The perils of the post-season international friendly that offers more to the opposition are well known to Christophe Berra. He played – albeit only as an 81st minute substitute he would point out – when Scotland were cuffed 5-1 by a USA side then preparing for vital World Cup qualifiers this very weekend four years ago.
It was a game too far for Craig Levein’s side. The fear is that the same might end up being said of Scotland’s friendly tonight in Malta with Euro 2016-bound Italy. It will be followed by a confrontation with France, the homeland of Berra’s father, in what will be last game the tournament hosts will play before the competition begins in a fortnight.
“We’ll only know after the games,” said the 32-times capped Ipswich Town defender. “The motivation for the Italians and the French is obviously completely different, but we’re pros and we have pride, as soon as we cross the line we want to do well and not let ourselves or our teammates down. They can take it two ways. They will either be full throttle ahead of the competition or be a bit tired from the league campaign and not want to pick up any injuries.
“They might want to be fresher for when the real action starts. I would prefer they were at full throttle.If you are not right at it and it is like a pre-season game then you don’t perform the same. You have got to give everything. If you try to stroll then that is when you pick up injuries.
“Maybe the America trip felt a bit like a holiday for some, and a lot of our guys were just thinking about getting time off, but all credit to America they played well and we didn’t perform. Sometimes it happens – we’re not invincible, we all have off days and if you’re going to have one it’s better in a friendly than a qualifier. It shouldn’t affect your confidence though. You’re a footballer at the highest level for a reason, you take knocks, you evaluate, learn from your mistakes and move on.”
Berra, meanwhile, is looking to pick up tips from Southampton’s Italian striker Graziano Pelle. Just not in the fashion that might be imagined. “I played against him in the FA Cup last year, we drew 1-1 there and then lost the replay 1-0 at home. He’s a big good-looking guy – he never has a hair out of place either! I’m not sure how he does it – must have good gel. But he’s quite a British type, a big strong target man who can hold the ball in and if they play three up front he might suit them well. They’ll have a lot of top players, guys in the Italian league, and we all know how good Juventus and Napoli and all these teams are.”