GORDON Strachan last night refused to commit himself to another qualifying campaign with Scotland after seeing his bid to reach the Euro 2016 finals dramatically ended by a stoppage-time goal from Polish striker Robert Lewandowski at Hampden.
The sickening blow for Strachan and his players forced them to settle for a 2-2 draw against the Poles which, coupled with a 1-0 win by Republic of Ireland against Germany in Dublin, consigned them to a fourth-place finish in Group D.
It renders Sunday’s final fixture against group minnows Gibraltar in Faro as meaningless for the Scots.
It also raises doubt over Strachan’s future as Scotland manager. Out of contract at the end of this campaign, the SFA want him to remain in charge for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers which begin in September.
But Strachan was unwilling to shed any light on his intentions as he tried to come to terms with a bitterly disappointing end to a Euro 2016 campaign which has promised so much.
“That is really unfair,” was his response when asked if he had another campaign in him. “For me to talk about myself is wrong. They are the priority at the moment, those guys in the dressing room and the coaching staff. To talk about me is all wrong. I’ll leave that to other people. I have people hurting in this building at the moment and I need to look after them.
“I’ve got to say I really can’t be bothered speaking about it now. I’m not going to disguise it, I don’t want to speak about it now. It’s unfair to everyone in the dressing room for me to pontificate on what went wrong and didn’t go wrong. My thoughts are with them at the moment and with the coaching staff and everyone who has helped us.”
What proved to be such an agonising evening for Strachan’s men got off to the worst possible start when Lewandowski, in a marginally offside position, put Poland in front in only the third minute. Second best for much of the opening period, the Scots gradually secured a foothold in the game and equalised in stunning fashion on the stroke of half-time when Matt Ritchie scored from 20 yards.
When Steven Fletcher put Scotland in front in the 61st minute, it looked as if their bid for qualification would at least go to the last round of Group D fixtures on Sunday.
But Lewandowski’s scrambled 94th-minute goal broke Scottish hearts on and off the pitch, with news of the Irish victory over Germany confirming elimination for Strachan’s squad.
“If I’m like the rest of the nation, I’m hugely disappointed for the players,” said Strachan. “If I’m like the rest of the nation, the nation saw a group of lads give as much as they can give.
“I actually feel a bit sorry for them to put that much work in and score two wonderful goals.
“I spoke to them and said I’m really proud of what they’ve done. We have been a bit unfortunate with a few things in the last couple of games.
“You couldn’t call Poland’s second goal brilliant. It was more like an American football Hail Mary where you just chuck it in and hope for the best.
“Sometimes there’s not a lot you can do about that. It takes a horrendous deflection, hits a post and comes back the way. Similar to the first goal against Germany last month where someone shoots, it hits his heel and goes in.
“The second goal against Germany hits a post, comes back and someone taps in.
“It’s very hard to play against that but our guys did against Germany, they came back twice.
“They came back tonight and got into the lead. That’s some going you know against top players. So I do feel really bad for them to have put so much work into it.
“You have to hold hands up and say well done to Ireland. But we’ve played Poland and Ireland twice and not been beat.
“I’m proud of the players. I just have to watch them and try to help them. They had to put the physical side of it in. I’ve been in games like that. Sometimes I’ve been a wee bit luckier than them.
“The first goal might have been offside, I don’t know. After working hard for a year, at the end of it something like that happens in the last second of the game, that’s over a year’s work.
“I can’t remember getting anything lucky ourselves. Anything we’ve had has been really earned.”
There could also be recriminations for both the Scottish and Polish FAs as a result of crowd disorder last night. Uefa are likely to take disciplinary action after a series of flares and fireworks were lit by Polish supporters, while one supporter entered the pitch in the second half and was able to approach Lewandowski.