Skipper rues cruel luck but insists progress has been made and wants Strachan to stay on
In the heartbreak of missing out on yet another major championships it is easy to forget the early air of positivity from this doomed European Championship campaign or, given the outcome, see it as little more than one step forward, two steps back.
Subjected to the role of spectator next summer while so many of our closest neighbours participate, Scotland captain Scott Brown’s disconsolate demeanour may have reflected the mood of the country but as he picked over the bones of Thursday night’s costly draw with Poland, he was steadfast in his assertion that the national team had improved under manager Gordon Strachan and expressed a desire to see the head coach continue in that role and maintain the advancement, hopefully all the way to the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
“Definitely,” Brown said when asked if he wanted Strachan to stay. “I think he loves his job and loves being about the lads and the lads have showed great attitude in turning up to play through injuries, playing for him and training for him and doing everything he’s asked and hopefully he stays for us.”
In the end Scotland failed in the primary job asked of them. The 2-2 draw with Poland combined with Republic of Ireland’s win over Germany meant Strachan’s side were unable to end the nation’s near 18-year exile from major tournaments. With Scotland unable to secure even a play-off berth, Brown was asked to ponder if the campaign really could be counted as progress.
“Definitely. If you watch the way we play football, it’s the way everyone wants to play. People are coming to Hampden a little bit scared. We are trying to play football the way it should be played, getting the ball down and with a little bit of dig as well. We have some great quality players and the two strikes the lads have scored [against Poland] have been incredible. It’s hard, especially with the result for Ireland as well. Nobody would have thought that at all. With the performance levels that we produced and the goals we scored and how it ended with yet another lucky goal that a team scored against us… it’s extremely hard to take.”
A member of the generation who will find it hard to recall memories of a Scotland team on the biggest stage, Brown is a veteran of past attempts to rectify that. There have been some glorious failures, some moments of inglorious dismay, but this missed opportunity cut deepest, according to the captain.
“Yeah, especially for me. You set your whole campaign up to try to get to France, we are not going there and we still have a game to play.”
That game against Gibraltar tonight will now feel like nothing jollier than a funeral procession, the trip itself a wake, with tales of better times being told and drink downed to numb the pain. For a nation with many hard luck stories in recent times, the manner of this exit will see it feature high with future raconteurs.
The inability to beat Georgia has been blamed but, while it was a key contributor, missing out has been about more than that, says Brown. “Yeah I think so, Ireland away as well. We created a few chances here and there and were just unlucky not to get the ball in the back of the net and get a result over there as well [the match finished 1-1].
“I think we have been very unlucky against the world champions as well. We gave them a great game in both and were unlucky away and at home to them and yet again the inside of that post has done us.”
He said that ill fortune was prevalent on Thursday night as well. “The first [goal] is offside. The second one has hit someone’s hand, bobbled in and missed everybody. What are the chances of that and, yet again, the inside of that post? An inch either way and it’s either out for a goal kick or it’s coming back out and somebody is clearing it. We didn’t get the rub of the green yet again.”
In the final analysis Scotland’s best efforts were not good enough for the team to graduate to an expanded 24-team finals, and the prospects for the World Cup qualifiers are not great. Drawn alongside England, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Malta, the demands are higher, the margin for error is smaller but while the odds are stacked against Scotland, Brown says the most recent campaign will reap one reward – he believes more teams will arrive at Hampden harbouring fear than may have been the case in the recent past.
And he wants to help Scotland capitalise on that, despite the disappointment and the demands. “It’s hard on everyone’s body, there’s a lot of games and not a lot of holidays for us. We’ll see where that goes when it comes around. We’d need to win every game possible. We have some great teams in that group. Everyone knows how good England are but I think when teams come to Hampden they will be a little bit scared as well.”