Scott Brown backs Scotland for another four-in-a-row

Scott Brown is accustomed to being serenaded about the prospect of achieving 'ten-in-a-row' with Celtic. On international duty, he will settle for the more modest'¨but still formidable target of '¨four-in-a-row.

Scott Brown, centre, and the rest of the Scotland squad are put through their paces at Mar Hall. Picture: SNS.

If Scotland’s rekindled ambition of heading to Russia next summer is to be realised, Brown and his team-mates face the challenge of trying to win four consecutive qualifiers in a single World Cup campaign for the first time in the nation’s history.

It is a feat previously achieved twice in European Championship qualification – when Craig Brown led the Scots to the 1996 finals in England and then again by Alex McLeish’s squad during the thrilling but ultimately unsuccessful bid to make it to the 2008 tournament.

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Celtic captain Brown was part of that side, playing in the final three of the four-game winning streak against Faroe Islands, Lithuania, France and Ukraine.

The 3-1 victory against Lithuania at Hampden and the memorable 1-0 triumph over the French in Paris back in September 2007 also represents the last time Scotland managed to win both games in an international ‘double-header’.

Buoyed by Friday night’s 3-0 win over Lithuania in Vilnius, Brown is ready to re-write those statistics, starting off with tonight’s meeting
with Group F whipping boys 
Malta at Hampden.

“It would be a lovely time to win both games in a double header again,” said the Scotland skipper.
“It would mean a lot to us, as 
players. The way we’ve been working recently, working on trying to press the game and put teams under pressure, it gives us a chance. I think we are capable of winning four in a row again.”

Having quickly reversed his decision to retire from international football last year, the 32-year-old midfielder is now hoping to address the single 
notable absence from his CV.

“Playing in a major finals for Scotland is the one thing missing for me,” he added. “You go through your career wanting to improve. But it would be amazing if we could do this.

“We just have to take it one step at a time – and the next step is a huge game for us against Malta. We know we’re favourites but we know how this has panned out in the past. Plenty of times we’ve come away from these games with a draw.”

Scotland, indeed, were being held at 1-1 by Malta in the opening game of the group in Valletta last September before eventually securing a 5-1 victory. Brown was an armchair spectator for that one, during his brief self-imposed exile from the squad.

“I watched that on TV, sitting in the house,” he said. “I was quite enjoying my time off at that point, to be fair. I made the right decision at the right time.

“I wasn’t properly fit. The new manager [Brendan Rodgers, pictured right] coming in at Celtic changed all that. I got a bit of belief and my fitness levels have kicked on. We’ve got different training, a different philosophy and I was itching to come back for Scotland.

“I’ve enjoyed every single moment playing for my country. We have had some great nights, winning away in France and winning my first cap against the USA stand out for me.

“That’s why I came back. I missed it. At the time, I felt there were people who could do a better job than me and I wasn’t fit enough. That’s why I retired the first time.

“The players always believed, even after a poor start, that we could end up competing in this group. You need other teams to help you out now and then, as well.

“In the last campaign, we were probably unlucky away to Georgia. We didn’t play our best but defended well – and they got a lucky goal. You saw Georgia on Saturday against the Republic of Ireland, drawing 1-1, they showed it’s a hard place to go.

“It’s those one or two games that can make or break you in a qualifying group. Luckily enough, ours were at the start this time. Hopefully we can push on now.

“It’s been great since Friday after a good performance and us playing the way the gaffer wanted us to play. Getting the goals and keeping a clean sheet made it a great night in Lithuania. We definitely now believe the group has something for us. We could do with England doing us a wee favour against Slovakia, right enough. But we take our game first.”

Brown is just one booking away from a one-match suspension. He has branded the disciplinary regulations for qualifying campaigns as “ridiculous” but insists he cannot allow his approach to be inhibited by fear of having to sit out one of Scotland’s final games in the group.

“That’s my life,” he said with a shrug. “It happens every season, every campaign. Two bookings, in however many games we play, for a suspension is ridiculous. But that is part and parcel of the game and I have to deal with it.

“Nothing will change the way I play. I am what I am. I always want to play hard but fair, although sometimes in the middle of the park you can mistime a tackle.

“It can’t be on the back of your mind going into a game. It’s about the country, it’s about the three points more than me.”