Mark McGhee: Scots must improve against French strike threat

Striker Dimitri Payet, far right, celebrates with team-mates after his 90th-minute goal gave France a 2-1 friendly win over Cameroon in Nantes on Monday. Picture: Loic Vanance/Getty Images
Striker Dimitri Payet, far right, celebrates with team-mates after his 90th-minute goal gave France a 2-1 friendly win over Cameroon in Nantes on Monday. Picture: Loic Vanance/Getty Images
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If Italy had greater firepower Scotland could have been on the receiving of a real hiding last Sunday night. Scarily for Gordon Strachan’s side firepower is anything but lacking in the ranks of the French team they will face in Metz on Saturday.

The Euro 2016 hosts, whose outing against Scotland will be their final 90 minutes before the tournament begins, have racked up ten goals in their last three games.

Olivier Giroud, pictured below right, has scored in his last five starts for Les Blues. Blaise Matuidi, inset below, has bagged four goals for his country since last September, while Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet offer different threats.

Even without Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, surprisingly left of of France’s European Championship squad, manager Didier Deschamps has a frightening array of firepower.

No wonder, then, that Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee contends that the friendly against the French will “absolutely” mark a step up in degree of difficulty from the Italian examination.

“We will have a little bit of help in the sense that the boys who are coming in will bring a bit of freshness,” he said. Hull City players Shaun Maloney. Robert Snodgrass, Andrew Robertson have joined up following the Premier League play-off success.

“We have also had the experience of Italy and now realise that we do have to do better, we do have to up our level of performance. I would hope that our performance against France will be better regardless of where it is at.”

“The tempo of the training has to be what is expected when we go in to play against France because they will be up there. We must train at that.

“Gordon has not given players any discount because of the fact it is the end of the season and they are all tired. He is not allowing that. He has said: ‘You’re here, you have taken a ticket and therefore you have got to perform’. He is determined that is the sort of attitude we will take towards it for one last push.”

A sold-out Stade Saint-Symphorien and the importance of the game to the home side might make that quest for a push in the right direction on Saturday 
ambitious.

Whatever happens in Metz, though, the final outing for Strachan’s side ahead of starting their World Cup qualifying campaign away to Malta shouldn’t be held up as cause for alarm over the potential for ending the country’s near two-decade major finals exclusion when the World Cup qualifiers get underway.

Placed in a group alongside England, Slovenia, Slovakia – who beat Germany at the weekend – Lithuania and Malta, it is difficult not to fear for Scotland’s hopes.

“I think if you perm the squad that would start in the autumn, there are players that I would hope would be available who aren’t here,”said McGhee. “For instance, that would be an improvement. But there are other factors. There are players recovering from long seasons, from disappointments – Russell Martin being relegated.

“So I think you have to take all of that into consideration. We know we’ve made some progress and we’re looking to take that progress into the autumn – and we will be a lot better than what we saw against Italy.

“We showed during the European campaign that we can pass the ball. We have passed well at times. We know we can get back to that, but our possession against Italy was poor.

“We couldn’t get up the park, we couldn’t keep the ball.

“There was nothing wrong with the shape, there was nothing wrong with the effort, it was just simply that we couldn’t keep the ball.

“So against these better teams we have to remember that, but I think we are capable of it.

“In the bigger picture, I think there are a lot of people in Scotland trying to pass the ball. I think teams right through the leagues are trying to play football, which I think is a good thing for the game in general.

“The boys down south who are playing in England, the Championship can be a bit more direct, but there is plenty of football played.

“They are not hearing something that is alien to them – that you have to keep the ball in order to beat teams.

“You strike a balance between being organised and having a good shape. One of the things that came out of the Euro campaign, regardless of the eventual outcome, is that we emerged with a way of playing.

“Most of the time it was pretty good and it was a balance between being organised and having a good shape defensively, but having a bit of freedom.”

The fact is that Scotland will need to move up a level because McGhee considers that England are on another one up from Italy. Roy Hodgson’s team are far more likely Euro 2016 winners than Italy in the eyes of the Motherwell manager.

“I think England would be a lot better than Italy were against us,” he said. “I think Italy will be better than they were last night against us 
as well. The surface was quite tricky though it didn’t look it.

“The Italians will play better on a better surface when it really counts. But if I was putting a bet on England or Italy at the Euros I would pick England.”