A look at Scotland in the Nations League

Ireland last played Scotland home and away in the Euro 2016 qualifiers– Ireland eventually finished third in the group and qualified via a play off win over Bosnia and Herzgovina. Scotland finished 4th despite beating Ireland 1-0 in Scotland in a poor game, with Shaun Maloney scoring the winner for Scotland. The game was most notable for a lack of tickets for regular match going Ireland fans, caused by John Delaney’s arrogance in assuming the Scottish FA would give 10% of ticket sales to the FAI, but they didn’t and we only got 5% which the Scottish FA were perfectly entitled to do.

Delaney had given out a large number of tickets to anyone and everyone he wanted to do, while many fans that had gone to numerous away games were left ticketless. This resulted in a back lash from disgruntled fans and a falling out between the FAI and YBIG.

The return game in Dublin wasn’t much better and the game finished 1-1, at that stage of the group Scotland were confident they would at least finish third, but we beat Germany 1-0 at home to throw open the group.

The subsequent form of both countries since then have changed with Scotland in a fine run of form since Steve Clarke took over, while Ireland have gradually been spiralling downwards. Stephen Kenny though has finally stopped the rot and the form of the team and quality of football has been excellent since the Autumn qualifiers. The Nations League games in June and September will be the perfect test of how far this Ireland team has come.

A lot can change over the next 6 months, but at the moment Scotland are on a real high culminating in their fantastic 2-0 home win over Denmark in their final World Cup qualification match. The Danes were heading to Scotland to win 10 games in row. The Danes had only conceded one goal in the previous 9 games, so a win and a clean sheet would have set a record for World Cup qualification.

The Scottish win was their 6th in a row which secured them 2nd place in the group they also beat Israel 3-2 and Austria 0-1 away during this run. The Scots now have to play Ukraine March 24 in Hampden (Ukraine are also in the Nations League group). If the Scots win, they will face either Wales or Austria for a place at the Qatar World Cup. The odds of them getting a place at Qatar are 3-1, which puts them as third favourites behind Wales and Austria. Irish punters may fancy their chances especially if they are using a free bet offered by many Irish sportsbooks.

Last Summer the Scots played at the delayed Euro 2020 finals, where they went out as usual in the group stages. They lost 2-0 to the Czech Republic, drew 0-0 with England and lost 3-1 to Croatia. They have a remarkable record for the wrong reasons of having never gotten out of a major tournament group, that’s 11 different finals.

Manager: Steve Clark has instilled confidence and belief again after such a long period of mediocrity. Clarke ovesaw Scotland’s first qualification for a tournament in 23 years via the play offs, they had to beat Serbia away on penalties to progress after the game finished 1-1. The team play with a bit of swagger now, while still retaining the hard work and solid defensive set up which has often been the hallmarks of good Scottish sides of the past. Clarke has made a trip to Glasgow a tough fixture again where as previously the team could easily fail under the pressure of been the home side. A solid 8/10 since taking over in 2018.

Squad: There is a core of solid players without any superstars, with Craig Gordon solid in the nets and Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson two superb full backs options with the dependable Scott  McTominay in midfield alongside the creative excellence of John McGinn. The emergence of the 20 year old Billy Gilmour has added an extra dimension to their midfield while up front Che Adams will pitch in with the odd goal.

Star Player: While Andy Robertson is the highest profile Scotland international due to his form with Liverpool and winning the Champions League and Premier League recently. But John McGinn has been superb for Scotland under Steve Clarke. He is a very clever player but also works extremely hard when out of possession, he is the link man for their attacks and with 11 international goals for a midfielder that’s an excellent return. At 27 years of age he is in his prime and his club form for Aston Villa has been equally as impressive. Ireland have no player near McGinn’s level.

Prediction: Scotland to beat Ukraine in the first play off game

Nations League fixtures
June 04   Ireland vs Ukraine   19:45
June 07   Armenia vs Ireland   17:00
June 11   Ireland vs Scotland  18:00
June 14   Ukraine vs Ireland   17:00
Sept. 23  Scotland vs Ireland  19:45
Sept. 26  Ireland vs Armenia   19:45

Words: Carl McMahon


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