Scotland's Euro 2024 draw: Kvaradona, Erling Haaland and Spain's wonderkids - why this is far from an elementary group
The hope is that such a ranking brings a kind group, only having to play one country packed full of superstars. While Scotland can be reasonably satisfied with what was served up to them in Frankfurt, facing three-times champions Spain and the world’s best striker in Norway’s Erling Haaland is by no means a straightforward task.
Georgia and Cyprus make up the rest of Group A and while the Mediterranean island won’t worry the top two places in the pool that bring automatic qualification to the finals in Germany in two years time, the Georgians have just won promotion to the Nations League Group B section and are an upwardly mobile nation. More about them later.
Let’s look at Spain first, the top seeds and best-known to the wider football public. Currently ranked seventh in the world and under the stewardship of Luis Enrique, La Roja qualified for this winter’s World Cup from a group containing Sweden and Greece and topped their Nations League pool by virtue of overcoming Portugal, Czech Republic and Switzerland. Make no mistake, they are one of the best teams in Europe right now.
While not as swashbuckling as the vintage Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and David Villa team of a decade ago, Spain are still a ball-dominator who suck the life out of opponents. They are evolving steadily and have two wonderkids in their ranks in teenagers Gavi and Pedri. They rarely thrash foes and a recent home defeat by Switzerland gives some hope, but they will be warm favourites to top this section.
Second place is not clear cut. Norway have the most in-form striker in global football in Man City’s goal-monster Haaland. He will not be at the World Cup – Norway failed to qualify – and they missed out on promotion to League A of the Nations League earlier this month, pipped by Serbia. The feeling, though, is that Norway are getting better. Arsenal midfielder Martin Odegaard is finally realising his potential in London and captains the team; former Celtic forward Mohamed Elyounoussi is in their ranks, as is his ex-Parkhead team-mate Kristoffer Ajer. But it is the prospect of Haaland that makes them scary. Stop the supply to him, though, and Stale Solbakken’s outfit become very beatable.
Georgia won a Nations League group containing Bulgaria and North Macedonia and are on an 11-game unbeaten run. Managed by former Bayern Munich coach Willy Sagnol, their star man is a name Rangers fan might be familiar with already: Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, nicknamed Kvaradona already due to his impact in Naples.
Just 21, he is by no means a patch on Diego Maradona but a graceful, creative wide attacker, he has the potential to become one of Europe’s best players and his adored in his homeland. Scotland have come unstuck in Tblisi before and they will not be an easy away match.
Cyprus, ranked 110th, did get a surprise 1-0 win over Greece recently but while their domestic league is improving, the national team continues to flounder. Scotland should take six points from them. The rest, though, is far from elementary, which is why Scotland’s already-secured parachute of a play-off is so important.