Scotland v Slovenia can never be called a glamour tie – but that doesn’t mean that there’s a lot at stake in Sunday’s World Cup qualifier.
Gordon Strachan remains under pressure to justify the continued poor performance of his charges as Scotland look to qualify for a first major tournament in 20 years.
Strachan’s side are 5th in Group F, amassing just four points in their opening four games, and ahead of only lowly Malta in the group.
Scotland’s ignominious home draw against perennial foes Lithuania and back-to-back 3-0 thrashings at the hands of Slovakia and England have left our chances of qualification slim at best.
Slovenia are currently occupying the coveted second place spot that gives eight of the nine runners up a chance to qualify through the playoffs.
With Srecko Katanec’s side unbeaten, and Scotland’s form continuing to be indifferent (as evidenced by the woeful draw against Canada) we look at some of the ways Scotland can qualify.
The do-it-yourself method
This is by far the most effective, and of course by far the least likely.
In this scenario, Strachan’s team would abandon all pretence of them being a collective of misfiring misfits, and sweep all opposition before them.
Scotland have 18 more points to play for, and if they win all of their remaining games, then they would finish on 22 points.
That six-game winning streak, unlikely as it seems, would almost certainly secure Scotland a play-off spot.
In the 2014 World Cup qualifying, all but one of the runners-up in the nine groups finished on less than 22 points.
Three of the group winners in the six-team groups had 22 points – but England’s reliably imperious qualification form makes that unlikely.
And speaking of England...
With friends like these – who needs Auld Enemies?
It’s commonplace among Tartan Army footsoldiers to support two teams – Scotland and whoever England are playing.
That should be doubly the case now that England aren’t just our historical derby opponents but our rivals in the group.
But any pretence that Scotland had of being any kind of challenge to England’s supremacy has long since expired.
In truth, it suits the Scottish cause to have our colleagues South of the border undertake their usual routine of qualifying with several games to spare.
They face Slovakia and Slovenia at Wembley this Autumn and Gareth Southgate’s men taking 6 points from them would be very helpful.
Even if they beat Scotland too, Strachan’s side could still qualify for the play-offs with 19 points, providing neither of the central European times can put together a run of form.
Luck of the Draw
Bearing in mind that a number of these situations rest on Scotland rediscovering an unbeaten level of form, it’s important to note that we still need others in the group to help us out.
Slovenia and Slovakia have played once so far in this qualification campaign, with a late goal giving the Slovenians three points.
Since we need to leapfrog both of these teams to get the coveted second place spot, a draw in their next game in September would come in handy for Scotland.
Basement boys Malta also have one more game against both these sides, and if our pals in Valetta can snatch a point against Slovenia and Slovakia then Scotland will be in a much better position, provided our form improves.
From Lithuania with love
The Tartan Army must be sick of going to Lithuania.
Scotland have played the small Baltic state nine times in the last 20 years, no mean feat considering the modern incarnation of the country has been going for less than 30.
We’ve played them more than any other side in that period, and they held us to a disappointing draw back in October.
A last minute James McArthur goal rescued a point for Scotland then, and a win over Malta and a draw with Slovenia means that they currently sit above Scotland with five points.
Firstly, we need to beat Lithuania when we play them away in September, hopefully by a goal difference boosting margin.
Draws against the aforementioned Slovenia and Slovakia would also be helpful for Scotland as they chance second place, with any side getting too many wins meaning bad news for Gordon Strachan.
Don’t book the hotel just yet
So there we have it, a number of different scenarios that will help Scotland get into a play-off spot in the hope of qualifying for the big tournament in Russia.
But there’s no need to start packing the wooly hats, because all of these scenarios still need a massive turnaround from Scotland, something that hasn’t looked likely for a while.
Even if England sweep all opposition aside, and the triumvirate of Slovenia, Slovakia and Lithuania engage in a draw-a-thon, we still need Gordon Strachan and co to massively improve.
It’s not quite mission impossible, as we’ve shown, but it still looks very much like mission improbable.