While Gordon Strachan wished to continue accentuating the positives of Scotland’s own victory against Georgia on Saturday, it is Poland’s win over world champions Germany that continued to dominate the pre-match agenda in Warsaw yesterday.
One consequence of the tight turnaround is that knocks sustained in weekend matches have been given little time to be shaken off, much to Strachan’s frustration. But emotions, too, continue to linger.
So fresh is Poland’s victory over their neighbours that the locals are caught between celebrating a first win over Germany in 19 attempts and looking ahead to the second part of their home double-header. Understandably, Polish newspapers continued to bask in the triumph yesterday. The streets of the Polish capital thrummed with an air of deep satisfaction.
Understandably, Strachan was quizzed for his thoughts on what many have interpreted as a game-changing result.
The Scotland manager politely saluted Poland’s bravery. But he doggedly refused to entertain any suggestion that he felt deflated by the unlikely victory. “It can happen,” he shrugged, adding that Scotland earned three points just the same for their own win against Georgia.
“Listen, Germany normally qualify,” he said. “That’s what they do. It was a disappointing result for them. I’m sure when they look back they’ll look at the 29 attempts at goal with the Poland goalkeeper making incredible saves. That’s all you can ask as a team. If my team played like that I’d go ‘that’s all I asked, there’s nothing more you can do.’ It’s the footballing gods. You watch it and think: ‘what a game [goalkeeper] Szchzesny’s having’.”
Strachan was quick and to the point when he briefed reporters yesterday. Cutting straight to the chase, he said: “Right, injury news. Grant Hanley is not here, he took a knock to the knee and he is away home now. Ikechi Anya, we are going to wait for him tomorrow. He won’t train tonight but he will train tomorrow. We will see how he is after that.”
Perhaps if he said it quickly enough he could pretend that it wasn’t really true. But no, Scotland are without one half of their first-choice central defensive pairing as they prepare to meet a team who vanquished the world champions four days ago.
It might not have seemed like a problem a few short months ago, when Hanley was still finding his feet in the centre of the Scotland defence. No-one is pretending he is Willie Miller reincarnated but he has developed into a player who Scotland are beginning to rely upon and his loss is a blow considering Scotland must seek to keep Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski quiet.
Scott Brown, at least, is fit and raring to go as could well retain the captain’s armband if Darren Fletcher is again named among the substitutes. Strachan gave little away on that front yesterday.
The Manchester United midfielder trained last night, with the rest of the squad.
Anya was the only player absent after staying behind in the team hotel to do some work in the swimming pool. Like Russell Martin against Germany last month, he will be assessed during a brief solo training session on the morning of the game and it seems likely he will be available for selection..
Still, Strachan declared himself content with the preparations and he is satisfied that Scotland have the strength in depth to cope with call-offs. He used Poland’s result against Germany to illustrate just how difficult it is to predict outcomes at this level.
He also referenced Scotland’s own win over Georgia. Given all the possession they enjoyed, who would have guessed that it would have taken an own goal to secure a victory?
“You never know how it’s going to go,” said Strachan. “I said the other day you go to bed at night and imagine how the game might go.
“But it very rarely goes the way you plan it. Just look at the goal we scored on Saturday. I never saw that coming in my imagination. Anything can happen so you have to prepare for anything.”
If it helps secure a result this evening, Scotland will quite happily settle for another scrappy own goal. Asked by a Polish reporter last night whether he would happily accept a point from the clash, Strachan replied: “If we are 1-0 down with one minute to go and we get a point then, aye, I’ll be delighted.”