Forget beating England, just qualify - Graeme Souness

Graeme Souness, front centre, celebrates with his Scotland team-mates after their win over England in the 1985 Rous Cup. Picture: SNS
Graeme Souness, front centre, celebrates with his Scotland team-mates after their win over England in the 1985 Rous Cup. Picture: SNS
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Former Scotland midfielder
Graeme Souness has stressed the importance of reaching Russia in 2018 over beating England.

After a 5-1 win in Malta last month, Gordon Strachan’s side prepare for the World Cup qualifying double-header against Lithuania at Hampden Park tomorrow and away to Slovakia on Tuesday before a trip to Wembley in November.

Souness, who played in the 1978, 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals, understands the attention which will surround the two fixtures against the Auld Enemy, who remain favourites to win the group despite having Gareth Southgate instated as temporary boss following the departure of Sam Allardyce.

However, the 63-year-old former Rangers and Liverpool boss, capped 54 times, said: “Gordon will try to get the message across that this is about three points. You can’t afford to get caught up in the old enemy thing.

“You would take losing to them twice and winning every other game and 
getting there.

“It is a bit like when I went to Ibrox and said I don’t mind losing to Celtic if we win the league and [people said], ‘what?’ The same thing.

“It always is about qualification. The bragging rights by beating England only last for a few weeks.

“The excitement of going to a tournament, the build-up, being there, what that would do to the nation. The benefits to Scottish football would be far greater us going, if we lost twice to England than beating England twice and not going there.”

Scotland have not been to the finals of a major 
tournament since 1998 and each failed qualification campaign brings increasing pressure on the following one.

Souness, now a television pundit, was recently back in Glasgow for the McDonald’s & SFA Grassroots Awards National Ceremony at Hampden Park.

He acknowledged how difficult it would be to qualify from the group where only the winners are guaranteed to get to Russia.

“It will be difficult,” he said. “Obviously England are outstanding favourites but they are not certainties.

“I don’t think this is the strongest England group that they have ever had but I think you have to fancy them to qualify.

“I’ve always believed it is a numbers game. I used to say that us qualifying for a World Cup was a success and I used to get my head bitten off for saying that.

“We are a nation of maybe less than five million against England who have over 60 million.

“Common sense tells you that with more to pick from, they will be a better team. It has always been the way.

“And that doesn’t mean to say we can’t beat them on occasions but if we played them 100 times they are going to win the vast majority of times.

“We don’t have players who are playing at Manchester United or Arsenal and there is a reason why the players we have got are not at these big clubs, it’s because they are not deemed good enough and that is why they are playing in the Championship and lower Premier League teams and we have to accept that.

“That doesn’t mean to say we can’t roll them over.”