Who Scotland want in 2022 World Cup draw - and what would be nightmare before Christmas

After recently reacquainting themselves with the old qualification lark, Scotland must hope the achievement proves habit-forming as attention turns to the World Cup qualifying draw which takes place in Zurich on Monday.
And for his next trick....Scotland manager Steve Clarke (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)And for his next trick....Scotland manager Steve Clarke (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
And for his next trick....Scotland manager Steve Clarke (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

While it would be cause for some serious boogieing if Scotland can make it two major finals in-a-row, some caution is advised.

The World Cup is not the Euros. Scotland are not suddenly world beaters. If Scotland were going to end their major finals drought, it was always more likely to be a European Championship finals rather than at a World Cup, where qualification is becoming harder rather than easier.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Scotland needed only to be one of the best 24 sides in Europe to qualify for next summer’s Euros. Even then they sneaked in, via a play-off won via an inaugural Nations League campaign. It was no less momentous of course. Indeed, the fact it was such a close-run thing served to enhance the feeling of joy.

As for the World Cup, Scotland must seek to muscle their way much nearer the front of the queue. To reach Qatar 2022, they are required to be in a select band of just 13 European countries. Since France '98, when Scotland returned to the world stage after a brief hiatus in 1994, the nearest they have come to qualifying was last time out. Needing a win in the last group game against Slovenia to secure a play-off, they relinquished control of the game after leading 2-1 at half-time and drew 2-2.

Manager Gordon Strachan was later informed his services were no longer required. It was a step up from the previous World Cup qualifying campaign, when Scotland managed the impressive feat of being the first UEFA nation to be mathematically eliminated from the 2014 World Cup. Never mind – it’s only being held in Brazil, lads.

This calamity occurred under Strachan after he suffered defeats in his first two competitive games in charge. However, the real damage was done when predecessor Craig Levein’s side took just two points from their opening four fixtures. This underlined the importance of getting off to a good start. Which brings us to Zurich, where Scotland's World Cup fate is due to begin playing out.

How it works

In European qualifying, there are five groups of six teams and five groups of five. The reward for the four teams who reached the 2021 Nations League finals – Belgium, France, Italy and Spain – is a guarantee of being in one of the smaller groups.

That means Steve Clarke must weigh up a slightly less taxing schedule in an already hectic year against the sizeable task of trying to get points off one of Belgium, France, Italy or Spain. Not that the remaining Pot 1 sides look any less formidable: England, Portugal, Croatia, Denmark, Germany and Holland.

For the first time, qualification will take place within a single calendar year. Indeed, it will unfold within just eight months. So, while the players have started a four-month break from international football, the pace will be unrelenting when qualifiers begin in late March. Club managers can only hold their heads and groan.

If Scotland are drawn in a six-team group, it would mean negotiating two triple headers in March and September. That is something else Clarke will need to consider when pondering the benefits or otherwise of being in a five or six-team group.

Desire to be there

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A larger group would hopefully lead to six points against one of this lot: Malta, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar or San Marino. But then such a haul is far from certain with Scotland, who are famously egalitarian when it comes to struggling. They can do so against anyone.

Scotland are in the unusual position of knowing they will have already started the qualifying campaign for the next major finals by the time they kick-off against Czech Republic in their first Euro 2020 fixture in June.

The hope is things will not already have gone awry. Qualifying for a World Cup finals is the next frontier as far as Scotland are concerned. And while Qatar is not everyone’s idea of a perfect place to stage a World Cup, nor is next winter the ideal time, no-one wants to miss out. If it is Scotland’s destiny to end their World Cup exile in the Gulf state, then so be it.

There are reasons for optimism. Primarily, Scotland are not that bad, remember. Forget the most recent two games, when the lack of cutting edge came back to haunt Clarke's side against Israel and Slovakia. Focus instead on the majority of the play-off final against Serbia, when Scotland quickly took control of the game at a tricky away venue. The same hosts promptly thrashed Russia 5-0 in their next outing.

Some familiar foes lie in wait

On that evidence, Russia might be welcome opponents. Sadly, they are, like Scotland, in Pot 3. Other countries the Tartan Army can strike off even hoping to visit next year are Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Greece and Finland.

Scotland can get Israel, who are in Pot 4. Set your watch by that. The countries have been paired together in the last three draws. Old foes Georgia are also in that same pot.

No matter what happens, with there being no prospect of a play-off place again coming through their efforts in the Nations League, Scotland must finish in one of the top two places in their group if their interest is to extend beyond next year. Pot 2 is where Clarke will believe opportunity abounds: bettering the likes of Wales, Slovakia and Serbia is realistic.

If Scotland want to avoid another two-game play-off, they must win their group. It’s a tall order, but, given a kind draw and fair winds, as well as Clarke’s pragmatism, not completely impossible.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Please Santa I’ve been good group: Denmark, Slovakia, Scotland, Luxembourg, Andorra, San Marino.

Nightmare before Christmas group: Belgium, Poland, Scotland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Armenia, Malta.

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription - https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.