Only a win will do as Scotland prepare for crunch Slovakia match
As Scotland’s final two qualifying matches fast approach, Gordon Strachan’s men face a make or break scenario if they are to make the play-off round for the World Cup. Anything less than two victories against Slovakia and Slovenia will mean the Tartan Army will miss out on yet another tournament. Can Scotland do it? By David Ronney
In Celtic they trust
During the last international break in September, a total of six Celtic players started for Strachan’s side in matches against Lithuania and Malta with two of these players, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths, scoring in each match. However, with the midfield duo of Armstrong and Scott Brown out injured, it will be up to the remaining few to step up to the plate.
One late addition to the team was Calum McGregor who earned a long overdue call up to the national side. Strachan said it was a no-brainer to include the Celtic midfielder in the senior squad. McGregor’s record this season speaks for itself, having scored six goals in 10 matches, including a brace against Hibernian last weekend. After being criticised under Ronny Deila, the midfielder has been revolutionised since the Brendan Rodger’s arrival at Parkhead.
Despite his impressive form, he may face some competition to get into the starting line-up with Hibs’ John McGinn also netting twice in Saturday’s clash. Where McGregor excels, however, is his experience of scoring in big games. Having scored in matches against Hearts and Rangers in the past couple of years, the Celtic player would perhaps be expected to cope with the pressure of the final two qualifying matches better than his competitor.
Full backs must defend
Strachan has the luxury of having two of the best full backs in recent years for Scotland with the services of Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney. While both are relatively young, 23 and 20 respectively, they both have years of experience under their belts. Robertson has played in the Premier League for a number of years with Hull City and now Liverpool while Tierney has been influential in Celtic’s success in recent years, having earned the captain’s armband on a few occasions.
Both players started and finished the matches against Lithuania and Malta having contributed to attacking moves, whilst remembering their defence duties too. The pair must remember to focus more on the latter on Thursday against Slovakia and on Sunday against Slovenia. With all respect to Scotland’s opponents in September, they will be faced with a tougher fight in this week’s qualifiers and are likely to be punished more for being caught out of position.
Griffiths to lead the way
Celtic’s number nine has had a great start to the season and will be hoping he carries this form into the national side. Griffiths has already scored seven times for the Scottish champions this season, including a goal against Anderlecht in midweek. As previously mentioned, the striker netted Scotland’s second in the 2-0 win against Malta, making him the joint top scorer for Strachan’s side this qualifying campaign.
When Griffiths plays for Scotland the entire side seems to benefit, and Scotland seem to slow down when he’s not there to set the tempo, as seen in the last half hour against Malta. It is also fundamental that Griffiths completes the double header of qualifying matches and isn’t tactically subbed for the likes of Chris Martin.
Even though he went on to score the winner, the Derby County striker was booed by some of the home support when he was introduced against Slovenia back in March. Nevertheless, if he is to be introduced in these crucial matches or even start, Griffiths shouldn’t be sacrificed as a result. Instead playing two up top and taking away one of the midfielders would ensure the best comes out of Martin’s game time. Perhaps he could be Scotland’s hero once more.