Meet­ing with Eng­land high­lights de­cline of Scot­tish foot­ball

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

The latest in­stall­ment of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball’s old­est ri­valry is a jar­ring re­minder for Scot­land of just how far the team has fallen and keeps on plum­met­ing. The bal­ance of power has firmly been in Eng­land’s favour for decades. And yet thou­sands of Scot­land fans will still travel south to Lon­don for today’s World Cup qual­i­fier while fa­tal­is­tic about their team’s chances. “I feel sorry for the younger fans be­cause the fu­ture looks bleak,” said Hamish Hus­band, a 58-yearold mem­ber of a Scot­tish sup­port­ers group. “The rea­sons are self-in­flicted. Not un­like Eng­land, we have this be­lief that be­cause we in­vented foot­ball then some­how we had a right to suc­cess. “We have just been left be­hind. Mod­ern foot­ball has changed and Scot­tish foot­ball has not changed with it.” The ri­valry that be­gan in 1872 is be­ing re­newed at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium for the 113th time. It was forged on fad­ing mem­o­ries of fiercely-com­pet­i­tive tus­sles on the field and fiery ex­changes that of­ten turned vi­o­lent around the sta­dium. They were times when both Eng­land and Scot­land con­tested ma­jor tournament fi­nals and both teams could de­ploy gifted play­ers. Eng­land con­stantly ag­o­nizes over its limited in­ter­na­tional suc­cess, with the 1966 World Cup its only ti­tle and no fi­nal ap­pear­ance since then. But Eng­land is reach­ing tour­na­ments - with rare slip-ups un­like Scot­land, which last qual­i­fied for the World Cup in 1998. When the newly-ex­panded 24team Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship took place in France this year, all the Bri­tish teams par­tic­i­pated apart from Scot­land. Even Ice­land, with a pop­u­la­tion of 330,000, qual­i­fied for the first time and reached the quar­ter­fi­nals. Scot­land, whose pop­u­la­tion ex­ceeds 5 mil­lion, is try­ing to fig­ure out why it has fallen so far be­hind and al­lowed other coun­tries to race ahead. Thou­sands of mem­bers of the Tar­tan Army head­ing to Wem­b­ley will do so know­ing there is lit­tle point book­ing trips to Rus­sia for the 2018 World Cup. The Scots are only in fourth place in their qual­i­fy­ing group. The SFA is aware of the neg­a­tiv­ity sur­round­ing the team and tapped into that sen­ti­ment in a ral­ly­ing cry for fans ahead of Fri­day’s game that was down­beat while still try­ing to of­fer a flicker of hope. Af­ter three matches in Group F, Eng­land is al­ready out in front in the only au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion place. But the video im­plores: “We are only three games in and just three points off top spot. Boom! We’re not dead yet. It’s not im­pos­si­ble. We’ve beaten them at their bit be­fore.” Not since 1999, when Scot­land won 1-0. But a 2-0 loss in Glas­gow meant Eng­land won the play­off and went to Euro 2000 in­stead. Now, Scot­land can’t even beat 98th-ranked Lithua­nia on home soil, held 1-1 last month. In the FIFA rank­ings, Scot­land is 57th, sand­wiched be­tween Mace­do­nia and Mali, while Eng­land is 12th. In an at­tempt to bol­ster the pool of play­ers avail­able to Scot­land’s na­tional teams, 33 mil­lion pounds ($41 mil­lion) has been spent on Oriam, the SFA’s newly-opened per­for­mance cen­ter. “We are hor­rific in Scot­land at the mo­ment,” Scot­land coach Gor­don Stra­chan said. “We are in the worst state we’ve ever been. I am not talk­ing about the Scot­land na­tional team, but the stan­dard of kids com­ing through.” Only six mem­bers of the 25-man squad for the Eng­land game play in the Premier League. Another nine from are lower-league clubs in Eng­land. Just four are from Scot­tish cham­pion Celtic. The stand­out name is winger Oliver Burke, who joined Bun­desliga club Leipzig in Au­gust to de­velop his game.

Wayne Rooney is set to start in today’s game Photo: AP

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