Date: 26th July 2015
As the dust settles on the pots in Russia, the Tartan Army have had a night to try and control the excitement which followed the momentous draw.
Whether they have managed to remains to be seen, but they certainly have reason to celebrate as Scotland picked up one of their most favourable draws in recent times.
Of all the potential pot 1 opponents, Wales and Romania would have arguably presented the best opportunity of picking up points at home and away. A return to face England at Wembley though in a first competitive fixture for seventeen years certainly makes up for missing the lowest ranked pot 1 seeds.
Not only this, but England are not the most dangerous seeds Scotland could have drawn. Holland, Spain, Germany and Belgium are all higher ranked opponents which we have done well to avoid.
And with even better luck, which normally deserts Scotland when preliminary group draws are dealt, we have managed to sidestep the biggest pot 2 opponents France and Italy.
Normally we would have found ourselves in Group A or Group G, alongside Holland and France or Spain and Italy. The mountain we normally have to climb has been shortened significantly given the comparatively favourable draw of Slovakia.
In typically confident fashion Strachan claimed post-draw that he would have taken any group such is the belief he has in his current group of players. But even he must have drawn a significant sigh of relief when Sweden, not Scotland, was handed the group of death alongside Holland and France early in the proceedings.
The fact we side-stepped the other group of death highlights how good a draw this was for the Tartan Army compared to our recent efforts.
That being said, the threat of Slovakia should not be underrated. Despite missing out on the 2012 European Championships and the 2014 World Cup, the side have been resurgent so far in France 2016 qualifying. They currently sit top of group C having won 6 out of 6 fixtures, including beating Spain.
Almost certain to qualify for France, they will provide a very stern test in the race for 2018 qualification. As a result they will also pose a significant threat to England, which could help open out the group as the Three Lions may drop points to Slovakia at home and away.
The momentousness of the occasion when England come to Hampden and when the Tartan Army descend on Wembley once more will likely also be a leveller, which could help open up the race for first even further.
While Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta will provide tests of varying difficulty, such is the improvement under Gordon Strachan that Scotland can be confident of taking maximum points from every meeting with the lower seeds. The trip to Slovenia will be the biggest potential banana skin, with England only managing to beat them 3 – 2 in Ljubljana in a recent qualifier.
Overall the Tartan Army can rightly be very enthusiastic in the wake of the kindest draw we have received in years. The England games will be special in their own right, but the draw most importantly presents us the best opportunity we have had to return to the biggest football stage in the world for the first time in 20 years.
Opponent round up:
England – FIFA World Ranking – 9
– Key Player – Wayne Rooney – Striker (Man Utd) Caps – 105
Slovakia – FIFA World Ranking – 15
– Key Player – Marek Hamsik – Midfielder (Napoli) Caps – 78
Slovenia – FIFA World Ranking – 49
– Key Player – Samir Handanovic – Goalkeeper (Inter Milan) Caps -76
Lithuania – FIFA World Ranking – 96
– Key Player – Tadas Kijanskas – Defender (Hapoel Haifa) Caps – 43
Malta – FIFA World Ranking – 158
– Key Player – Ryan Fenech – Midfielder (Valletta) Caps – 41
Scotland’s Fixture list:
Sunday 4 Sep 2016 – Malta (a) – 7.45pm
Saturday 8 Oct 2016 – Lithuania (h) – 7.45pm
Tuesday 11 Oct 2016 – Slovakia (a) – 7.45pm
Friday 11 Nov 2016 – England (a) – 7.45pm
Sunday 26 Mar 2017 – Slovenia (h) – 7.45pm
Saturday 10 Jun 2017 – England (h) – 5pm
Friday 1 Sep 2017 – Lithuania (a) – 7.45pm
Monday 4 Sep 2017 – Malta (h) – 7.45pm
Thursday 5 Oct 2017 – Slovakia (h) – 7.45pm
Sunday 8 Oct 2017 – Slovenia (a) – 5pm
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