How Scotland can qualify for the 2018 World Cup
With two fixtures remaining, qualification is still very much in Scotland’s hands, as Gordon Strachan stressed last night.
The Scotland boss said after the match: “When you get to the stage when you your fate is in your own hands in a tournament that’s all you can ask.
“You can look back and say we could have done better there, there and there but we have tried to make up for bad performances or low-key performances by doing the best we can.”
The remaining rounds of fixtures see England host Slovenia, Lithuania travel to Malta and Scotland take on Slovakia on October 5, followed by Lithuania-England, Slovakia against Malta and Scotland’s trip to Slovenia on October 8.
Here’s everything Scotland need to take into consideration if they are to make the play-offs.
Win both remaining fixtures
Simply put, anything less than maximum points from the final two matches is no good.
Scotland’s two remaining fixtures in Group F are at home to Slovakia on October 5, and away to Slovenia on October 8.
Scotland need to win both matches to finish second and almost certainly be guaranteed a play-off spot.
Regardless of what Slovenia and Slovakia do in their other remaining fixtures (away to England and at home to Malta respectively) they cannot pip Scotland to second - provided Scotland record victories against the pair.
However, the match against Slovakia could prove a tough penultimate fixture.
Assuming the Slovaks defeat Malta in the final round of matches, a point from the Hampden clash would see them finish on 19 points, scuppering Scotland’s chances of finishing second.
Hope Slovenia don’t shock England
Srečko Katanec’s men will be in a buoyant mood after their 4-0 victory over Lithuania, and will travel to Wembley believing they can take something from the return match against England - and mount their own play-off charge.
Slovenia held England to a goalless draw in Ljubljana last October, and will take confidence from England’s somewhat lacklustre performance in Malta, and narrow victory over Slovakia last night.
However, England haven’t lost a World Cup qualifier at Wembley since October 2000, and their last loss at Wembley in any competitive match was a 3-2 defeat to Croatia in November 2007.
Should Slovenia beat England, or even come away with a draw, finishing off the campaign with an away tie against a team on a high could complicate things for Strachan’s men.
Hope for a kind draw
If Scotland do make it to the play-off rounds as one of the eight best-ranked runners-up they are unlikely to be seeded.
There are some fearsome potential opponents for Strachan’s men should they get there. Spain or Italy will almost certainly be in the play-offs while Portugal, France and the Netherlands are all in the mix and could also finish second.
Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine and Croatia are also there or thereabouts and would represent a slightly kinder draw for Scotland should they make the play-offs.
Scotland can only take care of what’s in front of them, however. Taking those six points has to be the main focus.
Scotland have been playing with a new-found confidence recently. The 2-2 draw with England, while a sickener at the time, showed how far Scotland had come since snatching a draw at home to Lithuania.
The comprehensive victory in Vilnius and victory over a Malta side that had frustrated England for long periods of time last week suggest that there is still more to come from Scotland.
The team is playing with a confidence that could be vital in next month’s games. Scott Brown said prior to the Malta game that the reason for Scotland’s improved performances was a result of ‘playing the Celtic way’.
Is a sense of self-belief from the Celtic players permeating the rest of the squad? Perhaps. One thing is for certain, however - Scotland won’t finish this campaign as meekly as the last few.