Date: 23rd March 2021
A look ahead to Scotland’s opening World Cup qualifier by Ben Ramage, Reach Plc sports journalist and SFSA writer.
Che Adams could be the final piece of Steve Clarke’s Scotland puzzle
He’s not the Messiah, but he could prove to be a very talented boy to add to Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad as they embark on a jam-packed eight month international pilgrimage which may lead to a historic return to the promised land of World Cup football.
The Tartan Army have already guaranteed their emergence from the international desert to dine at the top table of European football this summer, with a spot at the European Championships already gratefully stuffed into their pockets.
For the first time since Euro ’96, the major tournament is coming home to Scotland this June.
On Thursday night the Dark Blues embark on a new qualification journey looking to book a place at the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
Austria are the first visitors to Hampden as Clarke’s troops head into ten games that could see the Tartan Army booking time off to head to Qatar in 2022 by this November.
Having not qualified for a major tournament in 22 years ahead of this summer’s delayed Euros, Scotland could find themselves competing in two in the space of just two years.
There’s obviously a hell of a long way to go before we’re logging on to Skyscanner to get our flights to the Middle East booked up, but Clarke may have already unearthed a rough-cut diamond that can help launch us towards back-to-back qualifications.
There is always at least one surprise inclusion in any Scotland squad announcement, and last week’s came in the form of English Premier League striker Che Adams, who cast aside any lingering hopes of an England call up by nailing his colours to the Saltire.
The criticism in some quarters of Scottish social media were truly laughable. Of course this criticism was not unexpected, given the young Southampton striker’s English roots allied to the fact he rejected the advances of Alex McLeish when the former Hampden boss approached him to join his squad shortly after he’d been involved with the England Under-20 side.
It would be incredibly naive to believe a talented forward at the start of his career, who had recently been involved in the youth set up of a country that qualifies for major tournaments every two years like clockwork, would drop that chance and commit to a country which – under McLeish’s guidance – was losing to the likes of Kazakhstan and struggling to beat the likes of Cyprus.
Of course Scotland’s qualification for Euro 2020 has played a big part in Adams decision to pull on the dark blue shirt. It’s a by-product of the excellent work that Clarke has done over the last two years that is replicated in football at every level. The better your team is, the higher the quality of player you can attract.
No matter how Scottish some people deem Adams to be when taking into account his place of birth, his parents, grandparents et cetera, all that matters to me is that he’s eligible. What is the point in having an eligibility system if you don’t use it? Especially if it allows you to pick up players of such quality that decide they want to play for your country.
Now it’s of course not guaranteed Adams is going to take to international football like a duck to water. But looking at how he’s performed in the top flight of England this season, it’s not hard to see that the 24-year-old has some serious talent in his boots.
Seven goals in 28 appearances in the Premier League, including against the likes of Chelsea and more recently Man City, suggests the St Mary’s forward can bring something to the Scotland party this year.
Especially when you compare him to the other strikers Clarke has called up for this crucial triple-header which also includes dates with Israel and the Faroe Islands.
Oli McBurnie has 0 goals in 15 caps and has been struggling to find the net for a poor Sheffield United side in the same division as Adams. Ryan Fraser has got two goals in 14 caps, which is not a bad return considering most of those appearances have come from the wings, while Lyndon Dykes has a reasonable two in seven.
Kevin Nisbet, while undoubtedly a clinical striker at Scottish Premiership level, has yet to taste international football which is of course a considerable step up from our top flight.
Now it’s not all about goals, and especially in the case of Dykes and Fraser their all-round performances for Scotland have been crucial to our recent successes, bringing into play the likes of John McGinn and Ryan Christie who themselves have found goalscoring form.
But I can’t be the only one that’s been concerned by Dykes considerable drop off in goals in the last few months at QPR. One goal in his last 23 appearances does not make for particularly pretty reading for any forward.
And when you look back at Scotland’s last six games, they’ve only mustered three goals in total – one each for Dykes, Fraser and Christie.
It’s clear that to get to the next level, and avoid qualifying for tournaments via penalty shootouts which have caused half my hair to turn grey in the space of two evenings of nerve-jangling action, Clarke needs to find a striker or strike partnership that can more regularly find the back of the net.
With the leaky defence all but fixed first, as we expected it would be given Clarke’s expertise at the back end of the pitch, and with the likes of Scott McTominay, McGinn and Stuart Armstrong in midfield Scotland could become a complete international outfit with a stronger front line.
If a system with Adams up front, or a combination of the 24-year-old and Dykes, can be forged over the course of the next week Scotland fans could truly be dreaming of emerging from the group stages of the Euros for the first time ever and qualifying for the 2022 World Cup outright come November.
A lot will have to go right over the course of the next eight months, but if the play-off final win over Serbia has taught me anything, it’s that dreams can come true following Scotland these days.
And if Adams can score winning goals in his first two games against Austria and Israel this week, I might even start believing Scotland’s new-found Messiah can walk on water.
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