Scotland look to further their chances of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, as they take on away matches in Wales and Belgium over the next week.
After an incredibly mediocre start with only two points from two home games, many within the Tartan Army have all but written off Scotland’s chances of making it out of the group stages.
But there is still cause for optimism.
Firstly, Group A is one of the tightest groups there has been in years. Of the six teams, there are no obvious runaway winners and no obvious whipping boys either. In fact, give the list of Group A teams (Belgium, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Scotland and Wales) to five different football fans and ask them to seed the teams in order; it is highly probable you would have five different lists returned to you. This leads to the situation where every team is capable of taking points from everyone else. Scotland’s unbeaten start, therefore, keeps them in contention, but also necessitates they win at least one of their games this week so as not to fall too far behind the leaders.
The good news from a Scotland point of view is that Craig Levein has finally patched things up with striker Steven Fletcher to give some much needed firepower up front. Fletcher is on red-hot form in the English Premier League, having scored five goals for Sunderland already this season and deservedly taken September’s Player of the Month Award.
Scotland have been struggling for goals of late, and while I would argue that Kenny Miller is a good pick for a game in which Scotland are looking to contain technically better opposition, when looking to win a match against similar or weaker opposition, they need something more.
Steven Fletcher’s addition to the squad definitely gives them that.
Whichever way you look at it, qualification is going to be a hard task. International football is very different from club football, and the fact you only play 10 games per qualifying campaign means that every game matters. With such a small sample size, luck will also inevitably play a big part.
The luck that Scotland could use firstly comes in the form of keeping their key players fit. The return of Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown will give the team some much needed backbone in the midfield and the confidence to really go forward and attack—something Scotland need to do to get to Brazil, as draws simply won’t cut it.
At the moment, Scotland’s qualifying hopes are in the balance, but with Steven Fletcher’s inclusion and the return of key players from injury, Scotland stand a fantastic chance of getting their campaign back on track. For Scotland to realistically have a shot at qualification, I would suggest a minimum of four points is required from the trips to Wales and Belgium. If they can do that, it’s still going to be a long journey, but it definitely won’t be over. Less than three points, and it's safe to say the Tartan Army won't be needing to renew their passports any time soon.