PACKIE Bonner has urged Scotland to keep believing, adamant that a good team performance and a bit of self-belief could yet consign Poland to the unlikely role of armchair observers next year and grant both the Republic of Ireland and Scotland passage to the European Championship finals.
Heading into the penultimate group matches, Germany and Poland currently enjoy the advantage in Group D and he concedes that he is allowing his heart to rule his head as he envisages the perfect scenario for his Irish homeland and the nation where he played his club football.
Gordon has created a great environment in this Scotland teamPackie Bonner
At the same time as Scotland are taking on Poland at Hampden tomorrow Ireland will be squaring up against world champions Germany in Dublin.
“My heart tells me Scotland will beat Poland,” Bonner says. “You all have to be positive. We [Ireland] may not get something against Germany but we need a good performance, which I think we’ll get. We’ll beat Poland in the last game to qualify and Scotland will go into the play-offs. Poland will be out. That’s what my heart says. My head says it will be difficult.
“Poland have a world class player in [Robert] Lewandowski and he is the difference between the three countries. He is exceptional. They also have a few players in the big teams in Europe and playing in the Champions League. They are slightly ahead of us but Scotland and Ireland are much the same. But I think Scotland are good enough to be at major tournaments. Believe it! If we had thought negatively back in Big Jack’s day we would have got nowhere.”
The former Celtic keeper is promoting his autobiography – Packie Bonner, The Last Line – which includes memories of competing at major championships under Jack Charlton, as the Irish team defied the odds. Those achievements give him something to cling to as the current qualifiers reach their denouement.
“Remember, Ireland in the old days couldn’t go abroad and get a result. But then a manager like Jack came in and he gave us confidence and then we could take on the world. So you have to believe. Scotland can do it.”
But with little between the playing squads, he says it could come down to the respective managers’ guile and ability to get the best from their teams.
“There are similarities with the managers, Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill. There are some big team-talks coming up from those guys over the next few days. They are motivators. Gordon has created a great environment in this Scotland team and Martin as we know can get players going. You can’t buy players at international level but both Gordon and Martin are proven at getting the best out of their players. The team talks will be critical – not just before the game but at half time too.”
With 80 caps and close to 500 appearances for Celtic, Bonner has played at a rarefied level and recognises how significant these matches are.
“These are big games. Even a draw against Poland would be great for Scotland, hoping we slip up, which could easily happen. I don’t know how you beat Germany. I watched the Scotland game and at times they were exceptional at keeping the ball.
“When you went to press them they played around you. [Mario] Goetze plays behind the defence at times, on a blind side. He comes into areas where you don’t see him. Maybe looking at it tactically you don’t step out too quickly. Let them have the ball. The problem is trying to get it off them to counter attack. If you do get a chance, like Scotland did, you have to take it.”