Can Scotland still qualify for the European Championship finals after England draw

Avoiding defeat to England keeps Scotland's slim World Cup dreams alive. Joel Sked looks at how Scotland can still qualify.

Scotland kept their World Cup dreams alive. Just. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Scotland kept their World Cup dreams alive. Just. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

There was only one minute and 34 seconds left on the clock when Raheem Sterling launched a cross into the Scotland box. One minute and 34 seconds for Scotland to hold on to a famous victory.

Hold on and Scotland would not only have recorded their first win over England at Hampden Park since 1985, they’d have moved on to ten points and put themselves in a good position going into the home straight of qualifiers.

Instead, Scotland trail second-placed Slovakia by four points, third-placed Slovenia are three ahead. Once the disappointment, that gut-wrenching feeling of having a win snatched away at the last moment, had dissipated - it might still be there - fans were asking the pertinent questions: Can Scotland still make Russia 2018? How can they do so?

Scotland sit fourth in F. Picture: Wikipedia

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First of all, yes, Scotland can make it.

Secondly, win all four games. It is that simple.

Finishing second doesn’t guarantee a play-off spot. The eight runners up with the best records will move to the play-off stage with a ninth team missing out. In qualification for the last World Cup Denmark were the unlucky side.

Despite all groups being equal in teams, results against the team which finishes sixth in each group will be discounted. At the time of the draw for the groups neither Kosovo or Gibraltar had been entered leaving two groups with five teams. However, Uefa confirmed that the system has not changed since their entry, so Scotland’s results against Malta will be forgotten. Effectively, Gordon Strachan’s men are on five points.

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The current table for teams sitting in second-place in their respective groups. Picture: Wikipedia

In qualification for Brazil 2014, Croatia, who were in Scotland’s group, managed to make the play-off with 11 points (they finished on 17 but had both wins against bottom-placed Macedonia removed). Four years before that Republic of Ireland recorded 12 points to claim the last play-off spot.

If Scotland were to win their four games that would leave them with 20 points. Such are the remaining fixtures that if they did claim the 12 points available they would most likely finish as runner-up. It would require Slovakia to beat both Slovenia at home and England away.

Remove the six points gained against Malta and Scotland will have put up 14 points. Enough in the previous two World Cup qualifying campaigns.

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Following the last round of fixtures, the sides sitting second in their respective groups have recorded a points total - with their results against the bottom-placed team removed - ranging from ten (Italy, Northern Ireland, France and Iceland) to seven (Montenegro).

Scotland sit fourth in F. Picture: Wikipedia

The straightforward reasoning is if Scotland win all four games they will reach the next round where possible opponents currently include Italy, France and Portugal as well as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Strachan’s side could even afford to lose at home to Malta, although it isn’t recommended.

The permutations become a lot more difficult to assess if Scotland drop points in Lithuania or Slovenia, or at home to Slovakia, all of which is feasible. Not only would a draw make it touch and go in the league table between other second-placed sides but it would be very tight in their own group.

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Slovakia are the most biggest threat to Scotland, other than Scotland themselves. The next round of fixtures will prove crucial. Scotland travel to Lithuania and Slovakia host Slovenia. Wins for the Scots and Slovaks would set up and crucial qualifier at Hampden in October, providing England beat Slovakia in the second September qualifier (Scotland are home to Malta).

It would mean that Slovakia would come to Hampden delighted to emerge with a draw. The tension would be notched up to its highest point with scores level at 0-0 going into the final quarter.

The current table for teams sitting in second-place in their respective groups. Picture: Wikipedia

If Slovenia were to win in Slovakia then defeat Lithuania at home it would see Scotland travelling to there on the last group day in what could prove to be a winner-takes-all clash.

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We can talk all day about eventualities but it is simple, if Scotland win their four games they live to fight another day to reach a finals 20 years after playing at France ‘98.

Strachan spoke of the England game as a must-not-lose. From now on in it’s must-win and Scotland must play better.