It’s the week of a new qualification campaign for the Scotland men’s national team.
How does it feel? Nervous? Exciting? I’d be willing to bet it feels different.
Because for the first time this century, Scotland are entering a qualifying campaign with the spring in the step that only qualification for a Major Finals can deliver.
Scotland fans have been so used to the routine over the last 23 years.
Drop points – rally – fall short – post-mortem.
But this time, there was no post-mortem required as the patient is very much alive!
Steve Clarke can start his first full qualifying campaign in charge from a position of strength, with ‘consistency’ being the watchword – in squad selection and likely in the tactics deployed.
Scotland face three massive World Cup Qualifiers this week with the opportunity to lay foundations to build upon after a Euro 2020 themed summer of love.
If you need a recap on the group we’ve got, the challenges we face and our potential path to qualifying, check out our article here.
Scotland’s first three fixtures read:
25 March – Austria (H) – 19:45
28 March – Israel (A) – 19:45
31 March – Faroe Islands (H) – 19:45
First things first, let’s focus on our Match Day One opponents - Österreichische Fußballnationalmannschaft – Austria.
The Scotland Squad
As mentioned above, ‘consistency’ is very much the watch-word of Clarke’s selection, with the vast majority of the squad playing a part in the successful Euro 2020 Playoffs last year.
A couple of notable names included are of course Ché Adams, the 24-year-old Southampton striker following Lyndon Dykes’ example and nailing his colours to Scotland’s mast. Adams qualifies for Scotland through a grandparent and given his form in the English Premier League alongside Stuart Armstrong he is an incredibly exciting addition to this Scotland squad.
Another name to highlight is Jack Hendry who returns to the National Team after last being capped in 2018 by Alex McLeish. Since then, his time at Celtic went awry and a loan in Australia was ended by a serious injury. He’s overcome all that to impress on loan in Belgium this season, most notably playing as part of a back three. As a right-footed centre back, his inclusion could lead to Scott McTominay returning to more familiar surroundings of Scotland’s midfield – especially with Ryan Jack withdrawing from the squad injured.
You will find no better analysis of Austria’s strengths or weaknesses than that provided by Tom Middler of ‘The Other Bundesliga’ on the first episode of The Tartan Scarf Podcast.
In short – Austria are a consistent side, conservative by nature with some exciting young players but a lack of goals in the side.
Record vs Austria
Played: 20 Wins: 6 Draws: 6 Losses: 8
A pretty even record v Austria, our last meeting coming in a 2007 friendly under Alex McLeish when Garry O'Connor scoring the only goal in a 1-0 away win.
Our last competitive encounter was a 1997 World Cup Qualifier with Scotland winning 2-0 courtesy of a brace from Kevin Gallagher.
It’s that word consistency again. I’d fully expect Clarke to stick as close to the Belgrade side as possible. I’m a firm believer in playing the same players more often makes a better team.
McTominay to midfield and Hendry into the back three might well be the only enforced change owing to Jack’s injury.
While I’d love to see Che Adams unleashed from the start, that will very much depend on how he’s impressed Clarke and his team-mates in training. There will certainly be chances from the bench or later in the week for Adams to impress.
This will be a tight game. Clarke’s system puts safety first, understandable after we shipped goals early in his reign. Speaking to Tom Middler for the podcast it sounds like Austria are a similarly conservative side. There’s a good chance this game will be decided by the slimmest of margins.
Predicted Score – Scotland 1-1 Austria.