It hurt Strachan as a player but Scotland coach sees French clash as a chance to measure his charges against top-class opposition, writes Stephen Halliday
In setting Scotland the daunting assignment of travelling to face European Championship hosts and favourites France in their final warm-up fixture ahead of the finals next month, Gordon Strachan is at least not asking his players to do something he hasn’t already done himself.
The last time France staged the Euro finals, back in 1984, Strachan was part of the Scotland side which took them on in Marseille in a similarly timed curtain raiser.
Then, as now, the Scots had failed to qualify for the finals themselves and Jock Stein’s team found themselves on the end of a chastening experience in losing 2-0 to a brilliant French outfit which went on to blaze a trail all the way to lifting the Henri Delauney Cup that summer.
Strachan believes the current French squad are capable of repeating that feat but is hopeful his own team take more from their meeting with them in Metz on 4 June than he did that evening 32 years ago.
“I didn’t need that kind of learning experience, I can tell you,” said the Scotland manager who was replaced at half-time by club-mate Neil Simpson.
“I was 27 at the time, I played in a European final for Aberdeen the previous year and I’d played almost 30 times for my country by then.
“But I didn’t need to experience Michel Platini breezing past me left, right and centre as he did that night.
“We could win the ball but, once we had it, we didn’t have a clue what to do with it. It was a tired, tired Scotland team. Lots of us had played so many games for our clubs that season – probably about 20 more games than our current squad have this season.
“So we were knackered and France were a great side – along with Platini, they had guys like Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Luis Fernandez. Jesus, they were wonderful.
“I think they’ve got a right good side again now. They will be one of the favourites to win Euro 2016. They have some really good players again. You look at Dimitri Payet of West Ham, who wasn’t sure of getting a game up until recently, and he is fantastic. Then there is Paul Pogba in midfield from Juventus. These are world-class players. So it will be a test for us.”
The game against France will round off a week-long gathering of Strachan’s squad who first face Italy in Malta on 29 May, staying on the George Cross island for a training camp before travelling to Metz.
After two 1-0 wins in March against the Czech Republic and Denmark in the first of Scotland’s preparatory matches ahead of the World Cup qualifying campaign later this year, Strachan is hoping to unearth further signs of encouragement.
“We are hoping to take something from these matches,” he said. “Against the Czechs and Danes, it was the goalkeeping performances from Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor. You don’t want to see your goalies working as hard as that, so I had to look at that and now I know why.
“You find bonuses and positives when you don’t expect them sometimes. In these next two games, we’ll get a chance to look at someone like young Barrie McKay, who is with us for the first time. Facing Italy and France at this stage of his career is as good as it gets.
“If our lads can go out there, play well and feel good about themselves then that will be a bonus because they’ll then think that they’ve got nothing to be scared of when they go into the World Cup qualifiers.”
Strachan can expect his goalkeepers to be busy again against two of the Euro 2016 heavyweights and there is likely to be an appearance each for David Marshall and Allan McGregor, in the absence of Craig Gordon who is one of the Celtic players being afforded extra rest this summer.
Marshall appeared to have established himself as Strachan’s number one during the last qualifying campaign but he hinted he may vary his selection more in future.
“Sometimes, when you have goalies like we do, it doesn’t matter to me who plays,” added Strachan. “The real problem is for them. It matters to them, who does and doesn’t play, but for me the three we have got are just different class.
“But sometimes, when we play against different teams, one of the goalies may have an asset that picks them out to play against that certain team.
“You might think ‘it’s just a goalie’ – but there are different things about goalies. I might just tweak it at times. But it wouldn’t be just for the sake of giving them a game. I would tweak it for certain games when we might need a goalie who’s a bit different – more specialised in one thing.”