After it looked like it was going to be another hard-luck story for Scotland on Thursday, Gordon Strachan’s side defied expectation against Slovakia to keep their World Cup dream alive. A late – and I mean very late – goal from Chris Martin sent a frustrated Hampden Park crowd into a state of rapture, and, most importantly, increased Scotland’s haul to 17 points.
Post-Slovakia, Strachan played down any suggestion of celebration, saying there was “no singing and dancing” and “no high-fives” in the home side’s changing room. Should, however, his team secure one more victory in Slovenia on Sunday, you can safely assume that the Scots will be doing a lot more than jovial back-slapping.
So, with the last post on the bagpipes quietly sounding, will Scotland skyrocket their team into the World Cup finals – a feeling which has eluded them since 1998 – or will it be a case of Déjà vu? One thing is for certain: if they are to progress to a second round play-off, they will need to win; for Slovakia have a home penalty kick against Group F minnows, Malta.
I spoke to Onside View’s James Shaw to find out how the tartan faithful are feeling ahead of their make or break match in Ljubljana.
James Shaw: It’s difficult to sit through nights like Thursday and not be pulled in two opposing directions. On the one hand, Scotland looked good enough to get two or three against the 10 men of Slovakia. They had nine shots on target, hitting the bar twice, and I don’t remember feeling especially worried about Slovakia nicking one – the visitors looked content to soak up the pressure in the second half. But at the same time you’re forced to confront the fact that Scotland will have to do a much better job of taking their chances if they’re to get past Slovenia on Sunday. Without the help of the Hampden crowd, it will be a much tougher test.
I think there is plenty of reason to be optimistic, but Scotland fans have been burned so many times that pessimism has become the default setting. It’s really down to the team to prove the fans wrong at this point, and through the last five games they’ve been doing just that.
— Scotland (@ScottishFA) October 5, 2017
Whether or not Strachan is the best Scotland manager since Craig Brown (that honour probably has to go to Walter Smith), he’s done more than enough to keep his job – irrespective of what happens on Sunday. What’s impressed me most is his ability to get the team through these “must win” games. They’ve needed points in their last five outings, and that’s a lot of pressure for a team to operate under. Strachan’s managed to retain the squad’s focus, and they’re yet to miss a beat this calendar year.
Without wanting to get ahead of myself, I don’t like Scotland’s chances in the playoffs (should they get there). Looking around at the current second place teams makes for grim viewing. A tie against Italy or Portugal would obviously be disastrous, but I could also see Scotland struggling if drawn against Northern Ireland. The fact that Scotland won’t be seeded is a huge blow, and could prove fatal to their chances.
— Chris McLaughlin (@BBCchrismclaug) October 7, 2017
When it comes to the game on Sunday, Scotland have a few things going their way. First off, they’ve got something to play for, unlike Slovenia who have next-to-no chance of making the playoffs. With this in mind, I would expect to see more energy from Scotland, who know a win should be enough to put them through. Slovenia will also be dealing with a couple of suspensions, whereas the Scotland squad is more or less at full strength. The real question is whether Scotland can get behind the back four and take their chances. Some of their decision making has been poor in the final third, and Slovenia’s defensive unit has been strong during this campaign, giving up no more than a single goal in each of their last six games. All in all, I’m not particularly worried about Scotland getting beat on Sunday. Slovenia are not a prolific goal scoring team, but they have the ability to keep it tight and limit chances. If Scotland is to get it done, they will have to be clinical.
How do you think Scotland will fare against Slovenia? Let us know in the comments section, below.