Charlie Mulgrew believes Scotland can draw upon the example of Celtic’s stunning victory over Barcelona five years ago as they look to upset the odds by taking all three points against England in tomorrow’s crucial World Cup qualifier at Hampden.
The Scots are 5-1 outsiders for the Group F showdown, one of the biggest prices they have ever been for a competitive fixture at home. But Mulgrew, a member of the Celtic side which stunned Barcelona with that 2-1 Champions League win in Glasgow in 2012, insists Gordon Strachan’s squad have similar faith in their ability to overcome odds-on favourites England.
“Every player goes into every game believing they can get something,” said Mulgrew. “That night against Barca with Celtic, there must have been belief among us to get something or else we wouldn’t have achieved it.
“The manager, Neil Lennon, was good at giving us that wee bit of hope and highlighting the areas where we could score goals and be effective. The manager here with Scotland is just as good at preparing us for matches and having that bit of belief.
“That night against Barcelona was huge for Celtic. Nobody gave us a chance, but we pulled off a victory. I really hope we can do the same on Saturday.
“We are looking forward to the game like any other game. We want to win it. It is not going to be easy. We are underdogs, England have some top class players all over the pitch. We aren’t kidding ourselves, we know how hard it is going to be. But we are up for the game and we are going to give it everything we have got.”
Mulgrew, 31, is poised to win his 27th cap for Scotland in the heart of a back four which faces the daunting challenge of subduing the attacking threat England pose through Premier League stars such as Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling.
He recognises the size of the task but takes encouragement from Scotland’s performance last time out when they defeated Slovenia 1-0 at Hampden to rekindle hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
“We played really well to get the clean sheet that night,” added Mulgrew. “It comes from the whole team. A lot of the time the back four get the credit, but we know how hard the people in front of us work and how they make our job a bit easier. It is a team game. We take confidence from it. But it is a whole new challenge again this time around and we need to be ready for it.
“You maybe stop Harry Kane, but then who else is there? There’s Sterling, there’s so many of them. You can’t just pick out one to stop. You stop one, then someone else will step up, like a Jermain Defoe. England have a team of world class players and we’ve got to be prepared and ready for it. We know all their possibilities, what they can do and what they can’t do. We need to turn up on the night and deliver.
“We also have players who are very capable. We’ve got a lot of belief in there, we know we’ve got the quality there. The last few days training, some of the boys have been unbelievable. We’ve just got to believe in ourselves, get on the ball and feel we can cause England problems too.
“It is a great group of players with Scotland right now, the manager has us up for every single game, whether it’s a friendly or whatever it is. When it’s a must-win like the last one was, there is an extra bit of nerves or an extra bit of excitement. But I haven’t noticed any change in anybody’s attitudes. Everybody is up for the game. We are all ready to go and we are looking forward to it.”
Mulgrew ended his domestic season on a low note when Blackburn Rovers were relegated to League One in England on the final day of the campaign. He remains uncertain over his future at the Ewood Park club but is fully focused on achieving success at international level.
“What has happened at club level has happened and we just need to get on with it,” he said. “We will see what happens going into next season Right now, my focus is on Scotland. I love playing for my country and the challenge this weekend is massive. I am here to give everything I can for Scotland. I will definitely get a lift if we get a good result.”
Mulgrew has played twice before for Scotland against England, coming on as a substitute in the 3-2 friendly defeat at Wembley in 2013 and then playing the full 90 minutes in the 3-1 loss at Celtic Park in the reciprocal fixture the following year.
He missed out on last November’s World Cup qualifier at Wembley, however, when he failed to even make the bench after being called into Strachan’s squad as a late replacement.
“I knew there would be a chance I wouldn’t be involved but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed at the time,” he said. “I just had to get on with it. The team played well that night and probably didn’t deserve the 3-0 scoreline England got. I was disappointed, but what can you do.
“I will always jump at the chance to be involved with Scotland, even if it means I am sitting in the stand, bench, whatever. Obviously, you want to be involved playing on the pitch. It wasn’t to be that day. Hopefully it is this time.
“Even though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, I’m better prepared now to play. I feel good, I feel strong, I feel fit.
“It’s like any other big game, you feel that extra bit of excitement ahead of it. The Old Firm matches with Celtic were similar. There’s a great atmosphere and I’m hoping a similar kind of support on Saturday can drive us on. Scotland-England is definitely the kind of game that everyone wants to be involved in.”