Gordon Strachan is glad to note his players recognise nothing has been achieved yet as Scotland seek to cope with the quick turnaround between beating Slovakia and tackling Slovenia.
The upbeat Scottish party head to Ljubljana today for tomorrow night’s final World Cup qualifying fixture in Group F. It’s the latest must-win game of Strachan’s near five-year tenure.
Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Slovakia meant Scotland’s prospects of securing a World Cup place continue to brighten.
There is still plenty of work to be done against a Slovenia side yet to concede a goal at home in four Group F fixtures, including versus England.
Strachan stressed the players were alert to this even in the elated aftermath of Thursday’s last-gasp victory, which was secured courtesy of Martin Skrtel’s 89th-minute own goal. “There’s a satisfaction thing,” said Strachan. “There’s no euphoria. It’s not that. It’s just satisfaction, a quiet satisfaction, seriously.
“There is no singing and dancing and high fives hand-slapping. It really is just a glow of satisfaction.
“What does that tell me? That they know the game in Slovenia is going to be big, that they need to be ready.”
Skipper Darren Fletcher, nursing stitches in an ear wound, was quick to ram the message home that another win must be secured before there can be any back slapping.
“Fletch is in there saying, ‘right lads, we need to be prepared’,” revealed Strachan. “I thought, ‘where are you going?!’ Maybe 20 years ago I’d be worried by that statement. But we’re all going back on the bus now, that’s it.”
Strachan was pleased to observe this willingness to ‘get back on the bus’. Nothing has been confirmed yet – far from it.
Scotland occupy the all-important second position just now but could easily drop to fourth by tomorrow night. Even if they gain the three points they need there will still, hopefully, be two legs of a play-off to be negotiated. A victory against Slovenia will mean Scotland have won four successive World Cup qualifiers for the first ever time in a single campaign.
“You can tell by the reaction,” said Strachan. “That was great [v Slovakia], but there’s a big one coming.”
Scotland’s World Cup hopes were first re-ignited by Chris Martin’s 88th-minute winner against Slovenia at Hampden in March.
“I think football fans now all know how hard it’s going to be,” said Strachan. “They saw us only getting a late winner against them and England got a late winner [on Thursday]. Everybody knows how hard this section has been.”
Strachan is aware that Slovenia, who now have only a very slim chance of reaching second place, could still react like a wounded animal.
“I’ve seen teams digging themselves out of holes,” he said. “We were one of them – coming from a scunnered position and then getting back up there again.” Strachan revealed there were some “bumps and bruises” after the torrid evening two nights ago and it was announced last night that Ryan Fraser would not be travelling to Ljubljana. Left-back Andrew Robertson hurt his wrist against Slovakia, and Fletcher’s head wound is also a concern, but Strachan said both “will not be affected”.