anya] isn’t getting a game anywhere. To dig out something like that is great.”