Gary Caldwell: ‘Scotland can still qualify’
IT MAY take little more than a cursory glance at the Group A table to fully appreciate the apparent hopelessness of Scotland’s position in the race to qualify for next year’s World Cup Finals.
But despite already being eight points off the pace being set by Belgium and Croatia just four games into the campaign, Gary Caldwell insists he and his team-mates are capable of effecting a remarkable turnaround in their next three fixtures.
Now a veteran of four failed bids to reach a major tournament finals, the 30-year-old defender can be excused for refusing to write off the latest attempt despite Scotland languishing at the bottom of the group. Caldwell knows time is not on his side when it comes to fulfilling the ambition of appearing on the biggest stage of all for his country.
As he prepares to captain Scotland against Wales at Hampden tonight, he set out a target of taking maximum points from the next three games to catapult the team back into contention. It is clearly the tallest of orders, with this evening’s assignment followed by Tuesday night’s match in Serbia and then the June showdown with Croatia in Zagreb, but the Wigan man is adamant it can be done.
“We’ve got to believe it’s possible,” said Caldwell. “I look at the three games from now until the end of the season and we would have to win all three to have any chance of finishing second in the group.
“We got into every game trying to win it. We haven’t done that in the first four games, we haven’t won any, so it’s obviously going to be difficult to win the next three. But we go into the game against Wales firmly believing we can win it.
“From that, hopefully confidence will come and we can kick on. We’ll take the first game on Friday night, try to win it and then see how we go from there. Forget where we are in the group; forget what’s at stake. It’s a game for your country and you want to win every time.
“So win the next game, then go and do it again. We’ve worked on a strategy to beat Wales and hopefully it goes right on the night. Then we can take that confidence to Serbia next Tuesday.”
Caldwell admits to a deep sense of frustration at being among a generation of players responsible for Scotland’s failure to appear at the finals of either the World Cup or European Championship since 1998.
“It does rankle with me,” added the former Hibs and Celtic player. “Because I am a part of the teams who have failed in the past. That’s what we as a group of players are trying to change.
“We are working really hard to change it, but it is getting more difficult. It is a really big challenge.
“It’s not just myself, it’s the younger players coming into the squad. It’s all about taking Scotland back to a major finals and we are all working hard towards doing that.”
Caldwell will make his 54th appearance for Scotland tonight, having become part of the fixtures and fittings of the national team. But he retains his place in the wake of being dropped from the Wigan Athletic side for the first time since he moved to the Premier League outfit three years ago.
Substituted when Wigan were trailing 4-0 in their defeat to Liverpool three weeks ago, Caldwell has subsequently sat out his club’s FA Cup quarter-final win at Everton and last Sunday’s vital league victory over Newcastle United.
He has lost his place in the side to Paraguayan international Antolin Alcaraz, with manager Roberto Martinez warning that he will continue to pick players on form rather than reputation.
“It wasn’t really a jolt being on the bench last week,” he said. “But if it carries on, then it will be a jolt. I got a niggle in the Liverpool game and missed the FA Cup tie which was obviously a fantastic result for the club.
“I didn’t return to full training until the Friday, so the manager kept the same team for the Newcastle game. Sometimes in football you find yourself out through injury and suspension and have to fight to get back in.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Roberto Martinez; whatever he says I am 100 per cent behind. I don’t know if I’m fresh for Scotland, but I’m certainly eager to play because it has been a few weeks since I had a game. I’m really hungry for it.”
Having missed last month’s friendly against Estonia because of illness, Caldwell will play for Scotland under Gordon Strachan for the first time tonight. He is the sixth manager Caldwell has worked with since making his debut as a 19-year-old for Berti Vogts 11 years ago, but no introductions were necessary after their successful time together at Celtic.
“A new manager brings new ideas which can freshen up the place and give the players a new impetus to go on and win games,” said Caldwell. “Under Craig Levein, when it started going wrong it was very difficult to change it.
“The mood definitely needed to be lifted, because when any manager loses his job things are pretty much at rock bottom. We definitely needed a boost, whether it was a new manager or whatever. We’ve got that now.
“I look back to when Walter Smith replaced Berti Vogts and we were pretty much rock bottom. We started winning a few games, our confidence grew and you could see we were a good football team. Hopefully we can do the same under Gordon.
“His strong points are his coaching and willingness to improve players. We’ve spent a lot of time on the training ground this week with him getting his ideas across. We all know our job and how we are going to approach the game.
“He’s not really any different to when I worked under him at Celtic. He is demanding on the training pitch, but relaxed and approachable off it. When you go into a game, you really feel you want to do the job not just for yourself but for him.
“He has made us aware of the scenarios we are going to come up against on Friday night. It’s up to us to impose ourselves on the game and we will be ready for everything that is going to happen on the night.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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